Renegade, p.1Part #5 of Elite Ops series by Lora Leigh
Praise for bestselling author Lora Leigh's
"Leigh's pages explode with a hot mixture of erotic pleasures."
--Romantic Times BOOKreviews
"A phenomenal read."
"Scorching-hot sex, deadly secrets, and a determined assassin add up to another addicting Leigh thriller. Leigh's ability to credibly build damaged characters who are both intriguing and intense gives her stories that extra punch."
--Romantic Times BOOKreviews
"Sex and violence power the satisfying second installment of Leigh's Elite Ops series."
"Full of wrenching emotion and self-flagellation by the hero, the new series of Elite Ops promises to be even better than the sexy SEALs at this rate."
--Night Owl Romance
"With her customary panache for emotionally intense, sensual characters, the author attracts readers into every world she creates. This fabulous follow-up to Wild Card is no exception to the rule."
--A Romance Review
"Highly emotional and addicting...an intoxicating first installment of a brand-new series."
--Romantic Times BOOKreviews
"A smoldering-hot new espionage tale. This chapter of Leigh's SEAL saga reverberates with deadly danger."
--Romantic Times BOOKreviews
"Treachery and intrigue combine with blistering hot sensuality in this chapter of Leigh's SEAL saga. The title of this book is particularly apt, since many of the characters are not what they seem, and betrayal can have deadly consequences. Leigh's books can scorch the ink off the page."
--Romantic Times BOOKreviews
"An evocative and captivating read."
"A marvelous novel of suspense and raw passion."
"Lora Leigh ignites the fire...with steamy heat added to a story that makes you cheer and even tear up."
--Fallen Angel Reviews
"Leigh writes...tempting, enchanting romance[s] that readers are certain to devour."
--Romance Reviews Today
St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles By
ELITE OPS SERIES
St. Martin's Paperbacks
Table of Contents
NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book." This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Lora Leigh.
Cover photograph of man (c) Shirley Green
Cover photograph of Berkeley Pier, dusk, with Golden Gate Bridge (c) David Sanger/Getty Images
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. ISBN: 978-0-312-94583-1
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin's Paperbacks edition / September 2010
St. Martin's Paperbacks are published by St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
For a wonderful editor, Monique.
For all the help, the guidance, the advice, but even more your friendship.
And for two excellent lawyers who defy the stereotypes:
Eileen O' Brien
Thank you for all your advice and all your hard work.
The two of you together saved my life.
The dresses were gorgeous.
Mikayla Martin stood back from the finished products and rubbed at her lower back as she let a small, pleased smile curve her lips.
They were the dresses that romantic dreams were made of. Miles of frothy lace, satin, silk, and chiffon. Thousands of tiny seed pearls had been hand-sewn onto each one. Love had gone into the creation of each of the three wedding gowns, and the jade bridesmaid dress had been sewn with extra attention to detail. It was her favorite color, and one of her own designs.
Finally, after so many years of hard work and dreams, and the designs she so lovingly crafted, Mikayla's Creations was beginning to get a small measure of notice. Mikayla had no dreams of runway success. What she did have were dreams of a small, exclusive reputation that would keep her clothing shop open and thriving. She breathed out a deep sigh and fought to let the dresses go. She wanted to pack them up and take them home with her. She didn't want to let a single one of them out of her sight.
"I know that look on your face, Mikayla." Her assistant, Deirdre Maple, pushed back her hair, propped her hands on her hips, and gave Mikayla a knowing smile. With her kittenish expression and long red-gold hair, Deirdre was the advertising drive behind the shop. While Mikayla kept the customers happy, Deirdre brought them in by showcasing the wedding gowns and exclusive ball gowns Mikayla created. The bridesmaid gown she had been fondling was one of those. A one-of-a-kind that had been designed for one woman, one body.
There was a small section of the shop dedicated to less formal clothing. Exclusive designs of more casual attire and a small selection of unique, one-of-a-kind footwear and other accessories. But the majority of the shop was dedicated to the formal dresses and wedding gowns Mikayla so loved.
"Yeah, I know, I gotta let it go." Mikayla forced a grin as she stepped back and gave it one last regretful look. "Go ahead and call our future bride and our lucky bridesmaid and let them know their dresses are ready for pickup. They'd better hurry, though, because I just might steal them after all."
Deirdre gave a low, light laugh, her hazel green eyes twinkling with laughter as she shook her head. The girl wore a sleeveless silk emerald blouse, no collar, the tailoring sewn to match her slender figure. The taupe above-the-knee slim-line skirt and matching pumps drew attention to the blouse and to Deirdre's lush head full of red-gold curls as they cascaded nearly to her hips.
"You told me to remind you that you have to pick Scott up after work today." Deirdre glanced at the clock on the wall. "If you're going to get there on time, then you'd better rock and roll."
Mr. Unreliable. Of all her brothers, Scotty had to be the most irritating, if the most lovable one. The baby of the family, he was always
took anything seriously. He was forever needing a ride, advice, or a loan. Their mother called him the "needy one". Mikayla just called him lazy--although she did it affectionately.
"You know you'll have to listen to him whine if you're late." Deirdre laughed.
Mikayla grimaced before looking around the interior of her "baby." This store was her life.
"You could hire a cab to go after your brother," Deirdre told her. "That way you could stand here and admire your handiwork a while longer." Mikayla laughed, though her gaze lingered a moment longer. She turned away and strode across the plush chocolate carpeting of the floor. She moved around the display of dresses and gowns and toward the counter where she pulled out the invoices from the shelf below.
"Everything has been paid in full," she told Dierdre as a sense of accomplishment filled her. "Now, if we could just get a few more of these orders in, I could breathe a little easier."
"They'll come in," Deirdre assured her, and Mikayla couldn't help but believe it. The shop was growing slowly, but it was growing. The sense of fulfillment she felt was overwhelming at times. Mikayla was doing something everyone had told her she didn't have a chance of succeeding at in the current economy.
"Do you think either of us will ever wear one of those wedding gowns?" Deirdre nodded toward them. "Hell, Mikayla, aren't you tired of waiting for Mr. Right yet? I think I am. Mr. Almost Perfect might do it for me."
Mikayla turned her face away, hoping to hide her own doubts. She sometimes feared that Mr. Right was a figment of her dreams. That the incredible sex, deep romance, and shared bonding she dreamed of was the stuff of fantasies and romance novels, not real life.
"Not for me." Mikayla shook her head at the very thought of settling for less, though. "Some things last forever, Deirdre, if you know how to work for your dreams." That dream didn't have to be a marriage, children, a life spent sharing the day-today adventure of simply living together. But it was a dream Mikayla found hard to let go. Deirdre's sigh was heavy. "You have to be the only pragmatic romantic I've ever heard of," she accused. "Come on, Mikayla; it never lasts forever. Why not take what we can get?"
"It" being marriage. Deirdre thought in terms of marriage. She wanted the dress, the wedding, the little gold band on her finger, the little white picket fence. For Mikayla, marriage, like any commitment, took a lot of work, understanding, and patience. She'd seen that in her parents' marriage all her life. Her mother and father had set a perfect example of what real love and a real relationship was. That was what Mikayla wanted. Not just the wedding, the gold band, or even the white picket fence. It was that sense of belonging, that feeling of being a part of something that was larger than herself. Something that she could be a partner in.
She wasn't dependent. She didn't want to be taken care of, and she didn't want to take care of anyone. At least not in the sense of accepting responsibility for him. She wanted to take care of his heart with the promise of her own, and she wanted a partner willing to share each day with her and, perhaps, one day, to share children with her. 10
She wanted the whole dream, and she was willing to wait for it. She just hoped that while she was waiting there was someone out there actually making his way toward her. She wasn't getting any younger, her grandmother often reminded her. Just as her grandmother reminded Mikayla that twenty-six was too old to still be a virgin. How Mikayla's grandmother knew Mikayla was still a virgin she hadn't yet figured out. Did she have a red V painted on her forehead that she couldn't see?
"I don't know, Mikayla." Her assistant leaned against the counter, her hair falling around her face as she grinned impishly. "I know what I'm missing by sleeping alone." Mikayla laughed. "As if you sleep alone that often. You and Drake aren't exactly abstaining, last I heard."
Deirdre and Drake Marshal had been on-again, off-again since high school. They couldn't seem to make up their minds if they loved each other or hated each other. Just as Deirdre couldn't seem to decide if Drake was Mr. Right or just Mr. Available.
"Okay, I'm out of here then." Mikayla straightened the paid invoices again before gazing around the shop a last time.
Grabbing her keys, she turned and opened the old-fashioned glass front door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Hagerstown was in its full flush of late-spring warmth. The trees were fully budded, many already showing their bright green foliage and swaying with the gentle wind that pushed through the historic town. Mikayla loved it here. This was home. She had been born in Hagerstown, raised in it. She had gone to design school in New York, and the whole time she had been away all she'd wanted to do was come home.
It was sprawling, often loud, filled with tourists on the best of days, and pulsing with life. It wasn't as exhaustingly busy as New York or D.C., but Hagerstown still thrived with life and hummed with excitement.
At least, she felt the excitement.
Pulling her keys from the pocket of her light jacket, she hit the remote and unlocked the doors to the cherry red Jeep, she'd finally allowed herself to buy, before stepping onto the running board and lifting herself in.
Her skirt tightened above her knees before she swung her legs in and closed the door behind her. Starting the engine, she almost grinned at the feel of the motor throbbing through the vehicle.
Pulling into the stream of traffic, she eased through the busy streets, heading for I70 and the job site her brother was working on several miles along the interstate. The building site for the newly designed office space was a major deal for the company her brother worked for, as well as for her father. Her father had won the plumbing contract for the building, and a cousin had won the interior design contract for part of it.
Hagerstown was booming, and growing, though sometimes Mikayla feared it was growing too fast. Still, she loved watching its progress.
Flipping on the CD player, she slid one of her favorite CDs in. The soft-rock eighties tune filled the interior and soothed the weariness that was beginning to blur at the edges of her mind.
She had put four months of steady, hard work in to make the deadlines for the early-spring weddings of the brides whose dresses were waiting at the shop. Ordering, fitting, sewing, adjusting. From late winter through late fall the store, though not 11
booming, was definitely busy. This year had been their best year yet. She wanted to get home, relax in a bubble bath, and let that sense of satisfaction work through her before she started on reconciling accounts, bills, and orders. It might be Friday night, but Mikayla still had work to do. Not that she had much else to do. The dating pool had been relatively dry lately, she had to admit. Or maybe, as Deirdre accused her of doing, she had perhaps just set her sights too high.
That was always a possibility, she admitted to herself. She wanted something that might not even exist in the real world.
None of her friends had ever been swept mindlessly off their feet with a kiss. Sex hadn't made the earth move beneath them. They didn't love with a devotion that canceled out the thought of ever being with anyone but the one they loved. They were often unfaithful and saw the practice as a game of sorts. The thrill of the chase, of being chased, and being smart enough not to get caught.
They played with their own lives and with their children's lives, and it was something Mikayla wanted no part of.
She wanted the romance, the excitement, and she wanted honesty. She hated being lied to, and the thought of having the man she loved being unfaithful to her was enough to make her take a third and fourth look at any man offering to fill her life. Was she as deranged as her friends often accused her of being? Were her standards simply set too high and dooming her to failure as well as to a life of loneliness?
Perhaps not deranged, but she was definitely beginning to worry that she was that hopeless romantic who was going to turn into an equally hopeless spinster. What had her brother Scotty said? She was going to end up living alone in her perfect house, surrounded by her dresses, and
And she was very afraid that was definitely the future she was looking forward to. And in those moments she wondered if Deirdre wasn't right . . . if perhaps Mr. Almost was good enough. Except Mikayla hadn't even managed to find a Mr. Almost, either. If she ever laid eyes on him, then she might consider it. Just to say she had tried. Shaking her head at the thought, Mikayla took the exit along a newly developed business site and drove along the rough, uneven road to the hulk of steel and metal rising from the dirt at the end of the dirt drive.
She pulled her Jeep alongside the six-story skeletal frame of the office building where her brother Scotty had all but ordered her to meet him. Why her youngest brother couldn't manage to keep his own ride running she hadn't figured out yet. He was always tinkering with this, tinkering with that, and it never failed that he called her when he managed to tinker it into complete auto failure. One of these days she was going to do as she threatened and get the family together for a mechanical intervention where her brother was concerned. He was going to have to learn to keep his hands off his vehicle's guts. If something wasn't truly broken, then there was no need to fix it, right?
Pulling into the muddy mess at the front of the unfinished building, Mikayla blew out a hard breath.
Mr. Unreliable had struck again. As usual, he wasn't where he was supposed to be or doing what he was supposed to be doing.
In this case, waiting for her to pick him up.
So where was he? Where was anyone? The place was utterly deserted. Turning down the lush, wild strains of Barry White on the CD player, Mikayla tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. Pursing her lips, she stared around the muddy mess of the job site, eyes narrowed against the dim light as she searched for her brother. Her lips thinned as she mentally counted to ten.
She wouldn't get upset, she told herself. Her day had been too good to let this ruin it. She'd just finished two of the most gorgeous wedding gowns she had ever created and the last bridesmaid's dress. Rows upon rows of seed pearls, yards of satin, silk, and lace, and miles of tucks to go along with the hefty payment she had received. Two months of sewing delicate rows of tiny pearls and witnessing the tearful smiles of two brides who would treasure those dresses for the rest of their lives. She sent up a little prayer that those dresses would be treasured through a lifetime of wedded bliss.
Renegade by Lora Leigh / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes