Authors: Jenna Mills


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"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.

—Helen Keller


ightning didn't strike twice.

Wesley "Hawk"
knew that, had learned the hard way, lived by the credo. He was a man who dealt in cold, hard reality. Fate and luck had no place in his world. He'd learned to fight, to survive, in some of the worst hellholes imaginable. But all those defenses betrayed him now, let the danger seep closer.

Because of her.

Through the darkness he could sense her, feel her, moving among the shadows, just out of reach. Always, always just out of reach. The moonless night muted vision, but he didn't need sight to see her tall, willowy form moving toward him with a grace that could only be called predatory.

The warning sounded next, loud, persistent, droning like a warped record. She didn't belong here. She had no place on the fringes of his world, no business being close enough to touch and feel. To remind.

He'd worked too hard to dull edges that once had cut to the bone.

Oblivion had come easier then, with thousands of miles and an entire ocean between them. He'd trained himself not to think of her. Not to remember. Not to want. But here among the shaded streets of
, memories shimmied everywhere he turned. Even here. In his own little house south of town. His own bed.

A whisper of movement then, closer. And the scent, soft, subtle, vanilla and something exotic, something that lingered like poison on his sheets. And leather.

Ah, God, the leather…

On a violent rush of adrenaline, he brought himself awake. Twisting against the sheets tangled around his body, he clicked on a bedside lamp and squinted at the glaring intrusion of light.

The digital clock read

Swearing softly, he grabbed the relentlessly ringing phone. "This better be good—"


The deep booming voice hit like a bucket of ice water. He pushed upright, ridiculously reminded of what it was like to be a hormone-crazed teenage boy interrupted by his girlfriend's father at the worst possible moment. "Ambassador Carrington."

"Jorak Zhukov has escaped," his employer informed him. The overseas telephone connection brought a slight delay to his explanation. "He's been missing almost two hours."

And that was all it took. Those last hazy fragments of the dream shattered, leaving only the harsh light of reality.

Heart hammering, Hawk disentangled himself from the covers and stood. He didn't need to be told the danger Zhukov presented to the family Hawk was paid to protect. The criminal who'd sworn vengeance on the Carringtons killed with the casual disregard most men channel surfed.

"How in God's name does a prisoner escape from a federal detention center?"

"Good question," Carrington bit out. "My family is not safe with that animal on the loose. I need you to bring

Across the room, his Glock sat waiting on an old pine dresser. Of course the Carringtons weren't safe. He needed to assemble and disperse his team, to ratchet up security, and—

He went very still.


Swearing softly he shoved the hair from his face.

"Home?" he asked, committing the cardinal sin of letting memory intrude. He looked at his no-nonsense bed, the tangled white sheets, and saw her.
. Right there in his bed, sable hair fanned out on the pillow he'd long since thrown out.

"She's in
," the ambassador said. "Accepting an award on behalf of the Foundation."

"I'll call Aaron, sir. He—"

"You. You're the best,
. I want you with my daughter ASAP."

Foolish man.

Hawk put distance between himself and the bed. Cool morning air whispered across the heated flesh of his body, but did nothing to dispel the lingering rush of the dream.

"Wesley." The ambassador spoke in that firm, no-nonsense voice of his, and Hawk realized he'd let silence hang between them too long. "Is there a reason you don't want to protect my daughter?"

The word
stopped the protest ricocheting through him. He didn't want to
Elizabeth Anne Carrington, that was true. But protect… God. Once, he'd sworn to give his life for the sleek, elegant, oh-so-untouchable Elizabeth Carrington.

Once, he almost had.

Two years had passed since then, two telling years during which they hadn't shared one word, one look, not even when he'd been taken down by a sniper. Nothing. And for the hundredth time, Hawk wished he'd stayed in
. Then the ambassador wouldn't be asking him to walk back into his daughter's life.

He'd rather have red-hot splinters shoved under his fingernails.

"No, sir," Hawk said, heading for the bathroom. A quick shower and he'd be on his way. To her.
. "No reason."

"The Lear will be ready when you reach the airport. I'll feel better knowing you're with her. She trusts you."

Hawk bit back a noise low in his throat. He and Elizabeth would be alone for hour after hour in a plane no bigger than a sardine can. She'd be close enough to touch. To breathe in the subtle scent of vanilla that had lingered on his sheets. To feel the heat from her body, the body he could still feel twined with his, when he screwed up and let his dreams last too long.

"I'll bring your daughter home," he promised, turning on the cold water. Anticipation ran hot. For a few hours her life would be in his hands. Finally, at last, she'd have no choice but to confront what she'd run from two years before.

And this time she would have nowhere to hide.

Chapter 1


omeone recognized her.

The icy sensation grabbed Elizabeth Carrington the second she entered the hotel lobby, sending a hated chill through her blood. Her heart kicked, hard. Her throat tightened. Like an animal locked in the sights of a gun, she felt her limbs go leaden, but self-defense training kept her walking across the marble floor, casually, as though she perceived no threat.

But she did. She had all day.

From behind dark sunglasses, she noted a man standing near a potted palm, studying a brochure. Then another man, this one younger and with a mobile phone to his face. Nearby, a young couple appeared locked in a romantic conversation. All normal occupants of hotel lobbies, but the knowledge did nothing to settle
's nerves. They'd been jangling since the moment she stepped from the hotel and into the cool

"Miss Carrington! Miss Carrington!"

The sound of her name slammed into her like a bullet, but she kept walking.

"You haven't answered my question about Nicholas Ferreday," the reporter who'd been trailing her like a bloodhound called. "Will he be joining you tonight?"

At the secluded cubby of polished elevators,
had no choice but to stop. "I'm not sure," she answered as she pushed the button. "I'm afraid you'll have to wait and see."

Madeline Kitchens didn't back down. With her short blond hair and soft-pink suit she looked harmless enough, but the feminine facade hid killer instincts.

"Is it true a reconciliation is in the works?"

held her smile in place, but frustration fed a brewing headache. The public's fascination with her love life had worn thin. In the days following her broken engagement, the story had been followed like a matter of national interest. There'd been newspaper articles, segments on local and national stations, in-depth features and speculation in the tabloids.

They'd all been dead wrong.

Only Elizabeth and Nicholas knew what had gone down.

And Hawk.
Hawk knew.

"Nicholas and I are friends," she said, again depressing the button. Once, she'd dreamed of marrying the son of her father's best friend. Six years older than she, he'd been the perfect match for her, all tall and handsome, charming. Intelligent. She'd never imagined herself with anyone else. Never wanted. Never fantasized.

Until Hawk
walked into her life and turned her world upside down.

To this day she didn't understand how one decision, one mistake, could unravel a lifetime of well-laid plans.

"Is it true you'll be attending the Carrington Foundation silent auction together?" Madeline persisted, microcassette recorder poised and ready.

Mercifully the doors slid open, spilling a family of five. They rushed by, embroiled in their own little drama.

"Friends," Elizabeth repeated as she stepped inside the mirrored cubicle and pushed the button for the twenty-forth floor. Only then did she remove her sunglasses. "Nothing more."

The elevator closed and
breathed a sigh of relief. Growing up in a political family, she'd become accustomed to being followed, watched. Normally it didn't bother her. She could block it from her mind.

Today was different. A keen sense of awareness had kept her edgy, alert. An unsettling energy she hadn't felt in a blessedly long time jumped through her.

Nerves, she figured. Only four months had passed since a madman had used her sister as a pawn in a deadly game. They'd come horribly close to losing her.

Miranda was home now, safe, crazy in love and planning a wedding, but
couldn't shake the lingering unease. Both her sisters had been touched by violence. One had survived. The other had not.

She couldn't suppress the disturbing feeling she was next.

The elevator cruised directly to her floor. She stepped into the narrow marble alcove, where an elaborate bouquet of blood-red roses greeted her. She had just enough time for a long bubble bath before dressing for the evening.

Awareness hit immediately, stronger than before.

Behind her, the doors slid closed. Swallowing hard, she reached a gloved hand into her pocket book and retrieved her pepper spray. The corridor stretched long and deserted, vacant but for the abandoned room-service cart outside a nearby door. There were no footsteps. No movements. No shadows.

Just the preternatural knowledge that she wasn't alone.

Because of the scent. Wildly masculine, alarmingly strong. It washed through her like a drug, jump-starting something deep inside. Her heart staggered, hard. Other parts of her softened. She swung around, fully expecting to see him standing there, all tall and hard, eyes hot and burning, mouth curved into that unmistakably carnal smile.

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