As the demolitions expert for A-Tac, a black-ops CIA unit masquerading as Ivy League faculty, Tyler Hanson has two great loves: literature and explosives. She lives by the motto “duty first” and doesn’t have time for personal attachments . . . until a steamy one-night stand turns into a professional partnership.
BURNED BY BETRAYAL
When Tyler meets Owen Wakefield, a handsome British operative, she seduces him with no intention of ever seeing him again. But then the sexy Brit is brought into A-Tac, and despite Tyler’s efforts to keep her distance, she finds herself falling for him. Trusting him.
Owen seems too good to be true—and he is. He’s hiding his true motives and identity, and no matter how he feels about Tyler, he can’t keep her secrets. One of A-Tac’s members has turned traitor and helped terrorists to hijack a shipment of nuclear weapons. As witnesses start dying and evidence starts disappearing, Owen and Tyler must race to find the mole—and prevent a final, cataclysmic act of destruction.
The little bar was more of a watering hole than anything else. They served beer and rot gut whiskey, and sometimes, when the trucks were coming from the east and not the west, a little Russian vodka. Not that it mattered. All that was needed was something to numb the brain. Erase, for a moment at least, the memory of pleading eyes in dying faces.
She’d come to Africa to forget. And now she’d come here to forget Africa.
“Hit me again,” she said, tapping the glass in front of her. The barman, a German who’d come to save souls but made better money inebriating them, poured another round. She downed it in one swallow, relishing the burning sensation against her throat, a reminder that she was still alive.
It had been almost a year since she’d come to Africa. Since she’d lost Jason.
The decision to leave A-Tac hadn’t been an easy one. She had roots there. Friends. But in the end, it had just been too painful. And so when Kim had offered her the chance to come help with the clinic, she’d jumped at it. After years of fighting the dark side, she’d thought it would be cathartic to save lives. And instead, she’d wound up fighting an even darker foe. Poverty. Along with a good measure of war and pestilence.
Maybe she was just meant for the front lines. It was hard to say. But at least here, there weren’t constant reminders of all that she’d lost. “Another, please.” She signaled the barman and then leaned her chin against her hands, elbows propped up on the bar.
“Seems a shame for a woman who looks like you to be drinking all alone.”
She closed her eyes for a moment, summoning her patience. She wasn’t in the mood for Rafe Winters. The Aussie might be the only thing standing between the clinic and local rebel forces, but he was also a shameless womanizer. And she was bound and determined not to become a conquest.
Not that the idea wasn’t appealing on some base level. He was easy enough to look at. Strong jaw and rich black hair that curled somewhat wildly around his ears and neck. Well-muscled and tall, like Kim, he towered over her. But she was used to that. At five foot three, pretty much everyone was taller than she was. And if she were honest, it was his eyes that were most attractive. Deep blue, they were almost black. Like a night sky. And there was a spark of intelligence that challenged—and annoyed.
He was too sure of himself. And definitely too battle-hardened to be truly appealing. She’d known men like him most of her adult life. Adrenaline junkies. It had gotten Jason killed. And she wasn’t about to let herself go there again.
“So what’s got you hitting the bottle? You’re usually a two-drink-limit kind of girl.” His lilting accent was tempered from a life lived at various locales around the world.
She patted the seat next to her and offered a wan smile. She might not be willing to allow herself to fall for his charms, but this place was sorely lacking in social opportunities. And as drinking partners went, Rafe beat the barman. Gustav wasn’t exactly a conversationalist.
“So what’s with the whiskey?” He nodded as Gustav produced a second glass and filled them both.
“Lost a patient today.” She took a sip of the fiery liquid, reminding herself that she had to keep up her guard.
“Not to make light of it, but that’s hardly an isolated incident here.”
“Yes, but this one was just a kid. And she’d only broken a leg. But with our ancient equipment, I couldn’t save her. Anywhere else in the world and it would have been a cake walk.”
“But this isn’t anywhere else,” he said, his dark eyes probing. “And you’re not any doctor. I’ve seen you at work, and I know that you always give it your best. Sometimes you’re just not going to win the day.”
“That’s what Kim said,” Lara shrugged and took another sip, “more or less. But it doesn’t help. The child is still dead. And at least indirectly it was my fault.”
“So you’re here to wallow?”
“I don’t wallow,” she snapped, her anger quick to surface.
“Now there’s the Lara, I know and love.” His smile was warm and inclusive. As if they shared something more than a grudging friendship. And for just a moment, she allowed herself the memory of how good that could feel. But before she let the thought go further, she shut it off.
“Don’t pretend that you know me, Rafe. You don’t.”
“I know that you’re a damn good doctor. And that Kim is lucky to have you at the clinic. And I know that you’re carrying around some pretty serious shit, including the death of the man you loved and your subsequent leave of absence from the CIA.”
Her head jerked up, her eyes wary. “How the hell did you know that?”
“I’ve been in this business a long time. And I’ve got sources,” he shrugged. “Look, it’s none of my business—” he started, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand.
“It’s sure as hell not.”
“But,” he continued, ignoring her words, “I’ve been where you are. And if you don’t let off some of the steam, you’re going to explode. And believe me, it won’t be pretty.”
“I’m dealing the best I know how,” she grated out. “And I don’t need some fly-by-night mercenary telling me different.”
“Fine,” his jaw tightened, and he drained the whiskey in his glass. “I’ll just be heading out then.”
“No,” she reached out to circle his wrist with her fingers, the gesture surprising her as much as it surprised him. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s not like I have anything to hide. It just caught me off guard that you knew about Jason, that’s all. It’s not something I talk about.”
“You don’t talk about anything, Lara,” he said, sitting back down on the barstool. “That’s the point. And I wasn’t trying to meddle. It’s just that I’ve seen a lot of war wounds in my day.”
“It’s not a war wound.” She shook her head and tipped back the last of the whiskey, Gustav immediately refilling their glasses.
“Isn’t it? Look, working for the CIA is every bit as much of a battle as the ones the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan engage in. Maybe even more so. I obviously don’t know the details, but I do know that Jason died in the line of duty.”
“He was murdered by a friend,” she said, the words coming of their own volition. “Duty be damned. But you’re right it is—was—a war. But I wasn’t the casualty—Jason was.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said, his gaze gentle. “Sometimes it’s the people left alive who take the hardest hit.”
“Jason is dead.”
“And you have to live with it.”
“Yeah, every minute of every day.” She stared down into the amber glow of her whiskey, twirling the glass idly.
“So I stand by what I said. You need time to heal. And working here is sure as hell not the way to do that. I mean, all you’ve done is step from one war zone into another.”
“All right then, so how would you suggest I find release?” The minute the words were out she wanted them back, and his answering smile indicated the unintentional double entendre had hit its mark.
“Well, I can think of several obvious suggestions.” He waggled his eyebrows. “But I don’t relish having a drink thrown in my face. You’ve been pretty clear about your feelings for me.”
She chewed on her lip for a moment and studied him, suddenly not completely sure why she’d judged him so harshly. At least through the haze of the whiskey, he seemed pretty damn appealing. And, except for Kim, he was the only one around who even had an inkling of what she’d been going through. The idea of sharing her burden, even if just for a short while, was pretty damn seductive.
“So what’s with the name?” she asked, moving the conversation to safer ground, but purposefully leaving the door open. “I mean, seriously who names their kid Rafe?”
“My mother,” he said with a shrug. “She loves romance novels. What can I say? And it actually gets worse. Rafe is short for Rafael. Which considering I grew up in a small town in Australia was a bit of a mouth full. Not to mention a bit on the pretentious side.”
“I can see where it could have caused problems, but for what it’s worth, Rafe suits you.” She smiled, surprised at how easy it was to sit here with him.
“Thanks. I think. So what about you? Lara?”
“Dr. Zhivago. My mother loved the movie. She played Lara’s Theme on the piano all the time. Said it was my special song.” She smiled at the memory.
“You said ‘played’,” he prompted, pulling her from the past. The man didn’t miss much.
“Yeah. She died when I was in college. An aneurysm. It was really sudden. But I had a lot of wonderful years.”
“And your dad?”
“He’s gone too. But he’s not dead. Last I heard he was living in Arkansas somewhere.” It was her turn to shrug. “What about you? Your mom still reading romance?”
“Stacks of them, I imagine. I haven’t actually seen her or my father in a couple of years.” A shadow crossed his face. “With my line of work, it’s safer for them that way. They’re great people. They’ve just never been able to understand why I spend my life living on the edge.”
“And why is that?” she asked, leaning closer, the whiskey giving her courage. He smelled like soap and aftershave, and she could see a white line of a small scar beneath the five-o’clock shadow on the right side of his chin.
“Because I wanted to see if there was life outside of Queensland. And because once you’re in, it’s harder than hell to get out.”
She nodded, the truth of his words hitting home. “But you’re here. With me. And that means something, right? It’s not like you’re working for the dark side.” She laughed at her choice of words. “Sorry, didn’t mean to go all metaphysical on you.”
“Well, you’ve got a point. I chose this assignment for the same reason you did.”
“Yeah, I usually go where the money is. But in this case, I chose Africa because I needed to regroup.”
“So I’m not the only one who stepped out of the frying pan into the fire.”
“True enough, but from where I’m sitting, the fire’s looking pretty damn good.”
She wasn’t sure when exactly she’d made the decision to give in to him. Hell, she wasn’t even completely certain he was asking. But sitting here inches apart, her breath mingling with his, she knew with certainty that she wanted him. And the idea was at once intoxicating and unnerving.
She lifted her hand to order another round, but Rafe stopped her. “How about we take a walk instead? Give you a chance to clear your head?”
“What if I don’t want it to clear?” she asked, her voice dropping to a husky whisper. “What if I want something more?”
Excerpt from DARING by Dee Davis, Copyright ©2011 by Dee Davis. All rights reserved. Reprint only with permission from author. Please contact .