Date Published: January 27, 2015
Years ago, the McClouds and their friends rescued little Sveti Ardova from ruthless organ traffickers. Now she’s all grown up, and getting into some scorching trouble of her own . . .
The risks ex-cop Sam Petrie has taken have turned his life into a train wreck. So he has nothing to lose by doubling down as the elusive Svetlana Ardova’s unwanted bodyguard on her ill-advised trip to Italy. Her crusade against modern slavery has blazoned a bullseye on her chest, but when one of the death threats against her almost hits the mark, Sam’s protective instincts go into overdrive. Every lethal obstacle and trap they encounter ups the stakes—and the undeniable heat between them.
Now they’re spiraling in on a deadly and explosive secret—one that could either redeem them or destroy them … and the closer they get, the shorter the fuse …
Praise for Shannon McKenna
"The McCloud series is an auto buy for me." --Maya Banks
"McKenna writes intense, sensual stories." --The B&N Review
"Shannon McKenna makes the pulse pound." –BookPage
All yours. Sam's fantasy head rush was swiftly quenched when Sveti lunged for the door. He blocked her way. "No way."
Her golden eyes widened, shocked. "You don't think you're keeping me in here, do you? You're not serious!"
"You heard Tam," Sam replied. "You leave this room, and she comes after my balls with the bolt-cutters."
Sveti's chest heaved, which highlighted her excellent nipple hard-on. "What Tam might do to you is nothing compared to what I will do to you if you try to stop me from walking out that door."
Sam reached, and flicked the knob lock. "I'll take my chances."
She crossed her arms over the nipple jut. "Wrong answer."
"Yeah? What are you going to do to me? You got a pair of bolt-cutters under your skirt, too?"
She snorted. "Most guys seem to think so."
He admired the hot flush staining her cheekbones. "I don't."
"Good for you. Congratulations. You're very brave. Now get out of my way. I can't stand being confined. Not after what happened to me."
He waved that away. "Don't play the captive-waif-in-the-dungeon pity card with me. It's old and tired. Move on."
Her jaw sagged, in utter shock. "You asshole!"
"Yeah, sure," he agreed. "I have nothing to lose. You already think I'm a dickhead. Why not say whatever I damn well please?"
Curling wisps of hair swayed around her chin as she shook her head. "I have bigger problems than your unrequited crush, Petrie!"
"Burrrrrnnn," he murmured. "Tell me about those big problems, since we're shut in here together. You can start with the death threats."
Her eyes slid away. "I do not want to discuss that."
"Too bad. I say we do."
A tense silence followed that statement. She flicked him a wary glance from under those long lashes. "You can't bully me," she said.
"You think not?" he said. "Let's see about that. Spit it out. Who, what, where and when. Was it that sweatshop bust, six months ago? Those piece of shit snakeheads Helen Wong and Him Goh?"
Her eyes went wide and startled. "How do you know about them?"
"I watch the news, Sveti," he said patiently. "I'm a cop. I have friends. I hear things. Plus, you live-streamed, blogged and tweeted the whole thing to a hundred and twenty thousand followers."
"And you are one of them, now? Spying on me?"
He plowed right on past that one, there being no point. "Sneaking into that place with a live video camera on you was suicidal. You should have just passed the tip onto the police, and let them deal with it."
Her chin tilted up. "There were thirty-four trafficked Chinese nationals locked in there, slaving eighteen hours a day! I saw my chance, and took it! People have to see for themselves. It's the only thing that makes it real for them! That's what pulls in the donations!"
"You can't help anyone if you're dead," he pointed out. "But never mind that now. Just tell me about the death threats."
"It was just a letter," she said, defensive. "Hand delivered. It said they were going to kill me. That's all. Nothing came of it."
She shook it off. "Months ago, now."
"So why aren't you guarded twenty-four seven?" he snarled.
"I was! For months! Finally I put my foot down, because it was absurd, Sam. I can't live my life like that. Don't worry! It's covered!"
Covered, his ass. But he knew a dead-end conversation when he heard one. He had lots of practice. Those were a Petrie family hobby.
"Fine," he said. "On to the next item that's not my business."
Her eyes dilated. He wished he had the super-senses they said Miles had now. His heart pounded too hard to hear hers, certainly at that distance. He started to close that distance, and she skittered back a pace. It took all his willpower to stay motionless, leaving none to hold back the incredibly ill-advised question. "If you don't want to talk about death threats, then tell me about your love life."
Her mouth tightened. "I would rather not."
"Tell me about loverboy. How long have you been seeing him?"
"You mean Josh? I've known him ever since Nick rescued me from Zhoglo. He's a good friend."
"Define 'friend," he said. "Does it mean, free to fondle your ass?"
The chin tilted up a notch. "You're being invasive."
"Yeah? Would you feel invaded to learn that he's hitting on two girls on the catering staff, in between groping slow-dances with you?"
Her gaze dropped, but she did not look as startled or upset about that revelation as she ought to. "You have no right to judge."
"Wrong," he informed her. "That ten minutes in Ranieri's home office two years ago. No matter how long ago, no matter how you've ignored me since then, that ten minutes gives me the right to give a shit. Tell me about Cattrell. Are you fucking him?"
"No!" The denial popped out, vehement and breathless.
"Planning to?" he persisted. If this was going to be the definitive crotch-kick of reality, then bring it on.
Sveti's gaze dropped. He waited.
"You're not involved with him at all," he said.
"I told you," she said. "We're good friends."
"And it doesn't bug you that he was fondling the wait staff."
"No, not anymore," she said softly. "I've known for a long time that he doesn't have feelings for me that I'd, um. Hoped."
Hoped? Sveti had hoped, and the guy hadn't delivered the goods? God. Cattrall must be brain damaged, not to hit on that.
"He was touching you as if you were lovers," he said. "But you're not a ass-grab kind of girl. You asked him to do that for my benefit. He was a safe date, in case I came to smoke you out. Your human shield."
Her color rose. "Wow, Petrie. You may be surprised to learn this, but you are not, in fact, the center of all my thoughts."
"Tell me if I'm right," he persisted, though he was already sure.
"Get out of my way!" She tried to push past him, toward the door.
He grabbed her. He knew he shouldn't, but the part of him that knew had no say. The rest of him clamped onto her, nerves janging at the sweet shock of contact. Her heat and scent overwhelmed his senses, laced up into that tight cage of crimson satin. Straining away from him. Provoking a dangerous, animal urge to drag her close. Pin her down.
"Let me go, Petrie," she said. "Or I start to scream."
"You treat me like I'm a criminal lowlife, out to rape and pillage," he said. "I'm one of the good guys, Sveti."
"Hah," she muttered. "There are no good guys."
"We're all bad, then? You lump me in with Arbatov? Zhoglo?"
The mention of the two mafiya Vors energized her struggle. He clamped her tighter against his body. Her heartbeat was so frantic and birdlike. She felt so fragile. But she wasn't.
"I can't believe we're talking about my love life, when that monster is in the ballroom with my friends and their kids eating tempura dipped zucchini flowers! He's committed horrible crimes against innocents!"
"You're not the only one who tries to protect the innocent."
She sniffed. "Yes, of course. The police are so very noble."
He waited for a moment. "Not fair," he said quietly. "We try."
She looked down, abashed. "That is true, and I apologize," she said. "This is silly, Sam. I promise, I won't be rude to the criminals. I won't get myself or anyone else killed. Let go. Please. I'll be good."
Now she was trying sweet reason. Who cared. She may have gotten a handle on her self control, but he most definitely had not.
His grip did not slacken as he put words to the thought forming in his head. "You know what your problem is, Sveti?"
She tilted a winged dark brow. "I imagine you're going to tell me?"
"Your love life, the thing with Josh. Me. It's the same issue. You think sex is frivolous. The real deal is the big bad story of your life. Ogres trying to cut your heart out and sell it. The last minute rescue from a grisly death. The hell you went through gives your life purpose. It defines you. The rest is fluff. It doesn't deserve your full attention."
"And you think you deserve my full attention, Sam?"
"Yeah," he said baldly. "My full, undivided attention, all over every inch of your body, for a prolonged period of uninterrupted time."
She shrank away. "I don't have time for games."
"Yeah. Getting buried in a concrete bridge piling, that's Svetlana Ardova's idea of a good time. You must be lot of fun at parties, babe."
"Fuck you, Petrie!"
Ooh, hostile. "You have to let the past go," he told her.
"Do I?" She shook with a bitter jolt of laughter. "Really! Wow, Sam, thanks for the insight! Like it's that easy! You have no idea."
"You've still got to let go," he repeated stubbornly. "The evil Vor, the dungeon, the whole fucking horrible mess. You survived. It's over. The end. Stop dragging that ten ton weight around."
"You don't know shit about it! You can't say that to me!"
"Of course nobody can say that to you. That's why your love life is so hot and happening. All those unsayable things start to choke a guy after about ten minutes."
"Let go of me, goddamnit!" She flailed furiously.
"But I can say the unsayable. You already think I'm scum. I don't have to pretend to be anything but a dickhead. Ahhh. Freedom."
"I never said you were a dickhead," she whispered.
Happy news, but he wasn't getting cocky about it just yet.
"Where do you get courage to say unsayable things?" she asked. "All the men I meet are afraid of me. So what makes you so brave?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Just dumb that way, I guess."
There was a floor length mirror. He tugged her across the floor until they were reflected in it, right down to the pointy toes peeping out of the hem of her skirt. She made a distressed sound, and fought her arm free to fumble for a tissue, with which she tried to wipe mascara.
"I scare you to death," he said.
She somehow managed to look haughty while mopping up her nose with a tissue. "No, you do not. But you are very intense."
"Just with you. Usually, I'm Mr. Mellow."
"Oh, please. Mellow men do not become homicide detectives, Petrie. They become botanists, bicycle repairmen, mathmeticians, mindfulness bloggers. Organic gardeners. Zen monks."
"Call me Sam." He bent to smell her hair, and she arched away, a tremor rippling through her body. "You don't have to be afraid of me."
Laughter vibrated through her. She mouthed the word. Bullshit.
His hand slid, over her warm curves, shadowy dips and hollows. He wanted to eat up her delicate scent. Devour it in one breath. Miles could break down those pheremones into their chemical components and list their molecular formulas. But for Sam, it wasn't chemistry.
It was magic. Crazy, balls-deep enthrallment.
"You just won't give me a break," he murmured, against her throat. "And I know why. You want to know my theory about you?"
She flinched away as he cupped her jaw, letting her delicate wispy ringlets tickle his wrist. Insubstantial as a puff of breath.
"No, Petrie," she said. "To be honest, not really."
"I'm telling you anyway." He nuzzled the whorl of hair below her ear and dragged his lips over the edge of that crimson birthmark. "That day in Bruno's studio. It was too good for you."
A burst of laughter shook her. "Really?"
"It made you forget," he insisted. "For a little while, it was just you and me in the room. No evil Vor, no organ pirates. No past. No future."
"Marco was there. In his crib," she corrected, primly.
"Whatever. You're so wound up in this scary story of almost getting your heart ripped out. It defines you. It freaks you out, to be cut loose from that. It makes you feel lost. Scared."
"Petrie, do everyone a favor, and don't take up psychology."
"You lost yourself," he persisted. "I could help you find it again."
The frown line between her brows deepened. "You're so arrogant."
"That day when I touched you. You came so hard. I dream about it at night. Wake up shaking. Drenched in sweat. So fucking hard."
She shook her head. "Please," she whispered.
He rubbed his cheek against that loose, gleaming topknock. "It scared you, baby. You thought you were going to die. But you won't. I'll take care of you. You won't fall to pieces. Or if you do, it'll only be for a few seconds, and I'll hold you all together. I'll hold you so tight. I'll keep you so safe." He tasted her, trailing his lips down to her collarbone.
"Sam," she breathed out. "Please."
"I'll make it so good. I'll get you off like that, over and over. I won't be rough. I won't scare you, and I won't hurt you. Just . . . trust me."
She looked up to meet his eyes. He went very still. The raw pain blazing out of them jolted him right out of his seduction schtick.
"I don't know how to trust like that," she said. "I just . . . can't. I'm really not playing hard-to-get. You tempt me, yes. But I hold back because I just don't have what you want. It's not there, Sam."
"What makes you think so?" he asked gently.
She shook her head, eyes squeezed shut. "That mechanism, it doesn't work, in me. I don't mean to be a tease, or cruel, or or disdainful. I never wanted to be a frigid bitch. It's sad and it's awful, but it's the truth. It's my reality, and I'm sorry if I . . . I'm just so sorry."
He processed that. "So we'll work on it," he offered. "I felt a lot of potential, back there in Bruno's office. We'll fix it. No biggie."
"No biggie, he says." Her voice was strangled. "Don't try to rescue me from my past. You'll just hurt yourself. It's bigger than you are."
"How would you know how big I am?"
She shot him a glance, and snorted, reddening.
"I didn't say it," he crowed, delighted. "It was you."
"English is not my first language," she said haughtily. "Don't try to trap me in word games. I will never get the joke."
She wasn't pulling away. He stroked her shoulders, encountered the straps that held up the cups of gathered fabric that her perfect tits were nestled in. He flicked the ribbons down. Her eyes widened as the fabric slid down-catching on her nipple. She jerked her hands up-
Or tried to. He caught them up short, staring into her eyes as the cups slid down to dangle over the shell of the bustier.
She didn't fight, didn't flail. Just stood there, breath stuttering rapidly in and out. Her high, beautiful breasts bared to him.
"You are so beautiful," he whispered. "I've lain awake nights staring at the ceiling, imagining you exactly like this."
He felt his way, slowly. Using those secret senses that jolted to life only when she was near. Eyes and ears that opened only for her. He strained for more. He wanted inside her hidden depths, to take possession. He waited, savoring the tension, until he dared to risk sliding his hands up to cup her breasts, with fingers that trembled.
A ripple went through her, then a sighing, barely audible moan. He caressed her, tender spiraling whorls over and around her taut, deep pink nipples, the soft plump under-curve, the tender fullness. So perfect. Springy, luscious. Suckable. But not now, because she'd rested her head on his shoulders, and the slight, warm weight of her head upon him was such a miracle of itself, he didn't dare mess with it.
He inhaled her scent. Warm and spicy and sweet. Her hair had come unpinned, and the thick horsetail draped over his arm, making him wish his arm were bare. His sleeve blocked out the live heft of that heavy silken rope. His fingers buzzed. She was actually letting him touch her. It put him in a state of trembling, worshipful awe.
She twisted around and looked up. Lips in reach.
That was it, just like the last time. Conscious control vanished.
She melted into him, arms twined around her neck. Oh, God, that sweet, tender inside flavor, the impossible softness of her lips. A swift glance yielded scant possibilities for taking this tryst horizontal. The floor was gleaming oak. Spindly legged chairs, tables with runners, antique breakables. No couches or lounges. So it was the wall again. He could deal with gravity. What was upper body strength for, after all.
He scooped her up. A few steps, and he pinned her to the closest bare spot of wallpaper, fiercely intent upon tasting, touching, knowing more. He leaned to kiss her breasts, and she moaned, ribcage heaving, fingers twining in his hair. He lifted armfuls of skirt, slid his hand up her thigh. Hot, smooth. Stretchy lace, soft skin, filmy silk stretched over tender girl parts, the moisture seeping through. The heat, the wet. He couldn't wait to taste it. Lick it. Get inside. Deep inside. Oh God, now. The wanting was a huge, feral beast inside him, clawing to get out.
Her thighs trembled. He slid his finger under the elastic, into silky golds that yielded sweetly, pressing deeper into a hot, slick paradise-
Rap, rap, rap. "Sveti? Sveti! Petrie? You in there?"
Rap, rap rap rap rap, louder and sharper. Tam's voice. A brief pause, and then again, rattling at the locked door. Rap, rap, rap. "Sveti? Goddamnit, answer me!" Her voice was sharp with alarm.
What, was he under some kind of a curse?
About the Author
Shannon McKenna is the NYT bestselling author of over ten action packed, turbocharged romantic thrillers, among which are the stories of the wildly popular McCloud series. She loves tough and heroic alpha males, heroines with the brains and guts to match them, villains who challenge them to their utmost, adventure, scorching sensuality, and most of all, the redemptive power of true love. Since she was small she has loved abandoning herself to the magic of a good book, and her fond childhood fantasy was that writing would be just like that, but with the added benefit of being able to take credit for the story at the end. Alas, the alchemy of writing turned out to be messier than she'd ever dreamed. But what the hell, she loves it anyway, and hopes that readers enjoy the results of her alchemical experiments. She loves to hear from her readers. Contact her at her website, http://shannonmckenna.com, or join the newsletter by signing up here: http://shannonmckenna.com/connect.php.
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