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For years, operative James Nash has performed ultra-covert “Black Ops” missions for The Agency, but when he decides to walk away from their dirty work, his corrupt bosses aren’t about to let him go. After Nash is nearly assassinated, Troubleshooters team leader Lawrence Decker launches a skillful deception to neutralize the threat and protect his friend. With the FBI’s help, Decker fakes Nash’s death, then brings him to a safe house with his fiancée, Tess Bailey, to recover from his injuries and strategize their next move. Only a handful of people know that Nash is still alive – and fellow Troubleshooters Dave Malkoff, Sophia Ghaffari, and receptionist Tracy Shapiro aren’t among them. Believing that Nash is dead and that Decker has begun a romantic relationship with Tess, Sophia settles for second best and begins a love affair with Dave, who has adored her for years. But Tracy puts two and two together, discovering the truth about Nash – much to Decker’s dismay. As passions flare, Decker struggles to keep his scheme afloat, and to keep Nash alive. But when he finds himself targeted for death, the game turns even more perilous, and Sophia, Tracy, and Dave are swept into the deadly play. Under fire and racing to unmask their relentless adversary, the Troubleshooters know that the closer they get, the greater the risks. But sacrifices and consequences come with the territory. Forced to choose between love and loyalty, they are no longer just solving a crime – they’re fighting for survival.
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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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
If Dave had known, before he’d picked up the phone, how much trouble this one call would cause, he would’ve let it go directly to voice mail.
But it was Sunday morning, and he was enjoying—very much—the experience of surfing the cable TV news channels from the comfort of Sophia’s bed.
He loved hanging out in the bedroom of her little apartment, and not
just because most of the time he was in here of late, he was in the process
of taking off Sophia’s clothes.
Though she’d lived in this tiny second- floor walk- up for far fewer years
than he’d inhabited his spacious and still- spartan condo, she’d turned this
place into a real home. Her furnishings were unique—quirky, mismatched
pieces she’d picked up in flea markets and painted in the vibrant
colors of the Mediterranean. Rich blues in a variety of shades mingled
with bright yellows, warm reds, and a green that brought to mind the newness of spring. Artwork—some of it her own, and quite good—hung on the walls. The open windows were covered by full, gauzy curtains that shimmered and breathed with the breeze. A ceiling fan was kept always running, moving at its lowest, laziest speed.
Last week Sophia had moved the TV into the room for him—an admitted
news junkie—and as the phone rang again, he pushed the remote
control’s mute button as he shouted to her, in the bathroom, “You want
me to get that?”
Sophia had just turned on the water, and as he heard the shower door
clunk shut, she called back, “You don’t have to.”
Dave should’ve ignored it and turned off the TV and gone into the
bathroom to help Sophia wash herself in those hard- to- reach places, but
he was an idiot. He was still on a high from last night, when his plane had
landed and he’d turned on his phone to find that she’d called him while
he was in the air. Five times.
She’d gotten home several days early from her own business trip to
Denver and—of course, because he had purposely neglected to tell her of
his own international trek—was wondering where he was. She was cooking
dinner, although, honestly? After four days apart? They were going to
be eating late.
Dave had called her immediately, headed straight to her place, where
she’d jumped him the moment he’d walked in the door—as if she’d been
as starved for his touch as he’d been for hers.
Incredibly, it wasn’t the fabulous sex they’d had right there in her living room that had made his day, week, year—no, life. It was later, after dinner, with Sophia drowsy, her head on his shoulder, as they were about to fall asleep, telling him that she’d missed him, and that she slept much better— as in, she didn’t have her usual nightmares—when she spent the night in his arms.
It seemed the perfect segue for him to ask her about those nightmares—
a topic they’d both shied away from, for years. And this time, he
was ready for it. This time, he knew the questions to ask.
But then she’d added that, in the morning if he wanted her to, she’d
clear out a drawer for him, maybe make him some space in her closet . . . ?
If he wanted her to?
Dave had answered by kissing her, and she’d kissed him back, and
they’d made love again—slowly this time. Sweetly. She’d breathed his
name on a sigh and she’d fallen asleep almost immediately after, leaving
him holding her in his arms, with his heart so full his chest actually hurt.
But now, in the light of morning, the TV, the empty drawer, and the
closet space weren’t enough for Dave. Nuh- uh. No, sir. He had to further
stake his claim here in Sophia’s life by answering the telephone on her
bedside table at 10:37 on a sunny Sunday morning, with a voice still rusty
and deep from a satisfying night made up only partially of sleep.
There was a hesitation—an indrawn breath—as if the person on the
other end were surprised to hear someone male pick up the phone. That’s
right. Uh- huh. He was so the man. He was the dude with the cojones
grande who was going to get his very own drawer here in Sophia’s pretty
“May I speak to Sophia?” The voice, when it finally came, was female,
older, with a hint of Great Britain in its precise enunciation.
“I’m afraid she’s indisposed,” Dave said. “May I take a message?”
“Please. Will you ask her to call her Aunt Maureen?” She pronounced
it ahhnt, rather than like the insect. “Maureen Miles. I’m her father’s sister
. . . ?”
“Yes,” Dave said. “Of course. Hi. Sophia’s, um, told me about you.
From Boston, right? I’m Dave. Her . . .” What? Boyfriend? Lover?
Bedroom- drawer guy? They’d talked about a lot of things over the past
weeks, but they’d never precisely defined what their relationship now was.
Maureen Miles didn’t seem to care. There was more to her message.
“Will you let her know that her father’s back in the hospital?”
Shit. “I’m sorry to hear that,” Dave said. “Mass General again?”
Another brief pause. “Yes. The doctors have given him only a few days
this time, and he would like, very much, to see his daughter. I should think
she owes him at least that much—”
“I’m sorry,” Dave cut her off. “With all due respect, ma’am, do we live
in the same universe? Because in the reality- based one where I reside,
Sophia owes him nothing.”
“He’s her father,” the woman said.
“He may have contributed his sperm to the creative process,” Dave
said tartly, “but in my opinion he lost the right to call himself Daddy a few
She was silent again for a moment, but she was just regrouping. She
hadn’t given up. “Please tell her that he’s being moved into hospice in a
“I’ll give her the message,” Dave said, a but heavy in his tone, and the
woman hung up without a thank- you.
He dropped the handset into the phone’s cradle and flopped back
onto Sophia’s pillows, staring up at the spinning ceiling fan.
From the bathroom, he heard the sound of the water shutting off, the
shower door opening. Sophia’s melodic voice. “We need to get moving if
we’re going to make it to Encinitas by noon.”
What? Dave lifted his head and aimed his voice toward the bathroom
door. “Noon? Wait a minute, why?”
She appeared in the doorway, gloriously naked, drying herself with a
towel, her wet hair slicked back from her face. She was one of those
women who were even more beautiful when not wearing makeup.
It was hard to think or listen when Sophia was naked, and he’d obviously
not heard her response to his question, because she gave him her I’m
repeating myself because you’re staring at me blankly smile and said, again,
“The main parking lot’ll fill up by noon.”
“Seriously?” Dave sat up, struggling to make sense of her words. “Are we
talking about the same thing? The parking lot’ll fill up? For a flea market?”
“Antique show,” she corrected him, heading out of sight, back to the
sink, where she kept a collection of bottles and jars of lotion, each one of
them smelling sweeter than the last. If he hurried, he could watch her
smooth some onto her arms and legs, her stomach and breasts.
As he skidded to a stop in the bathroom, she met his eyes in the mirror.
“You know, we don’t have to go.”
“I want to.” He opened the shower door and turned on the water. “The
thrill of the hunt, the excitement of finding a treasure hidden in with the
trash, the hours tromping through the brain- meltingly hot sun with the four
million other people who helped us fill up the main parking lot before
noon, who are hoping to find the exact same perfect cabinet for the kitchen
before we do, so maybe we’ll have to win a duel or probably a spelling bee
in order to gain ownership . . . I’m totally there, T- H- E- R- E.”
Sophia had turned around to look at him, her gaze traveling below his
waist, her lower lip caught between her teeth as she tried not to smile—
and failed. “You either really love antiques, or you’re lying through your
teeth.” She reached out and wrapped her fingers around him as she gave
up and laughed. “I’m going to go with lying through your teeth.”
Dave laughed, too, as she stroked him, as she smiled up into his eyes.
“Obviously I’d anticipated a different morning agenda,” he told her. “But
I’m a grown- up. I can multi- task. I can both be your antique- hunting partner
and spend the day imagining all the ways I’m going to make you come
after we get home.”
“Hmm,” she said, swaying closer, the tips of her breasts brushing his
chest as she pressed his erection against the softness of her stomach. “Or
we can say the heck with the main parking area, and take the PITA shuttle
from the south lot.”
“South lot,” he repeated, unable to keep himself from touching her, his
fingers sliding across her silky, clean, lotion- sweet skin. “There’s a south lot?”
Sophia nodded, then jumped up, wrapping her arms around his neck,
her legs around his waist, like a piggyback ride in reverse.
“I love the south lot,” Dave told her as he grabbed her to keep her
from slipping off him, her perfect derriere filling his hands. And God, this
was unlike any other piggyback ride he’d ever given anyone, because she
shifted and pushed him hard and deep inside of her. “Holy shit.”
She pulled back to look at him, laughter lighting her face and making
her eyes sparkle and dance. “New one, huh?” she asked as she began to
move against him.
He nodded. “Oh, yeah.” His experience with sex, pre- Sophia, was
ridiculously limited, and she knew it because, well, he’d told her the truth.
They’d talked about a lot of things in those first few days A.S.—after
Sacramento—and while he hadn’t been ready to go into full, gory detail
about his farce of a relationship with Kathy- slash- Anise, he had confessed
to Sophia that his full sexual oeuvre was limited to five interactions with
one woman who didn’t particularly like him, even though she’d pretended
Sophia hadn’t fainted at that news, no doubt because her own baggage
was also quite cumbersome when it came to sex.
That first morning they’d woken up in each other’s arms, they’d made
a promise to be honest in regard to their intimacy—since it was a potential
minefield for both of them.
So, yes. Having sex standing up in the middle of the bathroom was a
new one for him. Although there really wasn’t much he could do but stand
there holding her, the muscles in his arms and shoulders getting quite the
Which maybe meant he was a wimp, because she was petite and
didn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds. But Dave was discovering that
holding on to a hundred- pound woman was a very different experience
than holding on to a hundred- pound woman while having sex with her.
“Ah, God,” he said. “Soph . . .”
“Thumbs up or down?”
“Oh, up,” he told her. “Big up.”
“Me too,” she gasped, her breath warm against his ear. “But feel free
to, you know, set me on the counter, by the sink, if you need to—”
“Not a chance.” Dave loved where his hands were, loved the sensation
of her legs and buttocks straining to push him more fully inside of her, but
when he shifted slightly to get a better grip, he discovered—eureka!—
there was something he could do besides simply stand there and not drop
her. He shifted again to hold most of her weight with his left arm, freeing
up his right hand to touch her again, with slightly better aim.
She sighed his name, and that, combined with the increased speed of
her rocking motion, was enough to bring him teetering to the edge of his
release, so he touched her harder, deeper, and she came with a moan and
a shudder that he loved as much as he loved his new drawer and closet
space. And in that fraction of a heartbeat, in the brief instant of time between
his knowing that he, too, was going to orgasm—now—and the deep
rush of mind- blowing pleasure that was already starting to surge through
his body, he remembered the phone call.
He’d yet to tell Sophia that her father was in the hospital.
Dave came with a crash, with a shout—“God, I love you!”—pulling
her warm, pliant body more tightly against his, as she kept coming around
him, urging him, as always, to give her more, more.
It should have diminished his pleasure—his remembering the unhappy
message he’d promised to deliver. It should have made him
ashamed for forgetting something so important in the first place.
It should have, but it didn’t.
Sophia’s father was a rat- bastard and few besides his sister Maureen
would miss him when he was gone.
“Sweet Jesus,” Dave said when he got his vocal cords working again.
Sophia just laughed, still clinging to him, nuzzling his neck, ankles
locked just beneath his butt.
Arms shaking, knees wobbly, he carried her out of the bathroom and
dumped her onto the bed, collapsing beside her. “That was a solid thirty
on the fun scale.”
She laughed again. “When is it ever not a thirty?”
In an effort to lighten things up—mostly for his own sake, since the
simple fact that he was in a relationship with the woman of his dreams was
often enough to get him choked up—Dave had suggested a rating system,
one to ten, for each new- to- him sexual position, of which there were many.
And yes, in all honesty, it was a way, too, for him to acknowledge his lack
of experience—by addressing it straight on, with humor.
“Sweetheart”—he opened his eyes to do his best Bogart—“for me, just
being in a room with you is a twenty.”
She had her head propped up on one elbow so that she could look
down at him, her eyes wide and serious as her smile slowly faded.
“You know that I love you, too, right?” she finally murmured.
He gazed back at her for several long moments before he responded.
He waited until he knew for sure that his voice wouldn’t vibrate with emotion.
“You don’t have to say that.”
“It’s true,” Sophia insisted. “These past few months have been . . .”
She shook her head. “Sad, because of Nash dying, but . . . Also . . . I don’t
know if I’ve . . .” She looked down toward the jumble of bright blue sheets
beneath them and started again. “I can’t remember ever being this . . .”
She searched for the right word as Dave waited, his heart in his throat. She
met his gaze again, her eyes guileless and nearly as blue as the sheets.
Not quite the word he was hoping for. Still, he smiled because he was
okay with it. Fact was, he’d be okay with a wide variety of less than words.
Such as satisfied. Comfortable. At ease.
Dave knew he was Sophia’s second choice. He’d accepted that weeks
ago, the very first night they’d made love. It would be enough. It was
“I’m glad,” he told her now, reaching up to push her hair back behind
her ear, and it wasn’t a lie. He let her look long and hard into his eyes so
she would know that he meant it, that he accepted her words for what they
were—something good, if not fairy- tale perfect.
Her mouth quirked up into a smile. “You have no idea how hot you
are, do you?”
“What?” Dave laughed as he realized what she’d said, and then rolled
his eyes. “Yeah, actually,” he said, “I’m pretty sure I do. I ...
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