Rough Edges will be available from the following online vendors on August 4, 2015, as well as at your favorite local bookstore. In the meantime, we have posted two sample chapters—watch for the third one on Tuesday!
|Barnes & Noble||iTunes|
From the author of Edge of Betrayal—the Edge series returns with the climactic fifth novel, and an all-new explosive, romantic adventure…
In the world of covert operations, Bella Bayne knows how to get the job done. And with her work coming first, her personal life is coming in a distant second. Even though Bella would like nothing more than to ravish the rugged, handsome Victor Temple, she’s his superior so it’s a strictly hands-off affair.
When Bella gets a solid lead on the location of Dr. Norma Stynger—the twisted mind behind Project Threshold—she must team up with Victor if they are to finally bring justice to the madwoman. But when Norma’s daughter risks her life to help the team, Bella is faced with the impossible task of deciding who will live and who will die…
Dallas, Texas, April 28
After two weeks of sleepless nights, little food and endless hours spent working beside a man who lit her libido up like the surface of the sun, Bella Bayne wanted nothing more than a little quality time with her vibrator and a solid eight hours of shut-eye. In that order. Instead, what she got was the man of her fantasies—highly inappropriate ones at that—standing on her front porch, making her mouth water far more than the fragrant bags of Indian food he was toting.
“Thought you might be too tired to cook,” said Victor Temple, the most perfectly formed male of any species ever created.
He stood a few inches over her five-foot-ten-inch frame, blocking out the streetlight behind him. He had aristocratic features that were made more interesting by the three scars decorating his face. They were small, but broke up the sea of masculine beauty enough that she could look at him without sunglasses to mask the glare of perfection. His dark blond hair was cut with military precision, falling in line exactly as he pleased. After several missions with this man, she’d learned he defied the laws of helmet hair in a way she still couldn’t understand. Blood pact with dark forces, no doubt.
His clothes were casual, but neat and extremely high-end. Victor came from money. Old, refined, nose-in-the- air money, yet she’d never once seen him flaunt it. No diamond cuff links, flashy cars, or pricey watches for this man. No, Victor Temple had way more substance than that, which was another reason she wished he was anywhere else than standing on her front porch. It was his substance combined with those stunning good looks that made him dangerous to her professional ethics.
“Hungry?” he asked.
Bella was hungry, but not for what was in those sacks. If not for the fact that she was Victor’s boss, she would have feasted on him weeks ago. But her strict no-fraternization policy meant she had to keep her hands and mouth off. Way off.
“You should be at home asleep,” she said, forcing censure into her tone. “If you think I’m giving you the day off tomorrow so a pretty boy like you can get his beauty rest, you’re wrong.”
“I slept more than you did while we were away. And when one comes bearing gifts, Bella, it’s customary for the receiver to at least pretend to be gracious.”
“Sweetheart, I don’t like pretending. And I’m not gracious.”
He smiled as if he found her amusing. “Only because you’re hungry, which I have learned over the past few weeks makes you cranky. Now step aside, Bella. I’m coming in to feed you. Then we have to talk.”
Talk? At this hour? That couldn’t mean good news.
He didn’t give her time to move. Instead, he stepped forward, and she had no choice but to step back or feel his body collide with hers. As nice as his body was, as off-limits as it was, she wasn’t sure she’d survive the crash without tossing him to the carpet and riding him until she got off. At least twice. Maybe then she wouldn’t be so cranky.
“Talk about what?” she asked as he strode past her like he owned her home, heading unerringly to a kitchen he’d never before even seen, much less navigated.
“It can wait until after food.”
His clean scent lingered on the air around him, crossing her path and making her drag in a deep breath to capture it. For a moment, the urge to bury her nose against his chest took over and she forgot all about why she didn’t want him here. She had to shake herself to get her brain working again. “You’re my employee in my home, honey. If I tell you to talk now, then that’s what you’ll do.”
He glanced over his shoulder at her, daring to give her a grin. “I’m off the clock. You can’t order me around. Deal with it.”
Fury struck her for a second before it turned to lust. She had no idea what it was about this man. She was the owner of a private security firm. She worked with badass men all day long, every day. None of them had ever held her interest for longer than it took her to flatten them in the sparring ring.
But Victor Temple was different. He got under her skin and made it burn. It didn’t matter that he was her subordinate, or that he was on loan from the US government to help her deal with a situation of nightmarish proportions. She couldn’t seem to be near him without wishing they were both naked, panting and sweating.
Maybe it had something to do with the one and only time she’d taken him on in hand-to-hand combat practice. They’d both been panting and sweating then, and while they hadn’t been naked, she was acutely aware of just how skilled he was. How perfectly built he was. Not overblown or bulging with showy bulk, his big frame was instead wrapped with sleek, functional muscles that rippled with power. She’d fought bigger men than him and won, but only Victor had been able to pin her to the mat.
She was a strong, independent, kick-ass woman, but even she had to admit she liked that in a man.
“I was half hoping you wouldn’t answer the door—that you’d be asleep,” he said.
“I needed to unwind a bit first.”
He lifted a wayward lock of damp hair that had escaped her haphazard ponytail. Only then did she realize just how close he was standing. Too close.
“Shower didn’t do the trick?” he asked.
No, but her vibrator would have if he hadn’t shown up. After all the time she’d spent with him recently, she wondered if she’d still be able to keep his face out of her fantasies. “There’s a heavy bag in the garage. A little time with that would have worn me out.”
He stepped away, leaving her feeling adrift for a second before she caught up with reality. She could not be drawn to Victor. She had to lead by example, and fucking her employee on the kitchen floor whether or not he wanted it was not the kind of tone she wanted to set for her workplace.
“You’re worried about Gage, aren’t you?” He glanced over his shoulder as he washed his hands. Muscles shifted beneath his tight T-shirt, adding fuel to the naughty fantasies she already had of this man.
Her gaze slid past him to the window over the sink. She didn’t want him to see how appealing he was to her. Even more than that, she didn’t want him to see her fear for Gage, who had willingly walked into the hands of a monster in the hopes of taking her down for good. No one had heard from him since. Bella had to stay tough, appear confident and provide leadership to her men. That included Victor.
She straightened her spine. “Gage has been gone for weeks. He was ordered to make contact with me as soon as he could. The fact that he hasn’t is more than a little concerning. Sweetheart, any sane person would be worried.”
Victor turned back around to her as he dried his hands. A flicker of sympathy crossed his features, making him even harder to resist. “He’s smart. And tough. I’m sure his silence is a sign that he’s working an angle with Stynger, not that he’s in trouble.”
“Easy for you to say. You weren’t the one who sent him into that crazy bitch’s hands.”
“He volunteered for the job. He knew exactly what he was doing when he let her men take him into custody.”
“He did it to save Adam from taking his place. I know Gage. The second he learned that Adam was his brother, his decision was made.”
“Are you saying that he wouldn’t have volunteered if it wasn’t to save Adam?” asked Victor.
“No, he was on board the whole time, but now that he knows he has a brother, there’s no telling what kind of sacrifice he’s making to keep Adam safe.”
Victor stepped closer, easing into her personal space like he belonged there.“There’s more at stake here than one man. Gage knows that. He’s smart enough to realize that the only true way to keep Adam safe is to take Stynger down for good.”
“That’s part of what worries me. It’s personal for Gage. If he gets the chance to kill Stynger, he’ll do it. Even if it means sacrificing himself.” Maybe he already had, and that was why no one had heard from him.
Victor must have read her mind. “He’s still alive, Bella. You have to believe that.” He came toward her, compassion shining in his bright eyes. One lean, hard hand was extended. She knew he meant to offer comfort, but she was too fragile for that right now. She had to stay strong, stay tough. As tired as she was, as worried as she was, it would be too easy for her to crack under the strain and let her emotions run free. One touch from him might be all it took to shatter her self-control.
She hadn’t cried in years—not since the night she killed her husband in a blind rage—she wasn’t about to start now.
Bella moved away before he could reach her. “I’m sure he’s alive,” she lied. “I’m also sure we’ll find him soon. I just have to keep looking and stay vigilant for even the smallest signs of his whereabouts. We’ve been on enough missions together that I know how he thinks.” Victor’s hand fell to his side. “You’ll be a lot more vigilant after you get some food and sleep. You know him better than any of us. If we’re going to see some obscure sign he left behind, you’re the one most likely to spot it. But only if you’re not exhausted.”
She gave him a pointed stare. “I’d sleep better without one of my men in my kitchen, honey.”
“When was the last time you ate?”
She couldn’t remember, but that didn’t make him right.“If it’s that important to you, then feed me already so we can get to whatever it is you need to talk about. I’m wrung out.”
“Maybe the talk should wait until tomorrow.” “I’m busy tomorrow. Talk now.”
“I don’t think so. Your blood sugar is too low for my peace of mind. It’ll only take a minute to warm up the food.”
She watched him move around her kitchen, opening cabinets and finding what he was looking for. The smell of curry filled the room, making her stomach rumble.
He set a plate of food in the microwave, pushed some buttons. Nothing happened. He frowned as he checked to make sure it was plugged in. “It’s not working.”
Bella went to his side and tried to make the appliance go with no luck. “Sorry. It’s one of the few kitchen tools I know how to use. I must have worn it out.”
“No worries. We have other options.” He opened her oven door and pulled out her box of business receipts, staring at them as if they might bite. “You keep paperwork in your oven?”
“It’s a handy spot. Nothing blows away when I open the windows.”
“What about when you cook?”
She laughed. “Honey, I work eighty hour weeks, minimum. I spend more than half of my time out of the country, run a reputable business where lives are on the line every day, and you think I have time to cook? You’re adorable.”
A blush brightened his cheeks and made his glacier blue eyes stand out. She knew he was a poster boy for the military, all upright and honorable, but there was something about the clarity of his eyes that really sold the whole look. She swore she could see right through him, like he had nothing to hide.
No one was that honorable. Especially not her. “Does your oven even work?” he asked.
Bella shrugged. “Who knows? Never tried it.”
He turned a knob to get the gas-fueled contraption working. She probably should have been paying attention to how he operated it, but all she could concentrate on was the way his fingers gently gripped the knob, giving it the slightest twist.
Her nipples puckered in response.
After a few seconds, his brow scrunched up as he turned the knob again. “Your pilot light’s out.”
“I didn’t want to set my receipts on fire. The IRS frowns on excuses like that during an audit.”
“Got any matches?”
She pulled a lighter from her junk drawer and handed it to him. He knelt down, making his jeans go tight over a manly ass that looked like it was carved by God himself. She was so busy admiring him, she barely heard his question.
“Did you move the oven out recently?”
Bella shook her head to get it set on straight again. “Why on earth would I do that?”
“To clean under it.”
She grinned. “So adorable. I just want to pinch your cheeks.” His ass cheeks, if she had her choice.
“Right. Got it. You don’t clean, either.”
“I have a housekeeper who comes in once a month to keep the place livable.”
“When was she here last?”
“I don’t know. While we were gone sometime. Why?” He pointed to some crumbs on her floor next to a rusty brown smudge line, his face taut with concern.
“Scuff marks. Someone’s moved your oven.”
Before she had time to follow why he was upset by her oven’s position, he turned on a flashlight app on his phone and shone it back behind the oven.
“Bella,” he said, his tone that same eerie calm he got during a firefight. “Turn around and walk out the way I came in. Don’t touch anything.”
Serious worry settled in between her arousal and fatigue. “What’s going on?”
He took her arm and forced her to start walking. “Someone tied what looks like an explosive device into your gas line. Time to go and call the bomb squad from outside.”
Randolph eyed Dr. Norma Stynger with caution as he entered her stark white office. She was dressed in a clinging black sheath dress and a white lab coat that did little to hide the bony lines of her aging body. She sat behind her white desk with a backdrop of white walls and a white tile floor surrounding her. The only color in the room was a worn, singed, brown leather journal and the bright red lipstick that made her mouth look like a bloody gash in her face.
She looked up at him, and the cold emptiness of her eyes hit him like a brick launched from a cannon. He let out a whoosh of air and struggled for his next breath.
“You’re late,” she snapped, her tone waspish.
Randolph knew better than to show fear. Dr. Stynger was dangerous in a way that was hard to predict, much less understand. His instincts had started shrieking the second he’d laid eyes on her, and over the past few weeks he’d come to realize that even that shrill warning hadn’t been loud enough.
He was always only one mistake away from having a hole drilled in his skull and electrodes shoved into brain. It didn’t matter that he was tough as hell, deadly with just about any weapon ever built, and ruthless in combat.
One snap of the freaky doctor’s bony fingers and he’d wake up a puppet, like all of the other tough guys here.
Randolph forced out a nonchalant shrug, keeping his expression flat. “Traffic.”
Her eyes narrowed, and even that tiny movement was enough to make his blood run cold.
“It is. I put the drug in her hot water tank, just like you wanted.”
“And the explosives?”
“A woman like that doesn’t bake brownies.You should have let me rig the device to something she was going to use.”
“Adrenaline is necessary to initiate the chemical reac- tion of the drug. The threat needed to be real enough to create fear and paranoia, but not deadly. If she’s blown into a thousand pieces, not only do I lose an opportunity to see if the new drug works, it’s going to be much harder to autopsy her brain once I’m done with her.”
“You’d be better off taking her out. I used to work at the Edge. She keeps that place running. Without her, the whole structure crumbles and all the people searching for you go find new jobs.”
Stynger stood, and it was all Randolph could do not to back away. “I only need a little more time. Once the island facility is finished, they’ll never find me. If Ms. Bayne is killed, her men will never stop looking for the person responsible for her death. It’s possible they could assume it was me, even after you parted company with Ms. Bayne on such unfriendly terms.”
He’d been fired. One little mistake and she’d cut him loose. No one was even going to miss the kid he’d acci- dentally killed. She’d been a street rat, worthless. Cer- tainly not worth losing his job over. Considering the dusty, poverty-stricken hole she’d lived in, he’d probably been doing her a favor by putting her out of her misery.
Bella had seen things differently.With the clout she had in the industry, Randolph hadn’t been able to find work since. At least not until Stynger’s job offer came along.
Then it had hit him. Stynger had hired him because of his unhappy ties to Bella. The good doctor had set him up to take the fall if things went wrong, and it was only now that he realized how she’d set him up. He’d drugged Bella’s water supply. He’d rigged an explosive device in her house. Even as careful as he’d been there could still be some piece of evidence tracing him back to the job. Some camera that recorded him near her home. If any- thing happened to her, her people would find it. And then they’d find him.
“You knew they’d come after me, didn’t you?” he asked, barely keeping his anger in check.
“I have no doubt that I’ll be blamed eventually, but by then I’ll be out of reach, hidden and protected by my gracious benefactors. And their army.”
Randolph had been played. The money she’d offered him was too good to be true. He should have known not to make a deal with the devil.There was no love lost between him and Bella, but he’d been an idiot to let his fury for the woman who fired him drown out his better judgment.
Too late now. His only hope was to move forward and do whatever it took to keep Stynger from eating him alive. Because as deadly as the men and women who worked for the Edge were, not one of them was any- where near as soulless and evil as the woman standing in front of him. All that would happen to him if Bella’s men found him was he’d be killed. If Stynger turned her wrath on him, he’d pray for death.
“What do you want me to do now?” he asked.
The red slash of her lips curved up in a smile. “Just a little errand. It’s nothing, really.”