Savvy, hard-riding, rule-breaking—they’ll go anywhere and do anything it takes to protect and serve. But this U. S. Marshal has just met his match—and playing for keeps is one sizzling game…
Getting saved from disaster by a handsome stranger—Harper Allen has no problem with that. But when he leaves without a word or a clue to his real identity, the newbie reporter writes it off as the best one-night-stand she’ll never have again. Until a year later, when Harper comes face to face with the man assigned to hide her from a senator’s killer…
Galen Kelly hasn’t forgotten a single sensual minute of his night with Harper . . . or that she betrayed him. But with the FBI also on their trail, he’s got to pretend he’s never met her or risk both their lives. But as danger closes in, Galen may not be able to protect himself from taking the biggest risk of all…
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“I can’t believe you snagged this detail, you lucky son of a bitch.”
Galen Kelly quirked a brow and raised his glass in a silent salute. “Luck has nothing to do with it, Landon. I earned this detail.”
“Six months in Louisiana, and you think a few weeks back in Portland is enough to keep me from being pissy over you ditching me for greener pastures? I think the elevation is getting to you,” Landon scoffed. “You’re the luckiest bastard I’ve ever met. Handpicked by Monroe for the SOG program, and don’t even get me started on how you breezed through the training.”
Granted, a couple of weeks back home weren’t long enough. And despite his attitude, Galen knew Landon had missed the shit out of him. They were as close as brothers, and he’d lost track of how many nights they’d sat in this very booth at Score, the local sports pub that was like a second home to them in their rookie days. Now, at twenty-nine, Galen already felt like a seasoned member of the U.S. Marshals Service, though he knew a superior officer or ten who might disagree with him.
Landon was just giving him shit, but in truth, Galen had never wanted anything more than to prove himself the best man for the job. For months he’d trained at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana for the U.S. Marshals Service’s elite Special Operations Group. The number of applicants accepted into the program was small, but the number of Marshals who came through the program with credentials was even smaller. Serving as the head of personal security for the U.S. Ambassador to France for the next year would elevate his career to the next level.
“Yeah, yeah,” Landon remarked, tossing back what was left of his Jack and Coke. “You get to go play in France for a year, while I’m stuck here doing prisoner transfers.”
Landon liked to bitch, but he lived for the job. They’d gone through basic training together at Glynco. It was Landon who’d pushed Galen to go ahead with the application for the SOG program after their Supervisory Deputy, Curt Monroe, nominated him as a potential candidate.
“You could apply for the program, you know,” Galen replied. “Live the glamorous life of a moving target for foreign dignitaries. Or wait around on call 24/7 to be flown half way across the country or god knows where and throw yourself into dangerous situations at a moment’s notice. Good times.”
“No way man,” Landon said with a laugh. “I hate fancy foreign food almost as much as I hate being on call. One day without ribs or a cheeseburger and I’d go out of my mind. You throw yourself into dangerous situations and eat escargot. My ass is staying here. I’m going for another Jack. You want anything?”
Galen swished what was left of his beer around in the mug. “Nah. I’m good.” He had a ten a.m. flight to Louisiana where he had another stack of paperwork to fill out before he headed on to Paris. As it was, he’d be lucky to drag his ass out of bed in time to make the flight.
As he watched Landon weave his way through the crowd, his gaze settled on a trio of women at the back end of the pub. Two blondes leaned against the bar, facing a third with long chestnut colored hair, her back angled toward Galen. They raised their shot glasses in a toast, laughing before they tossed back some neon, fruity-looking drink. His attention began to wander until he caught a guy from the corner of his eye. Tall, a little on the grungy side, too lanky—not to mention his shifty eyes and uptight, twitchy stance—he had suspicious creeper or strung-out tweaker written all over him. Galen’s instincts were sharp. He had years of experience dealing with the criminal set. And this guy was trouble. Chatting up the group of women with a smarmy grin plastered on his face, Galen watched as the guy reached out and took the hand of the brunette and tried to bring it to his lips.
This guy was obviously a skilled predator. After months of classes in human behavior, Galen had learned to read body language well. From their demonstrative actions—wide, sweeping hand gestures, the way they tossed back their heads as they laughed, and loud voices—Galen surmised the blondes to be more approachable. The brunette, on the other hand, stood relatively still, her drink clutched in her hand as if grounding her. The creeper passed up the blondes, presumably to hit on the one who looked like the easiest mark. Galen’s spine stiffened, his hand instinctively reaching for where his shoulder holster usually hung—a habit he’d developed over the years—only to remember he wasn’t carrying his gun. Though, by the way Creeper’s target jerked her hand out of his grasp and laid into him with a string of words that Galen could only guess translated to “fuck off,” he decided that her shy appearance had been deceiving.
Unfortunately, the SOB didn’t give up easily. Round two ended much as round one, with a cool rebuff. Galen smiled, impressed with her spirit. She turned on the creeper, putting the bar to her back. Smart girl. With her friends at either side of her and the bar behind her, she’d taken a defensive stance. She brushed a wavy lock of dark chestnut hair away from her face, her hazel eyes narrowed in a silent threat. Galen forgot all about Landon or anything else as he studied her. He couldn’t tell from this far away, but it looked like her nose was dotted with freckles that scattered haphazardly across her cheeks. Her mouth was drawn into a hard line, but even so, Galen could tell her lips were full and lusciously dark pink. He smiled as he watched her poke a finger at Creeper’s face before turning her back to him, all but dismissing his failed attempts at being marginally charming.
Intuition tugged at his senses, a tingle that dribbled from the crown of his head and trickled down his back in an icy shiver. Point apparently made, she turned back toward the bar and set her drink beside her, but Galen sensed this guy wasn’t done with her yet. He kept his eyes glued the woman. Even with her back turned to him, he was intrigued by the waves of hair that reached her shoulder blades, down the curve of her back to where her fingers fiddled with the cell phone clutched in her grasp at her side. Creeper sidled back down the bar, all but ignored by the woman he’d try to win over. He tucked a hand in his pocket and produced a cellophane baggie containing a few tiny white pills. Slipping one from the baggie, his arm jutted out as if he was stretching and he dropped it into her unattended drink. As stealthily as he’d moved in, Creeper slunk away, watching with sick anticipation as the woman who’d so effectively shot him down, turned to retrieve the glass and brought it to her lips.
Galen shot out of the booth, none too graciously nudging people out of his way as he raced toward the bar. He scooped the drink out of the woman’s hand, sloshing half of it on his own shirtsleeve and set it down forcefully on the bar. “Don’t drink that,” he said.
She looked from Galen’s face to the bar and back, her jaw slightly slack. “Huh?”
A smile tugged at Galen’s lips. That one dumbfounded sound was cute as hell. “Hold that thought.” He turned and headed after the Creeper, who’d taken Galen’s interference as his cue to get the hell out of Dodge.
He might not have caught the bastard if Landon hadn’t been paying attention and abandoned his trek to the bar to see what was up. They’d worked together for years, and he’d obviously slipped back into old patterns, noticed that shit was going down and jumped in to help, cutting off the back exit. The asshole had no choice but to double back the way he came. Galen rammed his shoulder into Creeper’s gut, taking him down in a tackle that sent the weaker man sprawling to the floor. In one fluid motion, he flipped the guy onto his stomach and wrenched his hands behind his back while holding him firmly in place with one knee. He reached down and whispered in the asshole’s ear, “You fucked up big time, buddy.”
Galen relaxed his leg, letting his full weight down on the guy, ignoring Creeper’s grunt of pain and labored breath as he waited for Landon to pick his way back through the crowd, all eyes turned to the excitement near the back exit. “Cuffs?” he asked when Landon was in earshot.
He made a show of patting his pockets. “You know, I must have left my spare set in the truck. Jesus, Galen, can’t you even go out for a drink without going all Wyatt Earp on the place?”
The bartender and a couple of bouncers joined them and Landon instructed the bartender to call Portland Police Bureau while Galen turned Creeper over to the bouncers who’d keep him in one of the back offices until the cops could show up to take over. He exchanged a few details with the bouncers, instructing them to search the guy’s pockets for drugs. And if that wasn’t enough for PPB to make an arrest, there was a drink on the bar they might want to save for forensics. “You’re a showoff, you know that?” Landon asked, clapping Galen on the back. “I’m glad you’re leaving town. I forgot what a glory hound you are.”
Galen chuckled, only half-listening to what Landon said. Bright hazel eyes studied him from several feet away, that same dumbfounded look puckering her brow. Landon followed Galen’s gaze and gave an amused snort. “Yeah, you’re the luckiest son of bitch I’ve ever met,” he said. He grabbed Galen’s hand and pulled him close in a half-hug. “I’ve got an early shift in the morning, so I’m outta here. Have fun in Paris, brother, and keep your ass safe.”
Harper Allen’s eyes were glued to the spot on the floor where, just seconds before, the nasty asshole who’d hit on her had been knocked on his ass, flipped on his face like a human pancake, and pinned to the floor. All she’d wanted was a fun night to celebrate her recent graduation from the University of Portland and the journalism degree she’d worked four hard years to get. She hadn’t expected to be thrown into a scenario right out of an episode of Southland.
“Holy crap, Harper, did you see him take that guy out? I mean, shit, that’s one way to make an introduction,” her friend Sophie practically shouted. Put a few drinks in that girl and her voice amplified from fifteen to about fifty. Harper averted her gaze, suddenly conscious of the fact that she must look like a fish out of water with her mouth hanging open and her eyes bulging out of her head. “Boy is fine, too,” Sophie added, as if Harper needed someone to point out that fact. “It must be your lucky night, girl.”
Lucky? Not quite how she’d describe what just happened. She stole a glance toward the bar at her discarded bourbon and Coke. What in the hell was in that drink that warranted something so drastic? Either the mystery man had saved her ass, or this was officially the strangest way she’d ever been hit on. Like, ever. “What do you think it’s all about?” she asked, turning back to Sophie.
“Who cares?” Harper’s cousin Addison chimed in. “I wonder if we took up a collection, if we could get him to do that again!”
Harper gave Addison a wry smile as she pictured her offering up a wad of one dollar bills for a repeat performance. She focused her attention on her would-be savior and wondered if he was the sort of guy who enjoyed being the center of attention. From the way he ignored the murmurings and pointed fingers of the people around him, she doubted he needed the validation. He stood not ten feet from where he’d performed the graceful football tackle, talking to another guy. They leaned in to each other in one of those typical tough-guy bro hugs, knocking their shoulders together. His friend gave him one last clap on the back and left. Alone, with everyone around him giving him plenty of space, he looked up and focused his attention directly on her.
The intensity of his gaze sent a riot of butterflies adrift in Harper’s stomach. Sophie said something low and Addison broke out into a fit of laughter, but their conversation was white noise in the back of Harper’s mind. The rhythmic thrum of her heart rushed in her ears as her mystery hero started toward her, his rolling gait reminding Harper of a sleek lion with the night’s dinner in its sights.
“Oh, yum!” Sophie exclaimed, again, way too loud, her eyes stuck to him like Velcro. “I want to lick him right—” Harper’s leg jutted out as if on its own, her heel catching Sophie in the shin. “Ow! What the hell, Harp?”
“Oh my god,” Harper hissed in Sophie’s ear. “Shut up. He’s coming over here.”
Before Sophie could get a word in edgewise, he stepped up to her. “Sorry about that,” he said, jutting his chin toward the bar.
“It’s okay,” Harper replied with a nervous laugh. “Do you always tackle strangers after stealing drinks from women? Or do you just really have an aversion to bourbon and Coke?”
He flashed her a wicked grin that made Harper’s bones go soft. “I’m not usually so grabby.”
“He can grab me any day,” Sophie whispered in Harper’s ear and she swung out with a hip, knocking her friend back a few steps.
“Oh, so you made an exception for me?” she teased.
“He slipped something into your drink.”
“I knew that guy was nasty!” Addison said from somewhere behind her.
As if she couldn’t help herself, Harper’s voice dropped to a husky murmur. “I guess that sort of makes you my hero, doesn’t it?”
He smiled and Harper’s body flushed with warmth. She hoped to hell she wasn’t blushing, because this guy had clearly stepped right out of the pages of a Marvel Comic. All he was missing was a cape. Her inner damsel in distress was totally swooning.
“How about I buy you a drink?” he suggested. “One that hasn’t been tampered with.”
“No way,” Harper said with a shake of her head. “I’m buying you a drink.”
Harper chanced a sideways glance at Sophie who mouthed, Oh my god! as her knees buckled in a mock swoon. Harper smiled, her eyes widening in silent agreement. Guys this gorgeous—or charming—never paid much attention to her. They usually zeroed in on girls like Sophie or Addison who had bigger personalities. It wasn’t like Harper was a wall-flower, she didn’t suffer from a lack of self-confidence, but she didn’t exactly stand out, either.
“Hey, man, thanks for taking that guy down,” the bartender said as they approached the bar. He reached out to shake Harper’s hero’s hand. “Several bars in the area have had complaints about someone slipping roofies into drinks. I’d be willing to bet he’s the guy. What’ll you have? This round is on the house.”
“Looks like you’ll have to buy me the next round,” Harper’s mystery man leaned in and murmured close to her ear. She shivered at the near contact and couldn’t help but find it exciting that she didn’t know his name yet. An anonymous hero who stepped in to save the day. She wondered if this is how Mary Jane Watson felt the first time Spider Man came to her rescue.
Like the good friends they were, Addison and Sophie melted into the scenery, striking up a conversation with a small group of people farther down the bar and leaving Harper alone with her hero. The bartender slid a fresh bourbon and Coke toward her and popped the cap off a bottle of Stella Artois for her hero. Should she ask for his name? It seemed silly to keep referring to him like he was some sort of superman. But no guy had ever tackled another man on her behalf before, and it was the most chivalrous thing anyone had ever done for her.
“So,” she began, taking a sip of her drink for a little liquid courage. “I know you enjoy tackling would-be sex offenders and you like imported beer. How about a name to go with your superhero persona?”
He brought the bottle to his lips and drank deeply, as if needing a moment to consider her request. When he turned to face her, his navy blue eyes sparked with mischief. “No self-respecting superhero spills his secret identity. I mean, as soon as the hero’s alter ego is revealed, his heroine inevitably finds herself in danger. You’ve already had a brush with evil once, tonight. If I want to protect you, I really don’t have a choice, do I?”
Holy crap, Harper didn’t think this guy could be any hotter. She was on the verge of a full-on nerdgasm. Don’t scare him off yet, Harper. Try to rein it in a little. Her stomach performed a three-sixty as she brought her glass to her lips and took a moment to study him. She’d compared him to Peter Parker, but that wasn’t quite right. He didn’t have that boy-next-door quality. His personality wasn’t dark enough to be Bruce Wayne, though his navy blue eyes possessed a depth and hardness that told her he’d been through his fair share of rough times. Definitely not bumbling enough for Clark Kent, though his dark hair was precisely trimmed and he was clean-shaven. From the way he’d wrenched that guy’s arms behind his back, he could be a cop. Maybe even military? Though she doubted he was ever as weak and scrawny as Steve Rogers, she could totally picture him as his alter ego, Captain America. Whoever this guy was, he definitely had the body of a superhero. There wasn’t a square inch of him that didn’t look to be chiseled from marble. And even in his button down dress shirt, she could make out the hills and valleys of sculpted muscle.
Without thinking, Harper reached out and traced her fingers down his forearm. Yep. Just like marble. “Far be it from me to ask you to reveal your true identity.” She couldn’t believe her brazen behavior. Since when had she become the sly seductress? “But if I can’t have your name, maybe I won’t give you mine.”