I hope you are having a great week. Today, I would like to toot my own horn a little about my new bundle, KILLER THRILLERS: 5 EDGE-OF-YOUR-SEAT-ROMANCES. Here is a brief blurb and buy links.
Love saves the day in this quintet of thrilling romantic suspense novels you won’t be able to put down. Indulge in the sheltering embraces of a few good men (and women!) with these taut and compelling tales of intrigue.
IN THE SHADOW OF PRIDE, the third book in this bundle is an exciting ride from the beginning to the end. I posted be the first two chapters below just to give you a little taste of what you can expect.
October 2012, Austin, Texas
Just when she thought the day couldn’t get any worse, fate stepped in and placed the jerk in her line of sight.
Special Agent-in-Charge Mac McNeil.
He stood several yards from her, his piercing, hazel eyes locked onto hers. Lexie Trevena stared at the ground, cutting off their connection.
A warm gust of air blew across the cemetery, surrounding her with a hint of freshly mowed grass and the roses from Rico’s coffin. The two scents had always brought a smile to her face, but from this day forward, they would yank her back to this place, this moment.
Taking a shaky breath, Lexie peered into the freshly dug grave inches from her. The crowd behind her began to shift, making their way back up the hill toward the line of cars. Her best friends, Cole Guzman and Marcus Aziz, stood behind her. Cole cleared his throat and eased next to her, taking her hand in his.
“You don’t have to stay. I—”
“The café can survive a little longer without us,” he interrupted.
“You can’t be closed during your busiest time of day. Go. Seriously, I’ll be fine.” Finally glancing over Cole’s shoulder at the sea of mourners, she planted a fake smile on her face. “I’m just waiting until some of the people leave.”
“We’ll take off if you promise to drop by and eat something,” Marcus chimed in.
“Maybe you can just bring me a sandwich at home. I need to be alone for a while. You understand?”
She reached up and kissed Cole on the cheek and repeated the gesture with Marcus. The men’s expressions were so easy to read, and their concern touched her heart. They wanted to make this all better. That was impossible.
“If you change your mind, or if you need one of us, just call, Lexie.” Cole tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear then reached for her hand.
“I’ll be fine. Go before you make me cry.”
They studied her for several moments. Then, with one more quick hug, they strolled up the hill.
Two groundskeepers stood off to her left waiting patiently to lower the coffin into the ground. The thought of Rico’s strong, hard body buried under six feet of Texas clay was hard to digest. As long as she stood rooted to that spot, her nightmare couldn’t turn into her reality.
Mac McNeil slowly worked his way through the crowd of mourners toward her. Instinctively, she twisted away from him. Escape. Before she could make a move, a man whose name she couldn’t recall blocked her path, placing a hand on her arm.
“Mrs. Trevena …”
“Lexie. My name is Lexie.”
“Lexie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your husband was a good man, a fine agent. He’ll be missed.”
He seemed to want some sort of acknowledgement from her, but she had nothing to give. He finally dropped his hand to his side and left her alone.
He was a good man, a fine agent. He’ll be missed.
Meaningless babble, meant to give her a measure of comfort. How was her broken heart supposed to be consoled by a group of strangers? Most of the crowd was there out of respect and had never even met Rico.
Lexie had no idea how to behave, or what to do or say to the people around her. She couldn’t focus long enough to reason it out. Grief festered into a pool of staggering anger, sending her emotions into a tailspin. It was all so senseless.
The moment Rico told her he was going back undercover, that voice in her head screamed out, no, don’t leave―the sense of dread overwhelming. It was as if her heart knew this day would come, but her pleas, arguments, nothing she said kept him from walking out that door.
Out of complete desperation, Lexie had done the unthinkable. She’d stormed into the office of Rico’s boss and handler, Mac McNeil, and again she tried reason. Every ounce of her temper came out to play that day. Rico was so furious she had gone to his boss, it took him days before he was calm enough to talk to her.
Now the man who’d ordered Rico into that miserable alley off some nameless street in southeast D.C. stood only a few feet away from her, eyeing her with concern, and probably just waiting for her to go ballistic.
There would be no tantrum today, not here. She refused to break down. Rico might not have known the men and women who stood at his grave, but they came from miles around to honor one of their own, one of the fallen. If they could be here, honoring her husband with such strength and respect, then so could she. She would swallow sob after sob until her throat was bone dry, but not one tear would fall onto her cheeks.
Her husband of only twenty months couldn’t be in that oak coffin sitting on the rack. There had to be some mistake.
She hugged her waist as she tried to take control of her emotions. How she wished this horrible day would just evaporate like a bad dream. She could almost hear Rico’s deep, teasing laugh. He would call her his drama princess then kiss her senseless, chasing away her fear.
She couldn’t stand glued to this spot all day like a statue. Move.
Settling her nerves, she took a step back and bumped into a solid wall of man. She didn’t need to turn around to know who stood there. Mac McNeil. His hand came at her elbow until she found her footing in the gravel, then he dropped it to his side.
“If you say you’re sorry for my loss, I swear I’ll give you a nose bleed.”
“Tell me what I can do for you, Lexie.”
“Make this go away. Give me Rico back.”
A wall of silence surrounded them until Mac broke it. “I can give you a ride home.”
“Got a ride. Someone from the protocol office arranged a limo.”
“I’ll ride with you, see you home.”
Lexie turned to face Mac. His eyes displayed such sadness and grief. He was hurting. Rico and Mac weren’t just colleagues but friends, and in their line of work, that friendship almost made them brothers.
Today, her pain and grief trumped his. Unable to keep the words in her head where they belonged, she whispered, “I hate you, Mac McNeil.”
“I know. Put it aside for now. ”
She scanned the crowd that still mingled. All their eyes were on her, and she couldn’t catch her breath. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time her lungs weren’t screaming for air. “I can’t …”
“I can’t watch them … I don’t want my last memory of Rico to be his coffin lowering into the ground.”
“I’m going to walk you to the car, Lexie.”
Mac placed a hand at her waist, and before she knew what was happening, she was sitting next to him as the limo pulled away from the curb. It wasn’t until she was standing at her door that her focus returned.
“What?” she said, staring at Mac.
“I said, give me your key.”
Lexie pulled the keys from her clutch purse. “I’m fine now. You don’t have to wait.”
“Just give me the key, Lexie.”
One glance at his tight expression and she handed it over. There wasn’t anything left in her to fight with Mac McNeil.
At least it wasn’t hard walking back into the condo. Lexie had moved into the place after Rico went back undercover. Their first apartment was only one room and a small bath. Once she’d found this place, she’d set out to furnish it with items she loved, waiting for the day Rico could add his touch to it. But that day never came. Rico had never set foot into their new home.
As she dropped her purse on the kitchen table, the stress in her shoulder muscles eased a little from the familiar sweet scent of pine from the rosemary that grew on her kitchen counter. The tension instantly returned when she glanced behind her at the man who stood in her doorway. How was she going to get rid of Mac?
Her eyes fell on the organized clutter sprawled over half the table. She had been working on a midterm project when Mac showed up at her door five nights ago and told her about Rico.
Her life at the University of Texas seemed like another lifetime. Her dreams for the future, the strong drive to become an engineer, had drained out of her with Rico’s death. Exams were a couple of weeks away and she didn’t give a damn.
“Thanks for seeing me home,” she tried to dismiss Mac.
“Is there anyone I can call?” His frame continued to block the doorway, but he didn’t enter the apartment. “Your parents, family?”
“Rico was my family.”
“And he asked me to look after you.” He took a step into the room. “Rico never mentioned anything about your parents. Maybe I can call—”
“My father was out of the picture before I was born. My mom and I aren’t close. The less I see of her, the better.” Lexie brushed her hair from her forehead. “My friends, Marcus and Cole, are working. I have plans to meet up with them later. I know you are trying to help, but right now, all I need is time to myself.”
“I can’t leave you alone, Lexie. Rico would have my head. So, tell me, what can I do for you?”
She swallowed another sob, trying to hold on long enough to be alone in her grief. What she should have done was close the door. Instead, her mind reeled with too many questions.
“Tell me how my husband died. What went wrong? You promised me you would have his back.” The space between them seemed to disappear. “How in the hell is this having his back?” Before she could stop herself, the anger bottled inside spilled out all over Mac. She shoved both of her hands into his chest, making him stumble backward. “Tell me how I’m supposed to get through the nightmares of Rico dying alone in some filthy alley. And how do I face waking tomorrow knowing I’ll never hold Rico, never feel him next to me?” Lexie choked down a sob. “If you can do that, then you’re welcome to stay.”
“Rico wasn’t alone. I couldn’t prevent his death, but I held him until—”
“Where was Jason, his partner? Why didn’t he stop it? And don’t try feeding me that shit about how you can’t discuss details of the investigation. He was my husband and I have the right to know how he really died.”
“Lexie, Jason went down first. Rico lunged in front of him and took a bullet in his chest.”
The image of Rico throwing his life away for his partner was part of the tortured dreams she had for months. She’d screamed until she was hoarse, but no one would listen to her.
She couldn’t take pride in the sacrifice he’d made for his partner, the job. Instead, her blood boiled within her veins and she had no idea where to place the anger.
The tears she had held back let loose and she didn’t even attempt to stop them. She was going to hate herself in about five minutes, and maybe for a long time to come, but at that moment, she didn’t care. “Why do you get to have your brother back, and my Rico is in the ground?”
The room grew still, cold. “Would you rather Jason had died alongside Rico? Would that make this easier?”
Her knees trembled. She moved to the sofa in the middle of the room and dropped down, covering her face with her hands. What happened to being the better person today for Rico? Just thinking about what he would say if he were there made her cringe.
“I didn’t mean … Rico considered Jason his brother. That makes him family, my family.” As much as Lexie wanted to avoid facing Mac, she lifted her head and met a pair of cold hazel eyes.
Damn it, she should apologize. In fact, she never should have opened her mouth in the first place. But one glance at Mac’s expression and the words clogged in her throat.
A tap on the door sounded. Without breaking his hard glare, Mac opened the door. A man Lexie never met before stood at her threshold.
“Is this the Trevena residence?”
Mac positioned his body to block the entrance. “How can we help you?”
“I’m Lexie Trevena.” She rose and took a step toward them.
It took an instant to notice the infant carrier the man held in his left hand. The tiny newborn baby slept on as the adults in the room stared at one another. Lexie wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met. How can I help you?”
He held out a business card. “I’m Brad Winston with Winston, Botts, and Flores, a law firm headquartered in Dallas. I’m looking for Rico Trevena.”
Mac moved around the man, his eyes on the carrier. “And what’s your business with—”
“Mac,” she said quietly. “I’m Rico’s wife.” She took the business card he still held out and gave it a brief glance. “Mr. Winston. I buried my husband today. How can I help you?”
“Rico Trevena’s dead?” He shook his head and the arrogance in his demeanor seemed to drain out of him. “I’m sorry for your loss. Had I known—”
“What business did you have with Rico? He had a lawyer.”
“I don’t represent Mr. Trevena. Would you mind if I place the infant on your sofa?”
“Of course.” Lexie moved out of his way and said nothing as Winston gently settled the carrier on the center cushion. Mac moved behind Lexie. The tension radiating off him made her jumpy as hell.
The lawyer cleared his throat. “I represent the mother of this baby.” He brushed aside Lexie’s textbooks, cleared a spot on the table, and flipped open the latches on the case. “I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to spit it out. Rico and my client … well, they … that’s Rico’s child, a little boy. His name is Gabriel Trevena and is two days old.”
Rico’s child? The two words stabbed through Lexie’s heart. “That’s not possible.”
Mac stalked across the room until he was nose to nose with the lawyer. The man’s eyes never blinked.
“Look, Winston. I don’t know who the hell you are, but you can’t come in here and tarnish a good man’s name and hurt his wife like this. She’s just returned from his funeral, for God’s sake.”
Reaching into the folder, the attorney handed Mac a sheet of paper. He scanned it, and drawing in a deep breath, he shot a stare at Lexie.
“I have the paternity test,” Winston said. “Your friend here will confirm that Gabriel was fathered by your husband. I’m so sorry to have to do this to you, but—”
“What do you want from me?” Lexie choked out.
Mac’s face was easy to read as he looked at the paper. He believed it. She couldn’t catch her breath. The innocent child was living proof that her Rico broke every vow he made to her.
Mac’s arm came around her waist and she jerked away. Her mind screamed get out, everyone get the hell out of my house, but this time, the words wouldn’t come.
“Mrs. Trevena, I don’t mean to hurt you.”
“Then why the hell are you here?”
How Lexie got the question out of her clogged throat was a mystery. At least her words seemed to have some effect. Color drained from the man’s cheeks and his eyes darted toward the door.
“My client is from a very powerful political family. They’re not likely to accept Gabriel because Rico was—”
“Half native Indian and half black? Why, that self-righteous bitch. My husband was good enough to sleep with, but—”
“Mrs. Trevena, my client never wanted children and said her relationship with your husband was a twenty-minute drunken mistake. Rico convinced her to take the pregnancy to term. He was going to raise the child.” He paused and leaned his hip against the table. “I’m sorry to put you through this, especially today. I really had no idea of Rico’s passing, but nothing has changed. If Rico had refused the child, I have instructions to place him with a private state-licensed adoption agency. There are parents on the waiting list for infants.” He replaced the folder and shut the lid of his briefcase.
The room grew still, with only the hum of the refrigerator a few feet away filling the void. Lexie approached the sofa and eased the blanket away from the baby’s face. The lawyer reached for the carrier handle. Before he could lift it, she shoved his hand away. “Wait. Just wait a second.”
The baby had Rico’s nose and full lips, even the slant to his eyes. Every muscle in her body began to shake. Her heart hammered inside her head, and she couldn’t take enough air to fill her lungs. This panic attack was going to be a doozy if she didn’t gain some measure of control. She stood there like a moron, staring at Rico’s son while she mentally put herself through the exercises she had learned years ago to calm her breathing.
“I need … space,” she gasped. The lawyer took a couple of steps away from her. Again she shut her eyes, focusing on taking in a deep cleansing breath, then letting it out to the count of ten.
Rico, how could you do this to me?
Her eyes popped open and her heart dropped to her stomach. Rico was gone, his coffin covered with six feet of dirt by now. This child was supposed to be theirs. They’d been waiting until Lexie finished her degree. At twenty-two, she thought she had all the time in the world for children.
She couldn’t explain the need, but her arms ached to hold Rico’s son. She reached out her arms but dropped them back to her side. Warmth closed in on her, and she could almost hear what Rico would say to her if he were there.
Take him. Love him.
The four words whispered around her. As quickly as the warmth appeared, it disappeared, leaving her chilled to the bone.
Why didn’t Rico tell her about the baby? He had to have known for months. As soon as that thought sank in, another one slammed into her. She turned and studied Mac. “Did you know about Rico and this woman … and the baby?”
“No, Lexie, I didn’t know about the baby. I never would have allowed you to be blindsided like this.” He stood completely still as if he were choosing his next words very carefully. “I knew Rico. You knew him, too. He flirted with anything in a skirt. And we both know how much he could put away—beer, hard liquor, it didn’t matter. That was a part of him neither of us could change, but it didn’t define the man. He didn’t want this to happen like this.”
“Mrs. Trevena, your name is on the custody papers that Rico and my client drew up.”
“What?” Mac and Lexie said simultaneously.
“I know this is all a huge shock and quite unfair, but if you are at all interested in raising your husband’s child, I have the paperwork with me.”
She didn’t know from where the strength came, but she took another step forward and lifted Gabriel to cradle his tiny body close to her heart.
This was crazy, damn ass crazy. But was it a mistake? She couldn’t let Rico’s child be placed with some stranger. She had spent enough years living with people who pretended to love children. There was no way she could stand by and chance that Rico’s son got one of the good ones. She touched her lips to Gabriel’s soft, baby-scented cheek. Dear God, could she do this?
“Lexie, think for a moment,” Mac said at her side.
“I don’t want just custody. If I take Rico’s son, I’ll adopt him. His mother doesn’t get to take him back.”
Mr. Winston opened the briefcase again. “The paperwork is already drawn up. All I need is your signature.”
Panic sliced through Lexie. “Don’t you need to clear this with his mother? Doesn’t she need to—?”
“Mrs. Trevena, like I said, everything has been decided. After you sign the papers, I’ll file them with the courts. There is also a bank account set up for Gabriel’s needs, and yours, of course.”
“You are not paying me for this child.”
“Of course not. But my client is a wealthy woman. She may not be able to raise Gabriel, but she will provide for his needs.” He headed for the doorway, lifted a large plastic bag, and set it on the kitchen table. “I have a few things you’ll need until you get to the store.” He then laid the folder next to the bag and pulled out a stack of papers all stapled together.
Lexie’s heart went out to the baby in her arms as the words take him, love him pierced through her heart. They were Rico’s words. She didn’t doubt it for a moment, even though the very idea pitched her emotions into a whole new plane. Before reason set in, she blurted out, “Where do I sign?”
The lawyer pointed to several places in the contract. Lexie reached for the pen.
Mac placed his hand on her elbow. “Lexie, wait. You can’t sign those damn papers without having someone look them over.”
“Look at him, Mac. Gabriel looks just like Rico. This is Rico’s son. If I don’t raise him, love him, then who will?”
Before she lost her nerve, Lexie signed the adoption contract on each line Mr. Winston indicated while Gabriel slept peacefully in her arms. He placed the contract back into his briefcase and headed toward the door. “My client leaves for Japan and will be out of the country for the next several years. If you decide you can’t do this, call the number on the card.”
Just as Mr. Winston reached the door, she called out, “Wait. Could your client just be experiencing postpartum depression?”
“No, Mrs. Trevena. Gabriel’s mother never would have raised her son. I couldn’t even get her to hold him.” A slight smile appeared at the corners of his mouth and warmth entered his eyes. “I truly am sorry for the timing, but I must say I’m content with the arrangements. I think Gabriel is a lucky little boy to have you.”
“Do you want me to send you pictures, updates …?”
“Please don’t. Gabriel is your son now. You’re his mother.” With a nod, he walked out the door.
Lexie stood listening to his shoes clicking on the hardwood flooring of the hallway. Mac stood inches from her with a look of shock on his face. He straightened his stance as if every muscle in his shoulders and back tightened.
“I can’t believe what you just did, Lexie. That was the most reckless, ridiculous …”
“Mac McNeil, go. I don’t have the strength to fight with you. I did what I had to do.”
“You have to think this through. Raising a child is for life.”
Lexie cuddled Gabriel against her chest. With her free hand, she opened the door wide. “Please, Mac. Gabriel and I will be fine.” Her knees began to tremble, and she leaned against the door for support.
He took a card from his pocket, scribbled something on the back, and set it on the table. “I don’t know what the hell just happened, but if you need me for anything, call.”
“I won’t call.”
He leaned down and kissed the top of Gabriel’s head. “Rico was one of my best friends. I may not agree with what you just did, but I’m not the enemy, Lexie,” he whispered, his attention focused entirely on the baby. When he raised his head, their eyes held. “I’m here whenever you need me.”
He eased past her and walked out the door. As if on autopilot, Lexie closed the door quietly behind him, setting the lock in place. Her knees finally gave, and she slid against the door onto the floor. With Gabriel securely asleep in her arms, she tucked her head into his blanket and sobbed.
Two years later, Austin
“Shit! What the hell?” Mac cussed under his breath as a thin line of sweat slid down his spine. Keeping his voice at a whisper, he stepped out of the teller line and spoke into his mic. “Why didn’t someone stop Lexie Trevena at the entrance?”
Rico’s widow, with a two-year-old Gabriel in her arms, had wandered right into the middle of a multi-task force sting operation.
“She parked in the Mother with Child slot at the front door. We couldn’t have anyone approach without drawing suspicion,” an agent in the surveillance van replied.
“Everyone stay alert. I’m going to try to get her and the kid out of here.”
Mac slowly made his way across the lobby. He couldn’t help admiring all that was Lexie Trevena. Her deep mahogany hair flowed loosely down her back, accentuating a deep tan. Her charcoal-brown eyes brightened with a smile for the receptionist. God, she was strikingly beautiful. And Gabriel―the kid was a carbon copy of his father.
Lexie set the squirming child down at her side and reached into her oversized canvas bag. She pulled out a juice cup, handing it to her little boy. On any other day, Mac would have been okay with running into the pair. Why this bank at this exact moment?
Business in the small lobby was quiet for an early afternoon. It was why Luis Horde picked this time of day to rob credit unions. He could slip in and out quickly. However, things could change on a dime. If threatened, Horde didn’t think twice about using innocent bystanders as shields.
Horde had been working his way north, robbing one credit union after another for the last several weeks. Mac’s sister-in-law, Sarah McNeil, had tracked his movements, and her algorithm predicted this branch would most likely be his next hit. As if on the clock, he had entered the bank just a few minutes ago and was filling out a deposit slip at the center table where he could keep track of the entire lobby. He was probably composing the demand note to pass to the teller. Mac couldn’t approach him because there were a couple of customers within arm’s reach, and if the guy made Mac, there was high probability of a hostage situation.
Mac took a moment to eye the three members of the task force positioned in the lobby. Several agents waited in the parking lot for the signal.
His eyes raked over Lexie one more time. Even after two years, whenever he checked in on her and Gabriel, she still treated him like something she had to wipe off the bottom of her shoe. Maybe she lumped him into a group, a reminder of Rico, his death, his betrayal. But damn it, Mac wasn’t that kind of man. Rico had been a good friend, but as a husband, he had been a complete ass. If Mac ever had a woman like Lexie Trevena in his bed, he wouldn’t crap it up by banging someone he talked to for five minutes in a bar.
Where the hell did that thought come from, moron? He needed to get his head back in the game. Somehow, he had to get Lexie and her son out of the bank without making Horde cagey.
Mac approached the reception desk and leaned his elbow on the counter. Gabriel held tightly to his mom’s leg but glanced up and smiled at Mac. He was a cute little bugger and seemed to tolerate Mac a lot better than his mom. Gabriel held out his juice box toward Mac.
Lexie turned and their eyes held. For an instant, she looked almost happy to see him. It may only have been the sense of seeing someone she recognized, the familiar, because her eyes slowly began to smolder.
“Mac McNeil. Why is it every time I’m having a shitty day, you show up?”
She picked up her son, eased around Mac, and sat Gabriel down in one of the plastic chairs. The kid let out a small protest and reached out for his mother. She searched her bag, handing him a small book and a toy giraffe.
“As soon as I fill out some paperwork, I’ll pick you back up.”
“I’ll take him.” Mac held out his hands.
Holding a child wasn’t one of his best plans with a bank robbery only minutes from breaking wide open, but the little guy looked so defeated. Horde glanced in their direction before turning back to his business.
“He isn’t feeling well.”
“Why don’t I help you carry him out to the car?” The excuse he was looking for just fell into Mac’s lap. He held his hands out to the toddler and Gabriel went into his arms.
“Mac, what are you doing? Put him back down. I have a meeting with the loan officer.” Lexie’s eyes searched the row of offices at the back of the lobby.
“If Gabriel isn’t feeling well, maybe you should come back another day.” At a closer look, Gabriel’s eyes were a little red and his nose was running. Mac pulled out his handkerchief and did what he could for the nose.
“What do you know about kids?”
Mac shrugged. “I have nephews and nieces. Kids like me.”
Letting out a frustrated groan, she rummaged through her oversized purse. “If I had the time to come back another day, I wouldn’t be here now, would I?”
“Gabriel just looks a little green.”
“There’s a bug going around his daycare.” She shot him a stare, then smiled at her son. “Go on, Gabriel, why don’t you give Mac one of your very special hugs?”
Her eyes sparkled just a little too brightly. Mac took a closer look at the toddler and couldn’t help easing back just a little.
Lexie let out a deep laugh. “You’re the one who picked him up. When you come down with the flu in a week, just remember to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.”
With that, she reached her hands out for her son and he dived into her arms, resting his little head on her shoulder. With a sheet of paper still in her hand, she side-stepped around Mac and headed toward Horde’s table.
Mac grabbed her elbow and stopped her. “Where are you going? The door is that direction,” he said, nodding toward the entrance.
“I need a pen to fill out this form.” She pulled her arm free. “Don’t you have someone to arrest or something?”
Mac didn’t move, but searched for Horde out of the corner of his eye. Shit. The guy heard her. Horde tensed his muscles in his back. He stepped away from the table, eyeing Mac and, worse, Lexie.
“But I took off work just to play with you and Gabriel. The little guy will feel better with fresh air. We can do this loan thing another day.”
Mac stared into Lexie’s confused eyes, silently begging her to play along. Before she could respond, Gabriel let out a groan.
“Sick bowl, Mommy.”
Lexie made a dash for the trash canister under the table, but it was too late. Gabriel let loose and emptied the contents of his stomach all over Lexie’s arms and Horde’s pant leg.
In all of the years Mac had been an agent, this moment was a first. He didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or pull out his gun and level it at Horde.
Lexie reached for her bag and pulled out a pack of wipes, removing several. She first washed Gabriel’s face, then cleaned off her arm. Mac grabbed several sheets from the container and scooped up what he could off the floor, tossing the mess in the small canister.
When Lexie glanced at the man’s leg, a hint of pink appeared on her face. Mac almost lost his lunch when she knelt down close to Horde.
“God, sir, I’m so sorry. Here, I can get most of it off your leg, and I’ll pay to have your suit cleaned.”
Horde took another step back, shaking the vomit from the toe of his shoe onto the floor. “Never mind, lady.”
She stood and again reached into her bag. This time, she pulled out her wallet and handed Horde a ten-dollar bill. “I have no idea how much it cost. Will this do?”
Mac reached for Gabriel and set him behind him. He knew without looking that one of his team would grab the kid if Horde pulled a weapon. Mac moved until he was so close, her peachy and vanilla-scented shampoo wafted into his nostrils.
“Please take the money,” Lexie said, leaning in closer.
“If the man doesn’t want the money, Lexie, you can’t shove it at him. You apologized. Just let him get on with his business. You need to see to Gabriel.”
He placed his hand on her arm, keeping his fingers relaxed even though adrenaline pumped through his veins.
She jerked free. “Mac, what’s wrong with you? Stop manhandling me—”
Horde grabbed a fistful of Lexie’s hair and yanked her against him. He whipped out a 9mm from the back of his waistband, and rammed the barrel into the sensitive skin of her lower back. “Back off, cop.”
Customers shrieked and dived for cover as one of Mac’s agents grabbed Gabriel from behind him. The toddler let out a yell, but Mac kept his attention on Lexie. “Man, what the hell? I’m not a cop,” he said, raising his hands up. Fear cut through him but keeping the game going was priority. Lexie’s life depended on it. “Take your hands off my girlfriend. She just felt bad about the—”
“Back off!” Horde took two steps toward the exit. “Clear your team out now or she gets one through the shoulder. You have twenty seconds.”
“Mac!” Lexie cried out.
Horde dug the barrel deeper into her skin. It had to hurt like hell. Mac raised both arms, hands out, and took a step back. “Let the woman go if you want to see tomorrow.”
“Big words, asshole. I got your girl, and you have less than fifteen seconds.”
Lexie’s voice may have sounded full of fear, but if her eyes could shoot lasers, Mac would be a pool of ash. Her hand inched up between Horde’s arm and her neck. She leaned her head back.
She was going to do something really stupid. Rico obviously had taught her how to get out of a chokehold, but never with a loaded barrel digging into her.
Mac yanked out his Glock and aimed it directly at Horde. With his heartbeat pounding between his ears, he said, “Don’t you dare.”
A shiver spiked down Lexie’s spine. Mac’s expression grew rigid as he held his stance stock-still. Out the corner of her eye, a woman raced with Gabriel through the exit. He shrieked for her, but the woman kept running.
Lexie hadn’t practiced her next move in more than two years. If she was even an inch off, the situation would go to hell fast. She tightened her hold on the man’s arm, pulling his forearm down so she could breathe.
Mac’s words, don’t you dare registered. Why couldn’t that damn arrogant agent ever trust her judgment? She had one chance. If the man got her outside the building and into a car, all was over.
“Five seconds, cop.”
Lexie took Horde’s words as her green light. Yanking her head forward, she slammed it back into a hard jaw. The force of the blow sent him staggering backward, which eased his hold around her neck. She jabbed her free, fisted hand down hard into his groin. He released her completely as he bent at the waist. Lexie swung her fist up, striking his nose.
When a painful roar escaped from his throat, she twirled away from him, yanking his right shoulder out of its joint. She twisted his arm once more, and he let out another yelp before he lost his balance and landed flat on his back. The weapon in his hand fired several stray shots into the ceiling. The roar from the blast filled her ears, momentarily blocking out all sound. Mac ripped the gun from the man’s hand as two other agents secured him.
Mac grabbed Lexie’s elbow, shoving her behind him. The whole thing took only seconds, but it drained every ounce of energy from her, and she leaned her head against Mac’s shoulder. Before her knees gave out, she stumbled over to a chair and dropped into it.
Mac followed, his large frame looming over her like a dark cloud and his hands fisted on his hips.
“Are you okay, Lexie?”
It took all her control not to scream in his face, No, damn it, I’m not okay! Rubbing the soreness from her knuckles, she studied his expression. He was pissed—at her. Her! How could the stupid jerk make this her fault?
“You let me sit here with Gabriel, and there was a bank robber only a few feet away.” She shot up from her seat and shoved him in the chest. He didn’t move an inch. “Am I okay? No, I’m not anywhere near okay. What the hell is wrong with you, McNeil?”
“Me? That’s rich. I did everything but drag you out by the hair. How dense can one person be?”
Mac’s conversation began to filter back across her mind. It didn’t make any sense in the moment, but now it all seemed to fit perfectly. Shit!
The man always ruffled her every nerve. She was just too tired, too stressed to give what he was saying even a momentary thought. He’d tried to warn her and she missed every clue. The panic and fear began to seep under her skin. God, Gabriel.
“Where is my son?”
Mac placed a hand on her shoulder. “Relax. Gabriel’s fine. He’s with one of my agents.” He reached for her hand, easing her fingers out of a fist. The middle finger hurt the most. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger over the swollen joints. “Doesn’t feel like you broke any bones.” He lifted her chin and studied her neck. “This is going to hurt for a few days.”
“I remember. Rico wasn’t exactly easy on me in training.”
The intensity of his stare made her want to lower her eyes, break their connection, but that would be backing down. She would never allow Mac McNeil to get the upper hand. “If we’re done, I would like to see my son.”
“He’s right behind you.”
She turned and let out a noisy sigh. A woman held Gabriel in her arms. Tears streaked his soft cheeks, but he was fine. “Oh Gabriel,” she said, reaching for the one person on the planet she loved unconditionally. She moved her hand over his small body. “Are you okay?”
“I threw up.”
“I know, but I bet your tummy feels better.”
“Can I have a sick Popsicle?” He lowered his head to her shoulder.
“As soon as we get home.”
A man dressed in a gray suit approached with her bag in his hand. “So sorry for what just happened. Are you okay?”
Lexie nodded her thanks, heaving the bag over her free shoulder. “I’m fine. I just need to get my son home.”
“Mrs. Trevena, I’m the loan officer, Carl Greene.” He led her toward the window. “We can arrange another time to come in and discuss your―”
“What about my loan?”
His expression softened as concern entered his eyes. “If you will allow the trust fund as collateral—”
“No. The trust fund goes untouched. Do I qualify on my salary?”
He shook his head, and Lexie’s heart dropped. Brad Winston had emailed her last week for the first time in two years. Gabriel’s birth mother wanted to meet. She was probably overreacting, but if the woman decided she wanted her son, Lexie needed to know what she had at her disposal to fight back.
The answer to the question that kept her up nights was the worst possible news: She had nothing. With tears blurring her vision, she said a quick thank you before heading toward the exit. Gabriel’s small arms wrapped securely around her neck anchored her emotions and kept her from breaking down.
“Lexie, wait a sec,” Mac said, crossing the foyer.
“Do you need me to give a statement?” she asked.
“What just happened?”
He raked his eyes over her and then shot a stare back at the loan officer. “Don’t lie to me. That wasn’t nothing.”
“It’s none of your business. I need to get Gabriel home.”
“I’ll see you to your car.”
“I can walk to my own car, McNeil.”
“And I’ll walk with you, Trevena.”
The heat of the afternoon hit Lexie the moment she stepped onto the sidewalk, but unlike most people, she enjoyed it. If she were alone, she would lift her face into the sun and allow its warmth to calm her. With Mac at her heels, taking a relaxing moment was out of the question. Clicking the key fob, she opened Gabriel’s side of the car and set her purse on the floorboard.
“Let me take Gabriel,” Mac said right behind her.
“I’m quite capable of putting my son in his car seat.” She set Gabriel down, pulled his seatbelt over his head, and clipped it in place. She pressed her lips on the boy’s forehead and said, “We’ll be home in a few minutes, and I’ll get you all cleaned up.” After shutting the door, she planted a smile on her face.
“Thanks for seeing me to my car.”
Mac leaned against the driver’s door with his hands in his pockets. There was something different in his eyes—not anger, but disappointment. She failed somehow, and if possible, that look hurt more than the anger.
He broke their connection, shielding his emotions. “Lexie, do you need money?”
She hugged her elbows. “No, I’m fine.”
“If you need—”
“Mac, I’m not taking money from you. Will you please drop it?”
Hardness formed in his expression as he straightened his frame. Time seemed to slow, and the tension between them thickened and intensified. God, he made her so nervous, and if she didn’t get the hell out of there, the tears she had been keeping back were going to break wide open.
A huge part of her wanted to unload everything, the fear and desperation she felt the moment she opened the email from Brad Winston, but she kept quiet. Sometimes pride meant carrying a heavy burden. She couldn’t show weakness, especially in front of this man.
Mac reached for the handle and opened her door. Still, she needed to say something to him. “I’m not usually that clueless. I should have picked up on what you were trying to do.”
A smile touched his lips. “You had your mind on a few other things.”
Hell, the damn man could change from being an irritating jerk to a perfect gentleman on a dime. He was actually trying to be nice to her.
Mac reached for her hand and Lexie stilled as his warmth spread through her. His thumb caressed the tender skin in the center of her palm, and with each pass, a dormant sensation came alive. He didn’t move an inch, and she could have sworn neither did she, but before she could place space between them, Mac lowered his head and their lips touched.
Undefined emotions spiked through her every cell as he deepened the kiss. Mac touched only the tips of her fingers and her lips, but it was as if their bodies were interlocked. Need she had not felt in years overwhelmed her. She took what her body demanded until one reasonable thought surfaced.
This was Mac McNeil she was kissing as the damn FBI swarmed around them. She could easily lose herself in him; the sensations he dredged up were so strong. But Lexie had been down this particular road before. It wasn’t a place she would ever go back to. There was too much at stake for her to involve herself in another meaningless relationship.
Lexie turned her head and broke their connection. She took a step back, bumping into the door frame. “I can’t … we can’t―”
He didn’t argue with her and even placed more distance between them, which allowed her to drop into the driver’s seat. She took her time adjusting her seat belt across her chest and placing the key in the ignition. As soon as she was settled, she reached for the door, but Mac shut it gently. When Lexie began to back out of the slot, he tapped on the windshield. Placing the car in park, she lowered the window and made herself look him in the eye.
“This isn’t over, Lexie.”
His words came out hoarse, sexy as hell, but they hit her like a threat. There wasn’t anything left in her to argue with him. Instead, she took the chicken way out and drove out of the lot. His intoxicating herbal scent clung to her, as did the feel and taste of him. It was going to be a long time before she got that kiss out of her system. It wasn’t until she reached the next block that her response formed in her head.
Like hell, it isn't.
~ ~ ~
That's it for today. I hope you enjoyed the read. All 5 books will keep you on the edge of your seat, but what a fun time you will have.
Until next time, be safe and please be kind to one another.
Hugs to all,
Nancy C. Weeks