The masks we wear can hide our deepest desires…or reveal them.
Wedding rings, babies, commitment? No thank you. Working for a company that’s wall-to-wall, testosterone-fueled alpha males, Sandy Hallquist is in her element. By day, she’s the picture of calm, cool efficiency. Off hours, her inner adrenaline junkie is off the chain.
His whole professional life has been all about being invisible, but nothing about Troy MacPherson is real, not even his name. It’s the only way he can manage Hauberk’s international offices while hiding his other career: assassin. But in one moment of weakness, Troy’s carefully constructed mask begins to crack. Cracks that reveal his yearning for things he can never have. Family. Stability. Love.
Too bad they’re the last things on Sandy’s must-have list. By the time she realizes the heat between them will last a lifetime, his next mission could make him disappear from her life.
Copyright © 2012 Leah Braemel
All rights reserved
He parked beside a Jaguar XK in the Hauberk parking lot and walked to the company’s main entrance. Once he’d passed through the security doors, he headed to the weapons’ room.
He’d just opened his locker when Sam Watson, owner of both Hauberk and the Jag, filled the doorway from the indoor range, his own pistol in his hand. “Good work liaising with the feds about Harris.”
“Thanks. You can call Chad and tell him it’s safe to come back now.”
Sam opened his locker and grabbed his cleaning kit, then straddled the bench and broke down his Glock. “Are you gonna tell me what went down?”READ MORE
“Nothing to tell. I handed over the transponder Lauren’s people had given her and the Homeland Security grunts used it to lure Harris into their nets.” For a brief—very brief—moment, he considered telling Sam the whole deal. About the existence of the Brigade, and Sam’s good buddy Cooper Davis’s involvement in it. Everything. Except he understood the need for secrecy. Especially if he wanted to be part of the group nailing the head of the terrorist group who had kidnapped his agents in Colombia. He owed Scott that much.
“Were you in on the takedown?”
Uncomfortable with the question, Troy turned to his locker, choosing between his four favorite pistols. He lifted the Heckler and Koch P2000 as well as his favorite Sig Sauer, trying to decide between them. “Only on the fringes. You know they don’t let civilians into their investigations.”
Sam accepted the lie at face value, or gave the appearance of accepting it. “So you plannin’ on sticking around once Chad’s back in D.C.?”
“For a while. Got a couple things I need to do before I head back to London.”
Screw it, he’d shoot both. He grabbed some ammo and headed to the range. If anything did go wrong with today’s mission, at least this way he’d have a reason for a positive GSR test. Not that anything had gone wrong, so there’d be no need for him to be swabbed for gunshot residue. For the next half hour, he fired his gun until he was satisfied with the near-perfect formation of holes in the silhouette’s head and heart. He flipped off his protective earmuffs and hit the switch to bring the target to him. His hearing no longer muffled, his senses screamed there was someone behind him. Right behind.
“Nice shootin’, Tex,” a bright female voice said from behind him.
He whirled, his weapon raised, his finger milliseconds from pulling the trigger when he recognized the speaker. His heart pounding, he lowered his weapon. “Jesus, Sandy. You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that.”
The sexuality, sensuality, passion and suspense blend together perfectly into a wonderfully engaging and entertaining story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. ~ Shannon, The Romance Studio
“I’ve been standing here watching you for a few minutes now.” She pulled off her own earmuffs with one hand, dislodging strands of blonde hair from its French braid. As incongruous as they should have been, the bright orange headset she’d donned on entering the firing range complemented her dark blue sweater. The combination of blonde hair and blue eyes gave her an almost doll-like look from far away. Up close she had a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose as if some fairy had sprinkled her with cinnamon. He’d often wondered if she tasted like cinnamon too. “You should have been aware I was here. I could have had a knife and slit your throat and you wouldn’t have been able to stop me.”
Although she thought she was teasing, she was right. But only about how he should have been aware she’d been behind him; he’d argue the part about him not being able to stop her.
Exhaling, he shoved his gun in his shoulder holster. “Don’t do it again. You wouldn’t want to stick me with a load of paperwork if I’d killed you, would you?”
“Not to mention cleaning up all that blood and trying to hide my body would be a real bitch of a job.” Her light tone lowered his blood pressure. Thank God she had a sense of humor and wasn’t the type of woman to run screaming in fear.
“I leave the cleanup for others.” He wondered if she knew he wasn’t joking.
“Good plan. But aren’t you supposed to warn your suspect before shooting?”
He exhaled as he released the cartridge and replaced it with a fresh one. “That’s only in the movies. Same way the bad guy always takes the time to reveal his plan, giving the good guy time to figure a way out. In real life, you shoot first. Is there a reason why you’re standing here, plotting my demise?”
“Scott’s psychiatric report just arrived.” She held up the brown, legal-sized envelope. “I figured you’d want to see it right away.”
It didn’t surprise him that she’d brought it straight to him instead of leaving it in his office. He lifted his hand to take the folder then dropped it. Did he really want to confirm his suspicion that Scott had fooled everyone else about being better, even the shrink? “I think I’ll hit the showers and get changed first. Why don’t you put it on my desk for now?”
Sandy brushed her bangs out of her eyes. After a breath or two, she nodded once. “You betcha.”
“Thanks.” He watched her walk away, her long legs swinging giving her ass a nice hitch. After this morning’s hit, his body craved release. Pity she was Sam’s assistant and therefore relegated to the hands-off list.
Once she reached the inner door of the airlock, she turned around. “Hey, Troy? Scott’s going to be all right, isn’t he?”
Three hours later, the sealed manila envelope still sat unopened on top of Troy’s inbox. Unable to stand it any longer, Sandy stood in the doorway to Troy’s office while violins and some other stringed instrument softly played on the stereo he’d plugged his iPod into. Maybe he found it relaxing; it would put her to sleep listening to it all day.
“Be right with you, Sandy. Take a seat.” He motioned to his guest chairs with a casual wave of his hand, not taking his eyes from his laptop’s screen.
She perched on the chair, using the time to surreptitiously watch him from beneath lowered lashes. Not that he’d ever notice her watching him. Even now she doubted he was aware of her, he was so involved in whatever document he was composing. But whenever he was in the office, she’d always noticed him. When he was there. For Troy McPherson, the D.C. office was more of a pit stop, one of a half-dozen international Hauberk offices he hopscotched between.
Runnels created by his fingers through his thick dark curls betrayed his frustration with whatever problem his agents posed. Her fingers itched to smooth the wayward curls that had sprung up at his crown. If he saw them he’d head straight to the barber for another awful buzz cut like he’d had in the spring.
Instead of the black tracksuit he’d worn in the shooting range, he’d changed into an expensive designer suit, though he’d carelessly discarded his jacket on the chair beside her. A hint of chest hair peeked from the V in his shirt where he’d loosened his tie and undone the top two buttons. He’d rolled up his sleeves, his muscular forearms hinting at the power barely contained by the shirt. Drawn to the fingers stabbing impatiently at the keyboard, her body heated as her imagination provided images of them removing her clothes, touching her private places.
His scowl deepening, he hit the enter key before shoving his keyboard tray under his desk. “So what’s up?”
My libido, she wanted to answer. Damn, it hadn’t been that long since she’d had a lover, though he’d been almost as uninventive as her ex-fiancé Glen had been, but something about Troy told her he’d never let her be bored. Instead she tapped the envelope. “You haven’t read this yet.”
“Been busy. I’ll get to it.”
“Sam wants an update.” She pushed the envelope across the desk. Okay, so Sam hadn’t asked about it, but he would soon enough.
Troy wielded his letter opener like a surgical instrument and slid the report onto the desk. To her surprise, he glanced up at her and waited before looking at it. Shoot. He expected her to leave.
“You know Sam will give it to me to file so I’ll see it later anyway.”
“It’s not that.”
So he was afraid to open it. “I thought he was getting better. He seems happier.”
Troy angled the envelope until the report slid out. He skimmed the contents, flipped back to the front page and read it again, slower this time, then held it out to her. “Here. See for yourself.”
His fingers brushed hers as she took the report. Strong, callused, with a hint of roughness that would feel good on her skin, touching her everywhere. Pity he’d never given her any indication he was attracted to her. If he did, she would be all over him like snow on a Minnesota field in January.
She flicked through the psychiatrist’s recommendation that Scott was well enough to be placed back on active duty. “He’ll be glad to get back into the field. He’s been grumbling for months about being on restricted duty.”
“Yeah. I guess.” Troy tugged his shirt collar.
“You don’t think he’s ready, do you?”
“I didn’t say that.” Tug. Tug.
“You don’t have to.”
He huffed in exasperation. “What are you talking about?”
She settled back into the chair, tucking one foot beneath her. “Whenever you don’t agree with something, you tug at your collar.”
“I do?” He pulled his hand away from his neck and stared at it as if it didn’t belong to him. “Any other tells I should know about?”
“If you’re impatient or annoyed with something, you fiddle with your watch band. If you’re worried, then you rub the pad of your index finger over your thumb nail.”
“Remind me never to play poker with you. You’d bankrupt me in short order. Or better yet, I should bring you to my next poker night and introduce you to a couple of my friends with big wallets I’d love to take from them.”
That he would never invite her, that none of the guys ever thought to invite her to any of their parties or events stung. Boys’ club didn’t begin to describe the clique mentality of the Hauberk operatives. Either you were an agent or you were invisible. “Name the time and place and I’ll be there.”
Shooting him a bright smile that she didn’t feel inside, she hurried back to her desk.COLLAPSE
Shannon on The Romance Studio wrote:
...almost too hot to touch
Chrissy on Romance Junkies wrote:
Nominated as “Best Romantic Suspense of 2012” by the reviewers at The Romance Studio for their annual Cupid and Psyche Awards (CAPA)
The sexuality, sensuality, passion and suspense blend together perfectly into a wonderfully engaging and entertaining story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.
Slick Reads on Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews wrote:
…a powerful and fun story full of all the emotion, sensuality and suspense that I’ve come to really enjoy in Ms. Braemel’s writing ~Chrissy, Romance Junkies
Miranda on Joyfully Reviewed wrote:
…a very complex and suspenseful story...
Terri on Night Owl Reviews wrote:
…Hidden Heat is plump with sexual tension and thrilling drama…another exciting couple and edge of your seat plotting…an excellent, dark, and gritty plot ~Miranda, Joyfully Reviewed
TOP PICK REVIEW: …fabulous complex characters…The setting is so realistic that it’s almost impossible to believe that this isn’t real…hot men full of action…wish there were more to read.
Nominated as “Best Romantic Suspense of 2012”
by the reviewers at The Romance Studio for their annual Cupid and Psyche Awards (CAPA)
HIDDEN HEAT was originally published by Samhain Publishing in digital May 1, 2012, print April 2, 2013. While the cover has been changed, the contents are essentially the same.