Authors: Nina Bruhns
Table of Contents
Praise for the novels of Nina Bruhns,
Three-time overall winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award
for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense
If Looks Could Chill
“A thrill ride of fast action and hot sex in the steamy Louisiana bayous, Nina Bruhns’s latest delivers it all!”
—CJ Lyons, bestselling author of Warning Signs
“An exhilarating romantic suspense . . . Fans will not be able to put the thriller down until finished.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
Shoot to Thrill
“Suspense just got a whole lot hotter with Nina Bruhns’s dynamite romantic thriller. A hero to die for and a heroine to cheer for . . . An awesome, sexy story.”
—New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan
“Intense pacing . . . powerful characters . . . searing emotions and explosive sexual tension! Once I started reading
Shoot to Thrill
, I couldn’t stop! Nina Bruhns writes high-action suspense at its very best!”—Bestselling author Debra Webb
“Sexy, suspenseful, and so gritty you’ll taste the desert sand. A thrill ride start to finish!”
—USA Today bestselling author Rebecca York
“A provocative, sexy thriller that will get your adrenaline pumping on all levels. A riveting breakout novel that will shoot Ms. Bruhns straight to bestsellerdom. Move over, boys, and see how it’s really done!”
—Award-winning mystery author Tamar Myers
“Nina Bruhns’s book will thrill readers who love action and romance in their stories.
Shoot to Thrill
is a wild ride, full of spec ops adventure and fun!”
—Award-winning author Gennita Low
Praise for the other novels of Nina Bruhns
“The stuff legends are made out of.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Shocking discoveries, revenge, humor, and passion fill the pages . . . An interesting and exciting story with twists and turns.”
“[A] delightfully whimsical tale that enchants the reader from beginning to end. Yo ho ho and a bottle of fun!”
—Award-winning author Deborah MacGillivray
“This is one you will definitely not want to miss!”
—In the Library Reviews
“Nina Bruhns . . . imbues complex characters with a great sense of setting in a fast-paced suspense story overladen with steamy sex.”
—The Romance Reader
“Gifted new author Nina Bruhns makes quite a splash in her debut . . . Ms. Bruhns’s keen eye for vivid, unforgettable scenes and a wonderful romantic sensibility bode well for a long and successful career.”
—Romantic Times (4 stars)
“The intricate and believable plots crafted by Nina Bruhns prove she is a master of any genre. Her talent shines from every word of her books.”
“The kind of story that really gets your adrenaline flowing. It’s action-packed and sizzling hot, with some intensely emotional moments.”
“Nina Bruhns writes beautifully and poetically and made me a complete believer.”
—Once Upon A Romance
“Tells a very rich tale of love . . . A book you are going to want to add to your collection.”
—Romance at Heart
Berkley Sensation Titles by Nina Bruhns
SHOOT TO THRILL
IF LOOKS COULD CHILL
A KISS TO KILL
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A KISS TO KILL
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / April 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Nina Bruhns.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
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375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To Mary Alice, Tamar, Judy, Dorothy, and Vicki,
the best friends anyone could ever have.
Love you all!
Manhattan April, present day
were using her as bait.
Dr. Gina Cappozi could feel them following her. All day she’d had that peculiar sensation of eyes on her back, the spill of goose bumps on her flesh for no reason, a tingle in the hairs on her neck . . . obviously the STORM Corps special ops guys must be doing what they did best—lurking in the shadows, watching her from doorways and alleys, scanning the busy Manhattan streets for danger. Always there for her. Always watching her back. Waiting patiently for their mutual enemy to appear.
She wished they would just go away and leave her the hell alone.
Their constant presence was meant to be reassuring. It should be a comfort knowing they were there watching out for her. But it wasn’t. Because even though STORM Corps had once heroically saved her life, and now supposedly had her under protective surveillance, she also knew those spec ops guys had an agenda—to get their hands on
, their hidden enemy, any way they could.
And she was their Judas goat.
Well, too bad. They’d have to wait their turn at the bastard. Because she wanted him even more than they did.
Captain Gregg van Halen
Gina glanced around as she quickly took the steps down into the black maw of the Lexington Avenue subway tunnel. No familiar faces lingered in the crowd as the crush of mindless, homebound humanity carried her along in its wake. Would she be able to give her babysitters the slip this time?
Or maybe they’d decided she really was paranoid, that her pursuer was just a figment of her PTSD-induced overactive imagination, and had already gone away and left her on her own. Maybe it was van Halen she could feel stalking her.
Good. Let the bastard come.
Just let him try and hurt her
. She was ready. Her body was healed. And her mind . . . well, her mind was as healed as it was going to get. For now.
She was armed, of course. She never left her Upper East Side brownstone without her weapon of choice. Hell, even inside her home, she was never without her knife. Nowhere was safe for her, indoors or out. Not as long as van Halen still drew breath.
She wrapped her fingers firmly around the handle of the razor-sharp KA-BAR knife tucked in her coat pocket. Oh, yes. She’d been practicing, all right. Lunging and plunging it into the heart of a straw target, over and over, until little piles of cut straw lay scattered on the ground all around and its cloth covering was sliced to ribbons. Day after day, week after week. She’d decimated a hundred targets or more, much to the chagrin of her STORM self-defense instructor.
She was confident now, no longer terrified of the mere thought of coming face-to-face with the man who’d haunted her nightmares for the past six months. The man who had sold her to terrorists and walked away without a backward glance.
Really, what could he do to her that she hadn’t already endured? Nothing. He couldn’t hurt her. Not this time. Not her body. Not her heart. He wouldn’t take her by surprise again. He wouldn’t get the chance.
No one would. Because Gina Cappozi was taking her life back.
And Gregg van Halen was going to die.
That was for damn sure. The very hand that had lovingly stroked his skin and caressed his body to fevered arousal was going to be the same hand that ended his miserable life for good.
And if she was very, very lucky, it would happen tonight.
hell, not again.
STORM operator Alex Zane struggled to take a breath. Frantically, he fought against the menacing desert mirage as Afghanistan closed in all around him, binding him in a breathless straitjacket of horror. Desperately, he tried to block the piercing screams.
“No!” he cried. “Get the fuck away!”
Too late. No way out of the nightmare now
He hugged his rifle to his body and burrowed his back into the rocky hillside above the Afghan village where he’d been sitting for hours, waiting for the signal to attack. Screams of pain echoed through the heat-shimmering air like sirens of death.
His comm crackled and his team leader’s urgent voice broke over the headset. “Zero Alpha X-ray, this is Zero Alpha Six, do you read me?” Kick Jackson sounded urgent. But competent. In control.
He grasped at Kick’s voice, clinging to it like a shipwrecked sailor. “What’s going on out there, Alpha Six?” Alex asked, fighting the panic.
Fucking breathe, soldier!
Kick’s voice barked out, “Do not move in! It’s a trap. Repeat, do not—God
it! Drew! Get back here!” Kick swore again, and Alex could hear his sharp breaths, like he’d taken off at a dead run. In the background, the terrible screams grew louder. “Abort and withdraw!” Kick yelled, cursing. Then the comm went dead.
Suddenly, an explosion ricocheted off the mud walls of the village below. Alex flung his rifle onto his back and scrabbled up the rocky hillside to take a look. No way was he retreating, leaving Kick and the others to—
A dozen village men surged over the ridge just above him, pointing their weapons at his head and shouting. His pulse rocketed out of control.
Sonofa fucking bitch!
He spun in the dirt and launched himself down the slope. He hit the comm. “X-ray under attack!”
His assailants swarmed after him. He had to lead them away from the rest of the team.
No! Don’t do it!
his mind cried out.
Gunfire erupted all around. More screams.
Fire scorched across his temple and pain burst through his shoulder. He jerked and stumbled. The world tilted, then went black. But miraculously, he was still conscious. Terror crushed his chest. He scrambled up again and ran. Blind.
My God, he was blind!
He ran straight into a human hornet’s nest. Vicious hands grabbed his arms, fingers yanked painfully at his hair, gun butts slammed into the soft organs of his body. He cried out in agony, striking back, kicking with all his blind fury.
His captors just laughed. And beat him until his flesh turned to red oatmeal.
Then they bound a rope around his ankles and threw him to the ground.
A raw sob escaped his throat. Fuck, no!
“Alex?” Kick’s reassuring voice floated in on a cool breeze.
He tried to yell an answer. But his throat had strangled closed on a mute cry. He knew all too well what came next. And there was nothing to do but endure it.
Or go completely insane.
Which he might do anyway.
“Alex?” Kick called from far away.
. He’d never reach him in time.
The motor of a Jeep roared and gears ground. He thrashed against his bonds.
Fucking damn it to hell!
The rope around his ankles yanked taut.
Oh, God, this was really happening
. He tensed his body. Prepared himself for the hideous pain.
The Jeep jerked forward. So did he. A bloody layer of skin stayed behind on the ground.
“Alex! Wake up!”
The order was firm and clear, like the voice of God. It would not be disobeyed.
Alex surged out of his nightmare, wrenched upright with a lurch, and hit his head on the solid roof liner of an SUV.
He looked around frantically as he shook off the dregs of an illusion so real it made him doubt his own sanity. Tall buildings crowded around the vehicle. Horns blared on the busy street. Men in suits chatted on their Bluetooths.
He was back in Manhattan.
“Shit!” he gritted out, gulping down a painful gasp of much-needed air.
He grabbed the steering wheel and gripped it to steady his throbbing, reeling head. Harsh breaths stung his lungs as he forced himself to calm his raging insides.
Just another damn flashback . . .
Today was his first op for STORM Corps, and he’d spent all day sitting in an SUV on a stakeout—not on some god-forsaken A-stan mountaintop fighting insurgents.
All too slowly, the debilitating panic and adrenaline subsided. Until, finally, he was able to unclench his fingers and stomach.
. He’d never been claustrophobic before. But then again, he had never been a lot of things before . . . until the events of the past two years had taken their heavy toll. He shouldn’t have been particularly surprised when the insidious panic swept over him, stealing the air from his lungs and thrusting him into a living nightmare of hallucination. But he always was.
“You okay, bro?” Kick asked at length.
Alex exhaled heavily. Looked up into the worried face of his best friend, who was white-knuckling the edge of the open SUV window, leaning in. Not touching or reaching for him. Just observing, at the ready. He’d been through this before, the debilitating flashbacks. They both had.
“Fuck,” Alex said aloud, shaking like a goddamn leaf. “Fucking hell.”
“Yup,” Kick said. Perfect understanding weighted his intense gaze. That day in A-stan when Alex was captured, Kick had been half blown up by a land mine and left for dead. It had been a long, long road back for both of them.
And it wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.
. Alex had really thought he was ready to go back to work. After all, the injury-induced blindness was gone, his body weight was back up to where it had been before the tender loving care of his al Sayika terrorist captors had starved it in half, his muscles were again firm and rippling . . . if under a web of angry red scars. He no longer flinched at sudden sounds or movements.
It was just the fucking claustrophobia that still got to him. Who’d have thought simply sitting in a closed vehicle would trigger it? He sighed. More damn fodder for his damn shrink.
He steadied his fingers and slashed them through his hair. “I don’t know how long I’ve been out. Did I screw up? Is she home? Did I miss her?”
being Dr. Gina Cappozi, the object of the surveillance he may just have goatfucked all to hell. Gina Cappozi had also been a captive of al Sayika for three months, but here in the States, and for entirely different reasons than Alex. They’d brazenly captured her, beaten her, and compelled her to produce a horrific biological weapon to use against her own country, hoping to kill millions in an attack on U.S. soil. But she’d outsmarted them and foiled their plans.
After her rescue, the decimated terrorist organization was out for vengeance and had put a price on her head. A big one. Double the price they’d put on his and Kick’s after his own rescue. Everyone, including Alex—hell, especially Alex—was expecting some fanatic
to show up and collect on it any minute.
Thus Gina’s protective detail, of which he and Kick were a part of. The operation was being run by STORM Corps—Strategic Technical Operations and Rescue Missions Corporation—Alex’s and Kick’s relatively new employer. STORM had been contracted for the mission by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Initially, Alex had been on Gina’s tag team, but he’d kept jumping at shadows, absolutely certain she was being followed by someone other than STORM. But no one else on the team had spotted any kind of tail, or danger, or anything suspicious at all. It was just him being paranoid.
Big fucking shock.
So he’d been reassigned to watch her brownstone—a throwaway job no one had thought he could possibly fuck up . . . though no one had actually said it aloud.
How wrong they all had been.
“No worries,” Kick told him now. “Dr. Cappozi’s fine. She just got on the subway to come home.”
It suddenly dawned on Alex that Kick was supposed to be on tag duty today with Kowalski. “Then what are you doing here?” he asked. “Are you sure nothing’s happened?”
“Gina’s safe,” Kick reassured him. “But there’s been a development. NSA picked up some interesting chatter overnight.”
Alex was instantly alert. “What kind of chatter? About al Sayika?”
Alex narrowed his eyes. For many years both he and Kick had worked as operators for an outfit called Zero Unit, which was an ultra-covert black ops unit run from the deepest bowels of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. But after the deadly disaster in A-stan, and another neardebacle six months ago in the Sudan, Kick was convinced al Sayika must have a mole working for them—either within Zero Unit itself, or someone higher up, maybe in another government agency with close ties to ZU. How else could the terrorists have obtained such accurate details of both ill-fated operations? Details solid enough to sabotage the missions and leave most of the teams dead.
When Gina had been taken right from under their noses at Zero Unit headquarters, there had been an investigation. Sure, everyone had been cleared. But Kick still had his doubts.
had betrayed them. Alex agreed. They were dealing with an inside traitor of the worst ilk.
So they’d both quit Zero Unit and joined STORM, a similar but non-governmental spec ops outfit. They were fairly certain that STORM had not been infiltrated by the terrorists. Last year, the organization had staged Dr. Cappozi’s rescue in Louisiana, as well as Kick’s retrieval of Alex over in the Sudan—all without leaks from their side.
Dr. Cappozi’s current protection detail was just part of a bigger mission: to find and eliminate the scumfuck traitor working as a mole in the U.S. government for the al Sayika terrorists. Dr. Cappozi was convinced the man they were looking for was her former lover, Captain Gregg van Halen, a Zero Unit operator who’d gone rogue shortly after her capture. The evidence supported her belief.
If she was right, this van Halen prick was directly responsible for Alex’s imprisonment and torture, Kick’s terrible injuries, and the hideous deaths of their teammates.