MIDNIGHT ACTION by Elle Kennedy
She’s got a broken heart… and a fully loaded arsenal. Ex–army ranger Jim Morgan leads a team of elite mercenaries, but eighteen years ago in Paris, he was part of a black ops unit whose mission was to hunt down a rogue operative. In order to trap the criminal, Jim seduced Noelle, the man’s daughter—a ruthless act that cost him the love of his life and turned her into a mortal enemy. Now he can’t trust her, but he still desires her. He also needs her help…. Older, wiser, and unwilling to play the fool again, Noelle runs a group of highly skilled assassins. And she’s just been offered the hit of the century: Eliminate Jim Morgan. History gives them no reason to trust each other, but with their lives in jeopardy at the hands of a common enemy, the lines between love and hate are soon blurred. Now Noelle and Jim must face the past if they want to have a future—let alone a future together.
His body was magnificent.
Not an ounce of fat on it, just a solid mass of muscle and raw masculine power. Noelle eyed Jim’s molded biceps and triceps as those strong arms propelled his body forward. Long legs kicking through the water, tight buttocks flexing with each commanding stroke.
She hadn’t seen him naked in years, and she was intrigued by the scars— both old and new— that marred his sleek, tanned skin. She wondered how he’d gotten each one. A big part of her wished she had been the one who’d inflicted them on him, but alas, she hadn’t laid a hand on the man since they’d parted ways in Paris all those years ago.
Her hands suddenly tingled with the urge to alter that. To pound into his flesh and administer pain, bruises, any kind of mark to serve as proof that she could cause him damage.
God, he deserved to die for what he’d done to her. So why did she continue to let him live? She used to tell herself it was because she wanted to torment him first, but lately she’d been questioning her motives. Wondering if maybe the reason she hadn’t killed him was because she simply didn’t want to see him dead.
But why not, damn it? All she’d ever dreamed of was wiping him out of existence, out of her life and her thoughts.
And clearly she wasn’t the only one. Someone else wanted Jim terminated, someone who was willing to pay a small fortune to make it happen, and instead of acting like the professional she was and getting the job done, she’d come here to warn him.
To warn him, for fuck’s sake.
A soft splash recaptured her attention, and she lifted her head in time to see Jim hop onto the deck. Water dripped from his warrior form, rivulets gathering between his heavy pecs, running down his rock-hard chest and clinging to his washboard abs. He was unconcerned with his nudity, unfazed by the erection jutting from his groin.
His arms rose in a lazy stretch, roped muscles bulging as his gaze found hers. His cobalt blue eyes gleamed mockingly.
“Say your piece and leave, Noelle.”
She rose from the deck chair with a careless shrug. “Someone wants you dead. Offered me five million big ones to eliminate you.”
Jim slanted his head. “Who?”
“Not sure. The client is using a middleman.”
“Interesting.” He swiped a towel from the stack on one of the lounge chairs and wrapped it around his trim hips.
The second his erection was out of sight, Noelle was able to breathe again. It sickened her that her body was capable of responding to his aroused state; her heart had actually skipped a beat and her core had ached with need.
She wasn’t allowed to get turned on by Jim Morgan. It was a weakness she refused to possess.
“He gave me five days to get the job done,” she added. “After that, the contract hits the open market— two million bucks for your head on a silver platter. It’ll be an assassin free-for-all.”
“Thanks for the heads-up,” he said gruffly. “Any idea who the client might be?”
“No, but I can give you his associate’s information. Gilles Girard, a lawyer in Paris.” She took a step toward the flagstone path that led to the terrace. “Happy hunting, Jim.”
“Did you take the job?”
She kept her back to him. “Of course. Turning it down might have raised a red flag.”
“You planning on following through on it?”
His husky laughter grated. “Why not?”
“Why do you think? I’ll kill you on my own terms, not under orders from some anonymous asshole.”
“Right. You’ve still deluded yourself into thinking you’re actually gonna off me.”
She slowly turned around. The amused glimmer in his eyes made her want to reach for the pistol at the small of her back and shoot him right in that mocking mouth of his.
“Right back atcha, baby,” she said softly.
“Oh, I already explained why I haven’t killed you. I’m not done making you suffer.”
“Whatever you say, Jim.”
She took off walking again, but he came up beside her, matching her hurried strides.
“Where you headed?” he asked.
“What do you care?”
He ignored the question. “Back to Paris?”
“Yes,” she said grudgingly.
“Good. I’ll catch a ride with you, then. Give me twenty minutes to gather my gear.”
He was on the terrace and marching inside before she could protest, leaving her standing there in annoyance. Presumptuous ass. She’d rather slit her wrists than let him board her jet.
So why are you still here?
The snide voice raised a valid point. Jim couldn’t force her to give him a ride. All she had to do was walk out of the house, get into her car, and drive to the airstrip. Without him.
Or, she could put a bullet in his brain and finally be done with him.
But Noelle chose neither of those options.
Instead, she lit up a cigarette, took a deep drag, and waited for Jim.
“You really think it’s a good idea to handle this alone?” D’s gravelly voice sounded from the doorway, where the tattooed mercenary stood with his arms crossed over his broad chest.
Morgan tossed a couple pairs of pants into his large black duffel, followed by a few T-shirts and a handful of rolled-up socks.
“No other choice,” he muttered as he packed. “I need my A-Team in Ecuador, and the rest of the men on other gigs.”
“Sully, Liam, and Ash are all off rotation,” D pointed out. “Take them with you.”
“No,” he repeated. “I have no idea what I’ll find in Paris, and I’m not dragging anyone else into this until I know for sure what I’m up against. I’d rather they stay at the compound— you can call them in for backup if the rebel job gets too hairy.”
D scowled. “They’d be of better use serving as backup for you.”
“They stay here.” He spoke in a firm voice, refusing to yield to D’s menacing expression. No way was he endangering any of his men in what could very likely be a dangerous wild-goose chase.
As if reading his mind, D stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “She could be fucking with you.”
Although Morgan had been entertaining the same notion, his brain kept dismissing it. He knew Noelle better than he knew himself, and he believed with absolute certainty that she’d told him the truth.
But what were her motives for sharing the information? The cynic in him assumed she’d come to gloat, but that didn’t sit right with him. As crazy as it was, he suspected she might have actually come to warn him.
Figure that one out.
“Nah, she’s on the up-and-up.” He checked the clip of his semiautomatic, shoved the weapon in a smaller canvas case, then stowed the gun bag in the big duffel. “Question is— who was stupid enough to hire an assassin to take me out?”
“Speaking of stupid, don’t go teaming up with her,” D said curtly. “If you don’t want to bring the boys, fine— that idiocy is on you. But at least work it solo, then. You can’t trust that woman.”
“No kidding.” Stifling a rush of resentment, he straightened up and met D’s coal black eyes. “Though I’m surprised to hear you dispensing the advice. Weren’t you the one cozying up to her for the better part of a year?”
As usual, D’s expression remained shuttered. “Doesn’t mean I trust her.” There was a pause. “It’s over now, in case you were wondering.”
“Already knew that, never cared either way.”
“If you say so.”
Morgan could have sworn he glimpsed a flicker of amusement in the other mercenary’s deadly eyes, but if he had, it was gone now. Still, the idea that D didn’t believe him— no, even worse, that D was challenging him— made his blood boil.
As far as he knew, out of all the men in his employment, D was the only one who’d made use of previous connections to dig into Morgan’s past with Noelle, and it pissed him off that the man might’ve gained even a smidgen of insight about their turbulent history. Fortunately, D had raised the subject only once, never to mention it again.
But it still fucking grated.
“Anyway, if you need backup, just say the word.” With a shrug, D opened the door and disappeared into the hall.
Morgan finished packing his gear and left the room a moment later. He strode down the long hardwood corridor toward the east wing of the house, where Kane and Abby’s suite of rooms was situated. He’d heard them come upstairs a few minutes ago, and sure enough, they were in their bedroom when he knocked on the door.
“I’m taking off,” he said once Kane appeared in the doorway. “D’s got the details about the rebel job. Call if you run into any trouble.”
“Yes, sir.” Kane’s green eyes took on an irritated light. “Would you please consider taking backup? Sully and Liam are—”
“Staying here,” he finished, swallowing his own irritation. “I just had this same argument with D, and I’m not in the mood for a repeat performance. If I need help, I’ll call ’em. Until then, they stay here.”
“Fine.” Kane sighed. “Keep in contact, all right? Don’t go AWOL on us again.”
“I’ll try not to.” He peered past the man’s shoulders and nodded at Abby, who was perched on the edge of the bed. “Don’t even think about joining them in Ecuador, Sinclair.” He shot a pointed look at her stomach. “You’re grounded for at least another six months.”
“Don’t remind me.” The redhead sighed, her hand absently lowering to rub the slight bulge. “Christ, what am I going to do with myself? I’ve never had this much time off in my life. Is there such a thing as knife withdrawal?”
Morgan had to grin. Abby was probably the most skilled operative he’d ever worked with, but she was definitely way too fond of her knives. He wouldn’t be surprised if her and Kane’s kid popped out with an immediate case of bloodlust.
“I’m sure you’ll find ways to occupy yourself.” He glanced at Kane. “And you, don’t screw up this job. The pay is too good.”
“Like you need any more money,” Kane cracked.
Chuckling, Morgan carted his duffel down the hall again. His scuffed-up combat boots didn’t make a sound as he descended one of the twin spiral staircases and stepped into the parlor.
When he slid out the front door, he found Noelle waiting on the pillared porch, a cigarette in her hand and a frown on her face.
“Let’s go,” he muttered.
She rolled her eyes disparagingly. “Yes, sir.”
They walked toward her Mercedes. The three feet of distance between them was nowhere near vast enough to reduce the tension surrounding them like a dark cloud. If anything, Morgan was even more on edge than before. They had a twelve-hour flight ahead of them, and he wasn’t looking forward to it in the slightest.
It suddenly occurred to him that for the first time in years, they were about to be alone together for more than five minutes.
Just the two of them. On a small jet. Tens of thousands of feet in the air.
Maybe he should’ve packed a parachute, just in case.
Elle Kennedy is a RITA-nominated author grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Ontario, and holds a B.A. in English from York University.