THE HIDDEN – Excerpt

on August 9, 2017

Here’s an excerpt for THE HIDDEN:

The day he moved in next door, dark clouds covered the sky with the promise of a powerful storm.  Pippa watched from her window, the one over the kitchen sink, partially hidden by the cheerful polka dotted curtains.  Yellow dots over crisp white background—what she figured happy people would use.

He moved box after box after box through the two-stall garage, all by himself, cut muscles bunching in his arms.

Angles and shadows made up his face, more shadows than angles.  He didn’t smile, and although he didn’t frown, his expression had settled into harsh lines.

A guy like him, dangerously handsome, should probably have friends helping.

Yet he didn’t.  His black truck, dusty yet seemingly well kept, sat alone in the driveway containing the boxes.

She swallowed several times, instinctively knowing he wasn’t a man to cross, even if she was a person who crossed others.  She was not.

For a while she tried to amuse herself with counting the boxes, and then guessing the weight, and then just studying the man.  He appeared to be in his early thirties, maybe just a couple of years older than her.

Thick black hair fell to his collar in unruly waves, giving him an unkempt appearance that hinted nobody took care of him.   His shoulders were tense and his body language fluid.  She couldn’t see his eyes.

The curiosity, the damn wondering, would keep her up at night.

But no way, and there was absolutely no way, would she venture outside to appease the beast of wonderment.

The new neighbor stood well over six feet tall, his shoulders broad, and his long legs encased in worn and frayed jeans.  If a man could be hard all over, head to toe, even in movement, then he was.

He was very much alone as well.

A scar curved in a half-moon shape over his left eye, and some sort of tattoo, a crest of something, decorated his muscled left bicep.  She tilted her head, reaching for the curtains to push them aside just a little more.

He paused; an overlarge box held easily in his arms and turned his head, much like an animal rising to attention.

Green.  Those eyes, narrow and suspicious, alert and dangerous, focused directly on her.

She gasped.  Her heart thundered.  She fell to the floor below the counter.  Not to the side, not even in a crouch, she fell flat on her ass on the well loved tile floor.  Her heart ticking, she wrapped her arms around her shins and rested her chin on her knees.

She bit her lip and held her breath, shutting her eyes.

Nothing.

No sound, no hint of an approaching person, no rap on the door.

After about ten minutes of holding perfectly still, she lifted her head.  Another five and she released her legs.  Then she rolled up onto her knees and reached for the counter, her fingers curling over.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled herself up to stand, angling to the side of the counter.

He stood at the window, facing her, his chest taking up most of the panes.

Her heart exploded.  She screamed, turned, and ran.  She cleared the kitchen in three steps and plowed through the living room, smashing into an antique table that had sat in the place for more than two decades.

Pain ratcheted up her leg, and she dropped, making panicked grunting noises as she crawled past the sofa and toward her bedroom.  Her hands slapped the polished wooden floor, and she sobbed out, reaching the room and slamming the door.

She scrambled her legs up to her chest again, her back to the door, and reached up to engage the lock.  She rocked back and forth just enough to not make a sound.

The doorbell rang.

Her chest tightened, and her vision fuzzed.  Tremors started from her shoulders down to her waist and back up.  Not now.  Not now.  God, not now.  She took several deep breaths and acknowledged the oncoming panic attack much as Dr. Valentine had taught her.  Sometimes letting the panic in actually abated it.

Not this time.

The attack took her full force, pricking sweat along her body.  Her arms shook, and her legs went numb.  Her breathing panted out, her vision fuzzed, and her heart blasted into motion.

Maybe it really was a heart attack this time.

No.  It was only a panic attack.

But it could be.  Maybe the doctors had missed something in her tests, and it could really be a heart attack.  Or maybe a stroke.

She couldn’t make it to the phone to dial for help.

Her heart hurt.  Her chest really ached.  Glancing up at the lock, a flimsy golden thing, she inched away from the door to the bed table on her hands and knees.  Jerking open the drawer, she fumbled for a Xanax.

She popped the pill beneath her tongue, letting it quickly absorb.  The bitter chalkiness made her gag, but she didn’t move until it had dissolved.

A hard rapping sound echoed from the living room.

Shit.  He was knocking on the door.  Was it locked?  Of course it was locked.  She always kept it locked.  But would a lock, even a really good one, keep a guy like that out?

Hell, no.

She’d been watching him, and he knew it.  Maybe he wasn’t a guy who wanted to be watched, which was why he was moving his stuff all alone.  Worse yet, had he been sent to find her?  He had looked so furious.  Was he angry?

If so, what could she do?

The online martial arts lessons she’d taken lately ran through her head, but once again, she wondered if one could really learn self-defense by watching videos.  Something told her that all the self-defense lessons in the world wouldn’t help against that guy.

Oh, why had Mrs. Melonci moved to Florida?  Sure the elderly lady wanted to be closer to her grandchildren, but Cottage Grove was a much better place to live.

The house had sold in less than a week.

Pippa had hoped to watch young children play and frolic in the large treed back yard, but this guy didn’t seem to have a family.

Perhaps he’d bring one in, yet there was something chillingly solitary about him.

Of course, she hadn’t set foot outside her house for nearly five years, so maybe family men had changed.

Probably not, though.

He knocked again, the sound somehow stronger and more insistent this time.

She opened the bedroom door and peered around the corner.  The front door was visible above the sofa.

He knocked again.  “Lady?”  Deep and rich, his voice easily carried into the home.

She might have squawked.

“Listen, lady.  I, ah, saw you fall and just wanna make sure you’re all right.  You don’t have to answer the door.”  His tone didn’t rise and remained perfectly calm.

She sucked in a deep breath and tried to answer him, but only air came out.  Man, she was pathetic.  She tapped her head against the doorframe in a sad attempt to self-soothe.

“Um, are you okay?”  he asked, hidden by the big door.  “I can call for help.”

No.  Oh, no.  She swallowed several times.  “I’m all right.”  Finally, her voice worked.  “Honest.  It’s okay.  Don’t call for anybody.”  If she didn’t let them in, the authorities would probably break down the door, right?  She couldn’t have that.

Silence came from the front porch, but no steps echoed.  He remained in place.

Her heart continued to thunder against her ribs.  She wiped her sweaty palms down her yoga pants.  Why wasn’t he leaving?  “Okay?” she whispered.

“You sure you don’t need help?” he called.

Her throat began to close.  “I’m sure.”  Go away.  Please, he had to go away.

“Okay.”  Heavy bootsteps clomped across her front porch, and then silence.  He was gone.

***

Malcolm West knew the sound of terror, and he knew it well.  The woman, whoever she was, had been beyond frightened at seeing him in the window.  Damn it.  What the hell had he been thinking to approach her house like that?

A fence enclosed their backyards together, and he’d wondered why.  Had a family shared the two homes?

He grabbed another box of shit from the truck and hefted it toward the house.  Maybe this had been a mistake.  He’d purchased the little one story home sight unseen because of the white clapboard siding, the blue shutters, and the damn name of the town—Cottage Grove.  It sounded peaceful.

He’d never truly see peace again, and he knew it.

All of the homes the real estate had emailed him about had been sad and run down…until this one.  It had been on the market only a few days, and the agent had insisted it wouldn’t be for long.  After six months of searching desperately for a place to call home, he’d jumped on the sale.

It had been so convenient as to have been fate.

If he believed in fate, which he did not.

He walked through the simple one story home and dropped the box in the kitchen, looking out at the pine trees beyond the wooden fence. The area had been subdivided into twenty-acre lots, with tons and tons of trees, so he’d figured he wouldn’t see any other houses, which had suited him just fine.

Yet his house was next to another, and one fence enclosed their backyards together.

No other homes were even visible.

He sighed and started to turn for the living room when a sound caught his attention.  His body automatically went on full alert, and he reached for the Sig nestled at his waist.  Had they found him?

“Detective West?  Don’t shoot.  I’m a friendly,” came a deep male voice.

Malcolm pulled the gun free, the weight of it in his hand more familiar than his own voice.  “Friendlies don’t show up uninvited,” he said calmly, eyeing the two main exits from the room in case he needed to run.

A guy strode toward him, hands loose at his side.  Probably in his thirties, he had bloodshot grown eyes, short brown hair, and graceful movements.  His gaze showed he’d seen some shit, and there was a slight tremble in his right arm.  Trying to kick a habit, was he?

Malcolm pointed the weapon at the guy’s head.  “Two seconds.”

The man looked at the few boxes set around the room, not seeming to notice the gun.  Even with the tremor, he moved like he could fight.  “There’s nowhere to sit.”

“You’re not staying.”  Malcolm could get to the vehicle hidden a mile away within minutes and then take off again.  The pretty cottage was a useless dream, and he’d known it the second he’d signed the papers.  “I’d hate to ruin the yellow wallpaper.”  It had flowers on it, and he’d planned to change it anyway.

“Then don’t.”  The guy leaned against the wall and shook out his arm.

“What are you kicking?” Malcolm asked, his voice going low.

The guy winced.  “I’m losing some friends.”

“Jack, Jose, and Bud?” Mal guessed easily.

“Mainly Jack.”  Now he eyed the weapon.  “Might putting that down?”

Mal didn’t flinch.  “Who are you?”

Broad shoulders heaved in an exaggerated sigh.  “My name is Angus Force, and I’m here to offer you an opportunity.”

“Is that a fact?  I don’t need a new toaster.”  Mal slid the gun back into place.  “Go away.”

“Detective—”

“I’m not a detective any longer, asshole.  Get out of my house.”  Mal could use a good fight, and he was about to give himself what he needed.

“Whoa.”  Force held up a hand.  “Just hear me out.  I’m with a new unit with, ah, the federal government, and we need a guy with your skills.”

Heat rushed up Mal’s chest.  His main skill these days was keeping himself from going ballistic on assholes, and he was about to fail in that.  “I’m not interested, Force.  Now get the fuck out of my house.”

Force shook his head.  “I understand you’re struggling with the aftereffects of a difficult assignment, but you won.  You got the bad guy.”

Yeah, but how many people had died?  In front of him?  Mal’s vision started to narrow with darkness from the corners of his eyes.  “You don’t want to be here any longer, Force.”

“You think you’re the only one with PTSD, dickhead?”  Force spat, losing his casual façade.

“No, but I ain’t lookin’ to bond over it.”  Sweat rolled down Mal’s back.  “How’d you find me, anyway?”

Force visibly settled himself.  “It’s not exactly a coincidence that you bought this house.  The only one that came close to what you were looking for.”  He looked around the old-lady cheerful kitchen.  “Though it is sweet.”

Mal’s fingers closed into a fist.  “You set me up.”

“Yeah, we did.  We need you here.”  Force gestured around.

Mal’s lungs compressed.  “Why?”

“Because you’re the best undercover cop we’ve ever seen, and we need that right now.  Bad.”  Mal ran a shaking hand through his hair.

“Why?” Mal asked, already fearing the answer.

“The shut-in next door.  She’s the key to one of the biggest homegrown threats to our entire country.  And here you are.”  Force’s eyes gleamed with the hit.

Well, fuck.Ex

Guest Blog by Debra Elise – A Peek Inside a Writer’s Mind, Day, Life. Don’t worry it’s safe—mostly.

on May 9, 2017

A Peek Inside a Writer’s Mind, Day, Life. Don’t worry it’s safe—mostly.

Hi, my name is Debra Elise and I’d like to begin by sending Rebecca a virtual hug for hosting me on her blog ? Today, I’m talking about the writer’s life and I hope you enjoy this quick peek behind the covers.

Did you ever wonder what your favorite author’s day, week or life is like? Are we different from our readers, friends or the average mom working to make a living and a better life for her children? Well, no and kinda. It’s complicated. Authors are “mostly” normal (on the outside) and we of course have the same daily struggles as any other person. But, inside, where the creative juices flow, we deal with voices no one else hears; characters who battle with each other to have their stories heard NOW and we consume large amounts of coffee, tea, chocolate and wine. So maybe we’re more like our readers than some may think.  LOL And maybe we’re a little spacey as we walk among you. But that’s because we’re plotting or thinking about how we want to begin or end our next book. A lot of us are hyper aware of what’s happening around us and are more likely to be the observer in a social situation rather than the leading lady. We use the energy of our surroundings, for better or worse, in our stories. We take inspiration from overheard snippets of conversation or the hot guy behind us in line waiting for coffee. But beware, if you piss us off, well—we just might make you a villain in our next book. 😉

Some of us become addicted, wait I mean inspired by T.V. shows and movies. We often binge watch our favorite shows in between writing. Sometimes it’s a double-edged sword because when you write, you begin to view your shows with a more critical eye. But in the end, it’s win-win so it’s totally justified when you’ve just spent three hours of your life

sobbing while watching THIS IS US. We also read our favorite authors (and yes, we fangirl over Nora, Rebecca, or whomever we love to read when we meet them in real life) But sadly, when you begin writing with the intent to publish or make it (fingers crossed) your full-time career, you have less time for reading.  As a writer, we need to read especially if we hit a wall with our own writing. We call it ‘filling the well’. Someone else’s creativity begets our own and we become inspired by the emotion invoked by our favorite books and authors. And sometimes we daydream (raises hand) and let the characters have conversations in our head which can lead to something we would never have thought of otherwise. In my case, I stare into the flames of my office fireplace and let scenes play out and then scramble to remember it, write it down and build upon it so you don’t just end up with a great scene, but an awesome chapter. However, I need to be careful with the fire gazing, otherwise I’ll end up nodding off. Which sometimes a short nap refreshes the idea factory we carry around with us, but can also derail precious writing time. The struggle is real when you love to nap like I do.

At the end of the day, or night, and after we’ve typed all the words or yelled at a blank screen, binged on our shows, or participated in a blog or Facebook event interacting with our fab readers, we still have to do the laundry (my nemesis), chauffer kids around, decide what to feed everyone for dinner (takeout if you’re on deadline) and take the shower (hopefully) we didn’t get a chance to have when the husband, partner, child, or fur baby couldn’t find their (insert item here). Because you (me), of course, were the only one with the superpowers to locate it. Just another day in the glam life of a writer.

Thanks for reading! I would love to connect with you. You can find me on my website www.debraelise.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/debraeliseauthor

Debra Elise

In my spare time when I’m not herding kids or reading Rebecca’s books, I write contemporary and paranormal romance novels. My newest release is CLAIMING CONNOR, Book 3 in my Outlaws of Baseball series and is available now.

Kindle: http://amzn.to/2k6QMmX

Nook: http://bit.ly/2k3sfk8

Kobo:  http://bit.ly/2oEEO3b

 

Her biggest regret shows up wanting a second chance. He’s determined to regain her trust and win her love.

He never forgot her.
Once upon a time Connor Holt’s best friend’s sister was his childhood nemesis. Years pass and one night in college they became more. Much more. But then he messes up; confesses to his best friend, takes a right hook for his trouble and makes a promise—one he’s now ready to break. He’s done staying away from her. It’s now four years after a night spent loving Reese, and he’s traded to the Idaho Outlaws as the starting first baseman. He’s right where he wants to be. In the backyard of the one woman he should never have let go. Connor faces an uphill battle but after a dare, and one helluva kiss, he’s back in Reese’s bed. She thinks all they have, all they need, is great sex, but he’s ready to show her he’s playing for keeps.

She tried to forget what could have been.
Reese Kincaid doesn’t believe in fairy tales. She believes in hard work and has spent the last four years creating her dream. One she could control – not the one where he comes back and begs forgiveness. She soon realizes you need to be careful what you wish for because sometimes you get exactly what you don’t want—but need. Her nightclub and restaurant, now successful, has become a second home for members of the Idaho Outlaw’s baseball team. When Connor is traded to the team he soon appears and asks for another chance to win her hand. But can she overcome the crushed hopes of her past and believe that Connor wants more than just the grand slam chemistry they have, or will he show her they can create their own happily-ever-after?

 

 

 

Whoops – My Bad. Sorry!

on April 14, 2017

Hey all!  The info on the Deadly Silence being a kindle daily deal and the info on Scorpius Rising being free right now was accurate in the last blog post.

The Justice Ascending promotion has ended, and Wicked Burn is the kindle monthly deal at less than a dollar.  Sorry about the mixup!  There are too many book promotions going on right now.  🙂

Here’s the WICKED link – just click on the cover.  🙂

 

Free Book and Huge Deals!

on April 14, 2017

Hi All!


I’ve been meaning to blog more lately, and I’m working on it, but thought I should make a couple of announcements because they’re timely.  First, DEADLY SILENCE is a kindle daily deal TODAY only.  It’s rare to get chosen for a daily deal, so I wanted to let you know.  It’s on sale for $1.99 today only.  This is the first book in the Blood Brothers series, and each book has received top picks from RT Reviews.  If you liked the Sin Brothers, you’ll love the Blood Brothers.  Please let me know what you think if you get the chance to read!  If you missed the sale, I’ll let you know when another occurs, if there is one.  It’s doubtful there will be another kindle daily deal, though. You can click on the cover, or here’s the link:  http://amzn.to/2oKarfA

Next, guess what?  SCORPIUS RISING is offered free for a short time.  It’s the prequel novella to the entire Scorpius Syndrome, so if you haven’t given the series a try yet, this is the perfect chance.  It’s free for more than just this day, but I honestly don’t know how long the freeness will last.  🙂  Here are the links:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2omHGF8
B&N: http://bit.ly/2phxoDE
iBooks: http://apple.co/2oftjBX
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2nRbGoI
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2nuA4Bj

It looks like the JUSTICE ASCENDING DEAL IS NOW OVER.

However, WICKED BURN is a monthly kindle deal at less than a dollar!!!  Click on the picture below, or here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2ouKdLH

That’s all the news I have for now.  Everyone have a wonderful rest of the week!

XO  Rebecca

Izzy’s Insights – with Tace Justice!

on February 8, 2017

Reporter Izzy
Photo Credit: Sergej Khakimullin
Shutterstock

Hi all!  Boy, I’ve missed interviewing people, but I’ve had a blast traveling around the world for a while.  Now I’m back to blur the line between reality and fantasy, truth and we-wish-truth, life and stories.  In other words, I’m here to interview Tace Justice.  You know Tace, right?  He’s the Vanguard medic.  What’s Vanguard, you say?  **Sigh**

Okay.  There’s more to life than vampires and super soldiers.  Turns out a nasty bacteria named Scorpius took out 95% of the human population, and a group called Vanguard sprang up in inner Los Angeles.  It’s led by ex-gang member and former soldier Jax Mercury.  Now, you’d think that having most of the population gone would leave things rather peaceful, right?  Right?  Nope.  Haha.  No way.  Turns out the bacteria messes with the brain and creates sociopaths.  (You do know about all the real studies regarding the structures of sociopathic brains, right?).  Anyhoo,  sociopaths can be good just not all that emotional, they can be crazy and eat dirt, or they can be super brilliant, scary, real life serial killers.  Guess who the biggest sociopathi serial killer is in the Scorpius World?  Yep.  The president.  (There are NO ZOMBIES in this series.  The bad guys are sociopaths.  Still human with brains).

So…Tace Justice has survived the bacteria, and he’s darker and deadlier than before.   He’s also kind of wondering if he’s going crazy.  Just to give you a picture, he’s blond with blue eyes straight out of Texas…with the sexy as sin accent.  Yep.  He’s a big guy who has served his country as a medic.  Now we’re meeting in a looted bar somewhere right outside Vanguard territory.

With that intro…

IZZY:  Hi Tace.  Thanks, for, um meeting me.

TACE:  What the hell is going on, and who are you?

IZZY:  I’m Izzy.

TACE:  I don’t know what that means.

IZZY:  (Man, he’s cute.  Huge blue eyes–they sizzle like a hot Texan sky.  I feel the urge to fan myself, but I don’t.  Because I’m a professional, you know.)  It means, you’re here for an interview.  You know it’s important to preserve history, even though we’re fighting for our lives.

TACE:  We have people preserving history?  (He glances down at my brand new red Louboutins and frowns).  Those are pretty fancy shoes for the end of the world.

IZZY:  The king sent me these.

TACE:  The king?  What king?

IZZY:  (Shit.  I’m crossing realities again.  King Dage Kayrs (from the Dark Protectors) can do so because, well, he’s the king.  Most everyone else can’t).  Just a guy I used to date.  You know, before Scorpius.  I wear them to remember him.  (I may need a vampire friend to get me out of this mess.)

TACE:  Did you lose him?

IZZY:  Um, yeah.  Okay.  So.  You’re fighting your attraction to Sami Steel, and that’s not working very well, right?

At this point, Tace leans back in his chair, and his eyes darken to this really cool but kind of scary deep blue.  I swallow, maybe a little nervously.  But hey, I’ve dealt with cranky vampires, remember?  So instead of talking, I just lift one eyebrow.  That usually works.

TACE:  The eyebrow thing doesn’t work on me.

IZZY:  Okay.  But you still need to answer the question.

TACE:  While I don’t see what my love life or current obsessions have to do with history, I guess I could tell you that I’ve always fought my attraction to Sami.  She’s a warrior, and that just turns me on, you know?

IZZY:  In this day and age, with the world ending, it seems like things could revert to the bad old days where women were just, well, used.  To hear you talk about her like a warrior is uplifting.

TACE:  We’re fighting for survival, and anybody who thinks women can’t fight as well as men are just crazy.  Hell.  The smartest and most likely most dangerous people we have at Vanguard are women.  Lynne, Vinnie, Sami, April…they’re all crucial to surviving this.  You get that, right?

IZZY:  I surely do.  So you don’t try to protect her at all.

Tace then rolls his eyes and turns to scout the deserted and garbage riddled street outside.  Then his shoulders seemed to relax.

TACE:  Of course I try to protect her.  She’s well trained and dangerous, but she’s not invincible.  If anything happened to her, I’d lose my mind. 

IZZY:  I understand.  So.  Do you see a happy story for you?

He snorts.

TACE:  No.  I mean, we have enemies outside the gates who want us dead.  One of them is the president of the USA.  We’re gonna have to take the fight to him soon, and my only goal is making sure Sami survives that fight.  Even if I don’t.

He’s sweet and more than a little sexy.  I can’t help but wonder why Sami hasn’t just tackled him to the ground already.  I guess I’ll go read their story now.  I’ve been waiting, and it’s finally here.

The door opens, and there stands three hundred pounds of pure muscle.  I sigh as I take  in golden eyes, longish dark hair, and a deep scowl.  Tace stands, and the second he does, I bound to my feet.

IZZY:  So.  This is my bodyguard from the, ah, Mission to Preserve History.  We’re not affiliated with any group or gang or organization.  (My voice rises as I hustle toward the badass at the door.  I need to get him out of here and out of this reality before I blow everything.)  Bye.

TACE:  Hey.  Good luck with the history!  I’m not sure what’s going to happen to us, especially with so many enemies, so it might be good to keep a record.  Bye.

When will the protectors stop trying to, well, protect me?  With a zip, I’m out of the Scorpius reality and back into another one.

See you guys soon!

XOXOXO, Izzy

Justice Ascending

 

Pre-Order Now!

 [Kindle]  [Amazon]  [GooglePlay] [ Kobo ]

 

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from JUSTICE ASCENDING:

“Sami,” Jax said. “Damon arrived an hour ago to request assistance. I’m sending Tace into Merc territory to help with the wounded from the attack yesterday, and I’d like you to provide backup.”

Merc territory? Eesh. Although it would be advantageous to catalog their weak points. “Got it.” She kept her face stoic and strode past the men and into the war room. After she’d tapped out the night before, Tace had let her up, and she’d all but run for her quarters. A sleepless night later, and she still couldn’t forget his lips so close to hers. No way was she getting involved with a brilliant bad boy who freely admitted he was about to go dark—especially since he was smart enough to figure out everything she was fighting so hard to keep hidden.

Tace followed her. “You shouldn’t come with me,” he whispered, keeping pace past the table to the lockers.

What was happening with him? “Why not?” she whispered back, yanking open a locker to outfit herself.

He didn’t answer.

She fit a gun holster over her shoulder, pushing her green sweater out of the way. A knife went in her jeans pocket, and a couple more went beside her calf and in her boot. She looked up. “Well?”

Tace’s jaw flexed, and he stepped into her space. “It’s Merc territory.”

“No shit.” Heat flared through her at the nearness of his hard body. Man, she was off-center. “Would you move back?”

“No.” He tugged on her shoulder holster. “This isn’t secure enough.”

She slapped his hands. “Stop it.”

He yanked on the strap, and she smacked his wrist, engaging in a clumsy struggle. He leaned in. “You need to listen to me. Last night I dreamed of you beneath me, naked in bed, and coming hard. We need distance from each other.”

She didn’t back down even as her libido sprang right up into awareness. “What about Barbara?”

“It’s over,” Tace said flatly.

“That’s your problem and not mine.” Sami drew out a knife.

“Yeah, except you’re the one haunting my dreams,” he said, his voice gravelly.

She shook her head. “You’re just having more brain issues from the illness. It’ll go away once you heal. Nothing can happen between us because of our jobs.” And the fact that she was lying to everybody about her past. Oh yeah. That.

His jaw clenched. “I know that, which is why we could use distance.”

“I’m not neglecting my job because you’re horny, Justice.” She shoved him.

He tugged on the strap again, and she slapped his hand. Again. They engaged in a struggle for control, and she shoved his arm.

“What the hell?” Jax snapped from the doorway.

Her head swiveled the same time Tace’s did. Heat climbed into her face.

Jax frowned and looked from Tace to Sami and back. “Is something going on between you two?”

“No,” Sami burst out just as Tace snarled, “Hell, no.”

Jax rocked back on his heels, his face harder than usual. “All right. Keep it that way.”

Sami brushed by Tace. “No worries there.” When she reached Jax, he stopped her by the arm. She lifted one eyebrow and stared up into his sharply cut face.

He dropped his hand. “This isn’t an order. If you don’t want to go into Merc territory, you don’t have to.”

Sami stiffened. The men had never treated her differently because of her sex. Her abdomen cramped. “Did you give Tace the out if he didn’t want to go?”

Jax paused and then frowned again. “Actually, yeah. I did.”

“Oh.” She settled. “All right then. I’m fine on mission.”

“Copy that.” Jax released her. “Learn everything about the Mercs that you can—I’m interested in their holdings and provisions. Well, and security. If we decide to take out Greyson Storm, who steps up?”

Sami paused. Sometimes she forgot what a cold strategist Jax could be. He’d mellowed a little since falling in love . . . but only a little. “You’re thinking of taking the leader of the Mercs out?”

“Maybe.” Jax turned toward Tace. “Are you focused enough for this?”

“Yep.” Tace grabbed a black cowboy hat off a rack near the door.

Sami shook her head. “Do not let him wear the hat. We’ll look like idiots.”

Tace ran his finger along the brim of the hat. “This is my natural look.”

It might have been at one time, but the new Tace Justice? She took a good look at him. The brim hung low over his blue eyes and cast part of his face in shadow. Fine lines and rugged features were visible and yet his expression remained veiled. Tingles exploded in her abdomen. He did look good in the hat. “Maybe it will fit our purposes for them to think you’re a moron.” She pivoted on her heel and headed for the vestibule, using every ounce of her strength to sound normal.

He chuckled low behind her, and the sound shivered down her spine.