Malachi Armstrong just overheard his ex-wife plotting his murder and is ready to strangle everyone involved. Malachi’s world is spiraling out of control when his good friend hires the Precious Jewels Security Agency to capture everyone involved in the plot. He knows the Precious Jewels are the best security agency around, but his only use for Amber Nicholas, the Precious Jewel assigned to protect him, is in his bed.
Amber knew she was in trouble the moment she read Malachi’s dossier. A hero in every sense of the word, her attraction to him was immediate. To protect Malachi, she must stay close to him. To protect her heart, she must stick to the business at hand, but he’s not making it easy.
Note: HERO is much hotter than I usually write, so be prepared. I don’t want to throw anyone into shock. This is a STEAMY romantic suspense.
I had just turned on my car to head to the store when one of my children’s voice filled the car. She was using my phone and the hands free came on automatically, so I heard her conversation. I was completely confused at first but quickly figured it out. I didn’t know that would happen. So I continue towards the store, and could still her conversation a block or so away, then it dropped.
You know I saw a story in there, right?
Three years without the touch of a woman was a long time for any man. Malachi wouldn’t wish that type of imprisonment on anyone. Sad thing was, he wasn’t in jail. At least not the type with bars on the window. A loveless marriage was his jail.
Their honeymoon had lasted longer than many, but then something happened he couldn’t explain. Whatever that something was had them growing apart instead of together. A few months after their nineteenth-year anniversary and a year and a half of no intimacy with his wife, Malachi asked for a divorce.
Two years of fights and no intimacy had passed since he’d filed for divorce. Saddened by the failure of his marriage, he didn’t know what else he could have done to save it. Battle-weary, but glad to be free, Malachi continued packing his home office.
Lana, his wife, had refused to attend marital counseling with him, refused to communicate with him, refused to allow him to touch her, yet refused to sign the divorce papers so they could go their separate ways. Frustrated with the entire situation, he was ready to move on to a life of freedom.
Lana had used their child in defense of staying together. He thought his child deserved happy parents and a good example of marriage. Not an example of two people miserable with the choices they made in spouses.
“You can’t divorce me.” Lana stood in the doorway of his home office. “Marriage is until death do you part. Neither of us is dead. We can work this out.”
“I’ve tried, but it takes both of us trying.” He grabbed his cell phone off the desk. “I’m moving out tomorrow.” Whether the divorce had been finalized or not, he’d given up on their marriage and had made arrangements for the move.
Tears in her eyes, Lana rushed in and grasped his sleeve. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to us. I admit, I’ve been a little closed off, but please, please give us another chance.”
“I love you, but we aren’t in love anymore. Neither of us want this marriage. I wish you all the best, and that we can become friends again.” Years ago, her tears would have drowned his heart, but now they did nothing. Over the years she’d changed. The manipulative woman who stood before him was nothing like the sweet, innocent girl he’d fallen for in high school. Turning on the tears, was as easy as breathing to her now.
In his head he counted, three, two, one.
Bawling, Lana covered her face and ran out.
Right on cue.
In need of freedom from the oppression of his home, he grabbed his keys and headed out. The moment he opened the door to his BMW, the lingering aroma of Lana’s perfume burned his eyes and nose. He had told her not to get an Escalade because she’d grow tired of climbing in and out of it and maneuvering in the busy Dallas traffic. Of course, she ignored him, then routinely used his car without permission.
Settled in the driver’s seat, he thanked God for his divorce being final, then pulled out of the garage and headed for a nice long drive. Maybe he’d check into a hotel for the night.
Lana’s voice filled the car. Confused, he looked at the dashboard. The car’s wireless system had picked up her cell so he could hear her conversation. She must have forgotten to change the settings when she got out of the car. Almost a block away from his place, he hadn’t realized the range was so far. He reached to switch over to the settings for his cell.
“I want to make love with you. Can you get away?” said a man whose voice Malachi didn’t recognize.
“What the…?” Unable to believe his ears, Malachi pulled his car over to the side of the road.
Lana giggled. “Not tonight. Soon he’ll be moving out, and I can see you whenever I want. I can’t believe he’ll finally be out of our way.”
What the…? That couldn’t be some man and Lana talking about screwing around on him. Hell, the ink hadn’t had time to dry on the divorce decree. How long had this been going on and why had she fought so hard against the divorce?
“That’s what you get for signing a prenuptial agreement.”
“I was young and stupid.”
“Do you think he’ll change his will anytime soon?”
“He’ll be dead long before he has a chance to think of it.” They both laughed.
Murder. Malachi found absolutely nothing funny about murder, especially his.
“Seriously, he’s a good man,” Lana said sarcastically. “Good for somebody else, and to fatten my bank account. He won’t think about changing his will unless he remarries. This will give my man plenty of time to do things right.”
“Did he tell you how he’d do it?”
“No. I’ll be surprised. I can’t believe how much it costs. For a hundred grand, I should be able to take out a president.” She laughed. “We’ll be rich, baby. Just be patient.”
Malachi smacked the steering wheel. In all his forty years, he had never struck or called a woman out of her name. Today was a new day. If he didn’t continue down the road, Lana would be his first on both accounts.
The lovers went on and on about what they wanted to do to each other. Speaking of wants, Malachi wanted to strangle them both. Before he ended up in jail, he pulled the BMW away from the curb and continued driving. Where, he did not know.
“I can’t believe this,” he mumbled. Murder. She had paid someone to kill him. Then it hit his heart—she had paid someone to kill him!
He needed to plan his next steps. She wouldn’t be getting away with this. He activated his hands-free and filled in his best friend Houston, the former D.A. of Dallas, Texas. Houston would be able to explain what evidence they’d need to be able to charge Lana and her lover with conspiracy to murder.
Malachi disconnected. Mind racing, he needed to bring his anger under control so he could think clearly. Spotting a Hilton sign, he made his way to the hotel. Once parked, he grabbed his gym bag from the trunk, checked in and went straight to the onsite workout facilities.
Running on the treadmill, he wished he were running into his home to strangle Lana. He hadn’t killed anyone since he left the military. Though he missed the action and excitement, he didn’t miss the taking of a life. Maybe he should reenlist. As a child, he dreamed of being GI Joe when he grew up. His family did not approve of his chosen career field.
“Armstrongs are not soldiers,” his father used to say. “That’s for the lower class.”
It didn’t matter that Malachi had enlisted as an officer and became a member of the Special Forces. All that mattered was that their son had turned his back on his privileged life to play troopy with the lower class.
Being GI Joe, a husband and a father was more difficult than he’d anticipated. With each tour that took him away, Lana became more emotionally distant from him. Family more important than his career, he left the military a decade ago to concentrate on being a good husband and father. He invested his trust fund into a small Internet firm, then grew it into one of the largest Internet security and identity theft corporations in the world.
Over the years, he’d become little more than a paycheck to Lana. And now she wanted him dead. Still shocked and angrier than he thought possible, he increased his pace on the treadmill. If she thought he was going down without a fight, she was sadly mistaken. He may have left the Special Forces, but he would always be Special Forces through and through. Everyone involved in this plot would pay dearly.
Ready to start his new mission, Malachi showered quickly and headed over to Houston’s. Adrenalin pumping, he hadn’t felt this alive in years!
Malachi loved the seclusion of Houston’s new ranch-style home. Malachi had wanted to live in the boondocks, but Lana had pitched a fit—several fits. In an effort to make his wife happy, he’d purchased an estate large enough to house several families.
Standing just short of the door, he realized he was probably being followed. Not afraid for himself but for Houston’s family, he chastised himself. If anything happened to Houston’s family, Malachi would never forgive himself. What had he been thinking? That was easy to answer. He hadn’t. Instead, he’d been running on rage. Get your head in the game, soldier!
“You push the button to ring the bell.”
Startled by a sexy, low female voice, he spun around and bumped into one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. Nix that. She was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen. Jumpsuits had never appealed to him, but the flare-legged, white-with-red- polka-dots outfit drew his eyes to her long legs and thoughts of how they’d feel wrapped around him. Hips wide enough to push out a few babies, they were just right for his hands to clamp onto as he drove into her. A thick scarlet-red scarf wrapped around her waist, drawing him like a bull to the matador’s cape, accentuated her slender waist. Full, luscious breasts waited for him to entertain his mouth and hands. Kiss-me-now lips, smoldering dark brown eyes and a fro that would make Angela Davis jealous back in the day topped off this dream of a woman. All that was missing was the black pick with a fist at the end of the handle.
He took another step back. Three years is a long time to go without.
“You should pay closer attention to your environment.” The gorgeous goddess reached around him and rang the doorbell, slightly brushing her full breasts against him.
Three years was much too long for a man to go without sex, and no matter how accidental her touch had been, it set him on fire.
Slow and silent, he inhaled her sweet, light scent. Reluctant to step away from the alluring beauty, he needed to leave before he brought danger to his friend. He looked to his car. “You’ve parked behind me.”
“Yes. I remember doing it about a minute ago.” She winked, then held out her hand. “Amber. Amber Nicholas.”
The front door opened. “I see you two have met,” Houston interrupted.
“Can I speak with you a second?” Malachi led Houston into the yard, away from Amber. Wondering why she didn’t move her car and go inside for her visit with Houston’s wife, Sabrina, he watched her as he spoke. “I didn’t mean to bring danger to your doorstep. I apologize. I wasn’t thinking.” Gaze transfixed on Amber, Malachi watched her return to her car. Had Amber not been so distracting, he would have noticed sooner that her sporty, red coupe was a make and model he didn’t recognize. The car fit her perfectly.
“Sabrina’s in New York with the children, visiting her mother. And there is no danger here.”
Malachi tried to force himself to look away from Amber, but failed.
She reached into the car and displayed an exceptional view of her butt. She exited the car with a small wooden box. “I’m going inside.” She headed for the front door.
“We’ll be in shortly,” Houston replied.
Disappointed in his friend and unreasonably protective of Amber, Malachi asked, “Why are you entertaining women in your home when your wife is away?”
“Are you accusing me of stepping out on Sabrina?” Houston laughed. “You are crazy. You know how much I love her. I’d never cheat on her.”
“Then what’s going on?”
“Amber’s a Precious Jewel.”
“She’s one of the Precious Jewels?” He glanced toward the doorway she’d entered. When Houston’s daughter had been kidnapped, the Precious Jewels security team swooped in, found the child and led the extraction of her. The team had also worked several other cases for the Write family. Come to think of it, it seemed as if the Writes were always finding themselves in dangerous situations. “Why is she here?”
“You’re kidding, right? Your wife paid someone a hundred grand to kill you.”
“I don’t need some woman to protect me. I can protect myself.”
“I suggest you change your tone before we go in.” Houston thumbed over his shoulder. “That woman can lay you out flat without moving a hair out of place.”
“I’d like to see her try!” Come to think of it, he would like to see her try. He marched into the house.
Lounging on the sofa reading a book, Amber flipped to the next page. He stood before her, expecting her to look up—she didn’t.
“I don’t need your assistance. I’m capable of protecting myself. Thank you. I appreciate your coming out here, but your services are not required.”
Annoyance clear in her eyes and face, Amber stared at him. “I don’t work for you. I work for your best friend who said you’d be too macho and pigheaded to accept that there are some things you can’t do on your own. Please move over.” She motioned toward the fixture above and behind him a bit. “You’re blocking the light source, and I’ve almost figured out who the killer is.”
“I’m Special Forces.”
Slowly, she closed her book and released a long, drawn-out sigh. “Some people just won’t believe ice is cold.” She slipped her book into her purse.
Somehow, her irritation tickled him. Getting under her skin could prove quite pleasing. Getting into her pants even more so.
“A decade ago you were a member of Special Forces, and I thank you for protecting my rights. I’m sure you are still a very capable man, and if I need someone extracted from a dangerous situation or taken out, I may even call, but this is different. We will learn who your wife hired and all of their connections, and they will be dealt with accordingly. This is our area of expertise.”
“I own a security company.”
“Not just any security company, but an excellent one that I have used for years. But keeping someone’s identity from being stolen and setting up fire walls is different than surfing through the underground to find a hit man.”
Malachi looked to Houston for support, but only saw laughter in his friend’s eyes. Malachi hated being wrong. “Fine. What’s your grand plan?”
“We become lovers.”
Choking on her words, he knew he must have heard wrong.
Coy smile luring him, she teased, “What’s wrong, aren’t you attracted to me?”
“I think he’s had enough, Amber,” Houston cut in.
She switched off being a seductress quicker than the flip of a light switch. Keeping his eyes on the chameleon, he sat at the opposite end of the sofa. “Explain.”
“Tomorrow when you move into your condo, you’ll meet your sexy neighbor.” She flashed a bright smile. “Me. We will hit it off instantly and start dating. This will allow me to keep an eye on you and your daughter.”
“I don’t want Tasha involved in this.”
“Sorry, but you’re her father. She’s in this whether you like it or not. Tasha may visit you often. Do you plan to cut your daughter out of your life? From what I’ve been told, you’re close to her.”
Shaking his head, he ran his hands over his face. “You’re right. I can’t tell her what we’re up to, but I can’t ask her to stay away either. I know Tasha’s not a baby, but with this divorce, she needs me more. How will you watch her at the school? Install hidden cameras?”
“Do you think your wife put a hit out on you both?”
Shocked by the question, he quickly defended, “No. She wouldn’t do that.”
“Before you overheard her speaking with her lover about murdering you, did you think she was capable of such things?”
Contrite, he admitted, “No. The difference is she loves Tasha, and I’ve come to realize that she was never in love with me. I was her meal ticket.”
“So she’s always been an idiot. Great, she’ll be easier to catch,” Amber quipped.
Ego effectively stroked, Malachi saw numerous bright sides to being Amber’s pretend lover. “She wouldn’t hurt Tasha.”
“I agree,” Amber continued. “Tasha’s not the target, so she should be safe whenever she’s not with you. I just wanted to ensure you realize someone is trying to kill you. You seem awfully relaxed for someone with a hit out on them.”
“This isn’t the first time my life has been in danger.”
Brow raised, Amber asked, “So how often do people put hits out on you?”
Point taken, he still wasn’t worried for his own safety. Now that he knew there was danger, he put his senses on high alert. Then again, Amber had been able to park her car behind his and sneak up on him. Had she been the hit man, he’d be dead. “I know this is real. I don’t have a death wish, but I’m also not afraid of dying. Right now I’m angry.”
“I’m not hurt.”
“You’re lying to yourself. Granted, you two just divorced so you were on bad terms, but to learn the woman you took care of all of those years was cheating on you and has hatched a plot to kill you has to hurt. Be honest with yourself, it makes life a lot easier.”
“What are you, my psychologist now?”
“Am I wrong?”
Houston laughed. “Okay, Amber. Give the man a break.”
“You’re always ruining my fun.” She flashed her billion-watt smile. “Seriously though, I’ll befriend Tasha to keep an eye on her. It won’t be a close eye, but we want eyes on her from time to time to ensure everything is okay.”
“How will you two become friends?”
“My bar study group meets on campus. If I don’t meet her at the condo complex, I’ll meet her at school. Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.”
“Bar? You’re a lawyer?”
“Not practicing, but yes.”
Impressed with his pretend lover, Malachi eased to her end of the sofa and gazed into her eyes. “How far will our role playing go?”
One of his favorite pastimes as a child was to lay in one of the meadows that surrounded his grandfather’s estate and star watch. His grandparents lived in the middle of nowhere with no light pollution, so the stars seemed to multiply. The beauty of the starry night had nothing on the sparkle in Amber’s dark eyes.
Making love with Amber under the stars… Yeah, he could go for that.
Houston cleared his throat. “Would you two like me to leave the room?”
“To the inside of our doors,” Amber replied without breaking eye contact.
Eyes wide open, she stared for a second, then laughed.
Glad he’d finally been able to shake her, he returned to his end of the sofa. “So we pretend to date. How will this help me find the hit man?”
“My sisters are working this project from other angles. My main objective is to keep you and Tasha safe. Bringing a woman into the picture may make your wife—”
“Ex-wife,” he clarified.
“Ex-wife want the hit sooner. She’ll be afraid you’ll change the will if you fall in love or lust.”
“But that will give you less time to find out who she hired.”
“It will make it easier for us. She paid someone a lot of money. He or she—remember this could be a deadly woman also—would want to do this in their own time and way. Being rushed causes mistakes.”
“Hand me your shoe.” She held out her hand.
“Your shoe. Hand it to me.”
Watching her, he slowly took off his shoe, then handed it over.
“Thank you.” She opened the small box he’d seen her carry into the house earlier and pulled out a packet of what looked like shiny, black pills. “I’m putting a tracking device in the bottom of each pair of your shoes.” She lifted the insole of his shoe.
“Hey, those are thousand dollar shoes.”
“Then they should be fine.” She dropped in a device and lowered the insole. “You don’t have to worry about breaking the device, so walk normally. I’ll raid your closet when we’re neighbors for your other shoes.” She placed the remaining strip of devices back into the small box.
“What’s the box for?”
“The signal can’t get through this material.”
“What material is it?”
“If I tell you, I’d have to kill you. I think you already have enough people gunning for you.”
Laughing, he nodded. “I’m going to like working with you.”
“This should be fun.” She stood. “I need to get the prototype back before your brother sends the cops after me,” she said to Houston.
“Now I know how you snuck up on me when you arrived.”
“You weren’t paying attention.”
“Cute, but no. That car is Tyler’s electric car. It’s mostly solar-powered.” He went outside to examine it closer. He’d invested a hefty sum and only seen sketches of prototypes. “This is sweet!” He ran his hand along the sleek hood. “How does it ride?”
“Fast and smooth. I love it. I want one. And you can drive on silent mode or imitation engine noise. He won’t give the silent mode option to civilians, but think of how useful it will be in law enforcement.”
He opened the driver’s side door and peeked inside. “I’m not a fan of leather seats, but I’m with you. I love this car.” He backed out and held the door open for her.
“Thanks.” She eased behind the steering wheel. “I know you aren’t afraid of death, but try not to worry. The Precious Jewels are on the case. See you tomorrow.”
“What should I call you?”
“What would you call a woman you don’t know who you are interested in getting to know better? Remember, this is supposed to be our first time meeting. Introduce yourself and we’ll get to know each other quickly.”
END OF SAMPLE