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By April Hunt
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- ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 29, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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As the first female operative at Alpha Security, Charlotte “Charlie” Sparks has her work cut out for her. Sure, she can wrestle a man to the ground and hit a target at 200 yards with the best of them. But sometimes, being surrounded by all that testosterone can drive a woman to distraction-especially when that distraction is six-and-a-half feet of cocky, confident, Alpha-trained muscle.
Ex-SEAL commander Vince Franklin has been on some of the most dangerous missions in the world. But pretending to be Charlie’s fiance on their latest assignment in Miami is his toughest challenge yet. Vince and Charlie are like oil and water; they just don’t mix. And when their fake romance generates some all-too-real heat, Vince learns that Charlie is more than just arm candy. She’s the real deal-and she’s ready for some serious action.
Writing this series has been a blast from the very first written word, and I couldn’t have done a second word (much less three books) without the support of my family. To my Mini Me, who proudly announces to her teachers and every adult at school that her mom writes “smoochie books”; and my Mini Alpha Man, who shows me, every day, glimpses of the loving hero he’s going to make for some lucky (and VERY-far-into-the-future) girl. To my own Alpha Man, who’s stood behind me from the time I said, “I want to write a book!” To my mother, my sisters, my “second” parents, I’ve never once felt like I was climbing for this dream by myself because you were always there waving your pom-poms in the air.
Sarah E. Younger, my Agent of Awesome. Your photo should be in the picture dictionary under AMAZING. You’re equal parts dragon-slayer, therapist, and sister…and I’m inclined to add ninja warrior princess to the list as well. THANK YOU! Because of you, I can always say that I’m a published author.
Madeleine Colavita, my editor extraordinaire. You plucked me from the din and gave my Alpha men—and women—a home at Forever. With your support and guidance, I’ve been blessed to leave a stamp on this world in the form of Rafe, and Trey, and Vince. THANK YOU SO MUCH! And to everyone on the Forever team, from the intern to the exec, the business-oriented to the artist, THANK YOU for all of your hard work delivering each book baby into the world.
To my amazing best friend and CP, Tif. You kept me sane through another plotting session, through drafting and edits, and you didn’t once think, “I’m changing my phone number” (at least not that I know of). THANK YOU!
To all my amazing writing friends, to #TeamSarah, to my #GirlsWriteNite crew: Tif Marcelo, Rachel Lacey, Annie Rains, and Sidney Halston. You ladies rock, and I’m so glad we have each other on this crazy ride.
And to all the readers and reviewers and bloggers who take time out of your day and pick up a book, THANK YOU! You’re the reason I write well into the night, drink way too much Snapple, and sometimes have inappropriate conversations in my head with my characters.
Keep reading! Keep reviewing! And keep Alpha-ing up!
Clutching her semiautomatic to her chest, Charlotte “Charlie” Sparks crouched behind a decapitated tree. Rivulets of sweat dripped into her eyes, and any pink-tinted locks of hair not glued to her head whipped across her face. She blinked through the sharp sting, slowly wrangling both her vision and her concentration back into focus.
It wasn’t the time or place to dwell on what had happened the last time she’d stepped onto this field—the time when she’d moved too suddenly; the time when she’d been spotted; the time she still hadn’t managed to live down.
“Everyone in position?” Alpha leader Sean Stone’s voice rumbled from the tactical communication piece tucked behind Charlie’s right ear.
“Good here.” Chase Kincaid, Alpha’s medic, started off the round-robin of affirmatives that included lead negotiator Trey Hanson. But they wouldn’t need Trey’s expertise this time around because tonight was an all-out war. No negotiating. No prisoners. Survival of the fittest. Let the best man—or woman—remain standing.
“Ready,” Charlie muttered when her check-in turn came last.
At barely five-foot-three and a hundred and twenty pounds, stealth not only came easier to her than it did to her oversized counterparts, but it fooled more than one Neanderthal into labeling her a damsel.
She loved proving those bloody bastards wrong.
“It’s a go,” Stone announced. “I repeat, it’s a go. Fast and light. Eyes on the prize.”
Keeping low to the ground, Charlie breached the heavy thicket of trees and headed immediately toward the immense boulder on her left. She skirted around the rock’s perimeter until she saw her target—right there in all its beautiful Day-Glo glory.
Less than fifteen yards away, the opposing team’s orange flag swayed in the May evening breeze. It was an easy sprint. A quick dash. Hell, she could spit and reach it with inches to spare.
“I have my eyes on the prize,” Charlie notified her team, keeping her voice low. “But it’s suspiciously quiet—and out in the open.”
She scanned the area and came up empty—no oddly shaped shadows, no suspect movements. To the untrained eye, the area was devoid of human presence…but Charlie knew for a fact there were at least six other people out there with the same two goals—either get the flag or keep her from getting it.
“Hawkeye, you have a bead on me?” Charlie addressed their lone sniper.
“Got your position locked,” Logan’s voice chimed back. “Everything’s clear from your eleven o’clock to four. You’re the hottest thing out there, darlin’.”
Charlie rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of the double entendre, something at which the Texan excelled.
“You get what I did there?” he asked after her prolonged silence. “I’m reading heat signatures and you just so happen to be British Barbie.”
“I think I have one too many tattoos to be considered a doll,” Charlie said.
“So you’re Badass British Barbie.”
“Call me a Barbie one more time and you’ll get a first-hand glimpse of how those steer on your family ranch feel on castration day.”
“Harsh, darlin’. Really harsh.” Logan chuckled. “Stop flirting with me and go get us that win—and take no freaking prisoners.”
A small smile danced across her lips. “Not planning on it.”
Charlie stepped—and cringed as a twig crunched beneath her heel. Irritated that she’d let herself get distracted, she listened for any signs that she’d been compromised. After a solid thirty seconds of hearing nothing but rustling leaves, she kept going.
Ten feet from victory, a mountain-sized commando stepped into her path—too damn close for her not to have heard a damn thing. Charlie screeched to a halt.
Where the bloody hell had he come from?
Charlie had dealt with cocky, too-gorgeous alpha-hero types every day and managed to keep her sexual fantasies down to nil—until Vince had joined the team. The former SEAL commander always seemed…more. More intense. More combustible. And more than capable of awakening the sexual libido that had been in remission a lot longer than she cared to admit.
From his piercing hazel eyes and commanding presence to every tattooed inch of his body, the man was the epitome of Doom and Brood and would look dangerous donning flannel pj’s and a pair of bunny slippers. Put him in head-to-toe black camo and a throw a cap over his shaved head?
He looked lethal.
Neither of them moved as his gaze traveled up and down the length of her body, each pass tightening the mouth she’d fantasized about more than a few times through the course of the year. His hands, wrapped around his gun, flexed, diverting her attention to the full sleeve of colorful tattoos decorating both ridiculously corded arms.
Those bloody arms.
Some women coveted a broad chest with pecs that could make a quarter bounce—which Vince had. Some women fantasized about a firm, hard ass with a slight curvature perfect for palming—which Vince also had. And some women drooled over calloused hands, a symbol of hard work and talent in something other than pushing papers—which Vince also had.
But as delightful as all those attributes were to any red-blooded woman, Charlie was an arm girl. More specifically—forearms. When every hand-flex and wrist-rotation resulted in the gliding movement of ripped, corded muscle, something happened in her brain that shorted her circuits and sent a warmth straight to her lady goods.
Unfortunately for Charlie, Vince’s arms not only managed to short out her brain cells, but set them—and her body—ablaze. Like they were now. By the time she realized that drool had started collecting at the corner of her mouth, Vince’s lips gave a little twitch, which for him was practically an award-winning smile.
Charlie recovered from the shock of seeing it by drilling him with her best glare. With his gun already at half-mast, he could fire a round into her safety vest before she even took aim. “What are you waiting for? An invitation? Go ahead and get it over with.”
“You managed to get this far.” Vince gestured toward the flag flapping behind his shoulder. “Finish what you started. I’m not going to get in your way.”
“I’m closing in,” Chase’s voice murmured in Charlie’s ear mic. “Keep him distracted.”
Charlie plastered an unassuming smile on her face and watched the former SEAL go on high alert as she took a small step closer. Good. She liked that she could make him nervous. Well, maybe not nervous…edgy.
She refused to pull her gaze away from his. “Do I look like I was born yesterday, Navy?” Another step. “The second I turn my eyes away from you, you’re going to fire off a round, and then I’m out.”
“You need to work on those trust issues, English.”
A truer statement had never been uttered.
Another step and her vest brushed against his when she took a deep breath. “I have a name, you know. And it’s not English.”
“Maybe I’ll learn it when you realize mine isn’t Navy.”
“What if I shelve Navy and come up with something even more annoying?”
“You do and I’ll switch English to Crumpet.”
Vince shifted. In the overstretched, gaping folds of his vest, Charlie saw her opportunity—and took it. She drilled the butt of her paintball gun into his left torso and gave it a twist for good measure.
“Low blow,” he grunted. “But so’s this.”
His arm hooked around her waist, dragging her flat against his body a split second before he spun them right. Charlie’s back met the bark of the nearest tree, both her hands and her gun effectively sandwiched between their chests.
Damn smart blimey bastard.
“You should’ve left when I gave you the chance. Now where the hell are you going to go…Crumpet?” Vince murmured against her ear.
Hell if she knew. He trumped her in size a few times over. Charlie squirmed and twitched. Vince only held on tighter…but in order to anchor her against the tree, he widened his stance, leaving his family jewels vulnerable.
“Sorry, Flipper, but you asked for this.” Charlie leaned back a fraction of an inch and lifted her knee straight up between his legs. Even mountain men couldn’t shake off a direct shot to the juniors.
Vince released her, doubling over on contact with a low, hissing growl. Charlie leapt forward, quickly yanking the flag off its perch, and whistled. “Game over!” she shouted, gleeful.
Defeated groans and victorious shouts echoed around them as the teams started stepping into the small clearing. Charlie turned toward Vince, prepped to gloat and maybe see if he required medical attention. But instead of seething in pain, the man had his gaze resting squarely on her arse.
Each step Charlie took toward him amped up her degree of mad. “You better not have let me win, or my knee’s going to feel like a tickle compared to what I’m going to do next.”
He kept his face impassive and shrugged. “You got really fucking close. You deserved to win.”
“No.” She shook her head angrily. “I would’ve deserved to win if I’d gotten the flag without being seen. I can win on my own. I don’t need some He-Man type giving me a free pass. Next time you can take the shot, take it, and stop staring at my bloody arse.”
Charlie turned and stalked away before she did more than knock her knee into his man bits. But on her tenth step, she heard Vince’s low mutter, “Maybe I like staring at your bloody arse.”
Her patience dragging on the ground, Charlie spun and squeezed the trigger. A handful of bright pink paint splattered on Vince’s chest pad—dead center.
“What the hell was that for? The game’s fucking over, English,” Vince growled.
She fired another shot dangerously close to the bottom edge of his protective gear. A few inches lower, or with slightly off aim, and he would’ve been walking funny for weeks. “The first was for the arse comment—because my behind is not yours to ogle. And the second was for calling me English. Again.”
Charlie stormed off the field, where her foul mood was intercepted by two of her best friends.
Having joined in on the game, Penny, the first to drag one of the Alpha men into the pits of love and happiness, was decked out in black camouflage much like Charlie herself. But Elle, waddling slowly over tree limbs, toted around a protruding pregnancy belly instead of a paintball gun.
Grinning, Penny bumped into her shoulder. “You’re getting soft on us. I thought for sure you were going to shoot a blast of paint straight into his crotch.”
Elle snorted on a chuckle and carefully stepped over a mossy tree branch. “We placed a bet on it. Although I don’t know who wins, because we both bet crotch. Maybe we can all share an ice cream sundae and call it a draw.”
If it had been one of the other guys who’d taken it easy on her, or if she’d known he was wearing manly protection, Charlie would’ve done as Penny had suspected. But she didn’t want to permanently dismember the guy. Not to mention, aiming toward Vince’s crotch meant looking at his crotch, and her imagination needed no additional encouragement in picturing the infuriating man sans camo and padding.
Reaching the end of the paintball field, Charlie chanced one final look over her shoulder and immediately collided with a familiar piercing gaze. Depending on his mood, the shade either darkened or lightened. Most women would have drowned in their depths and died happy, but Charlie reached for her metaphorical life vest and held on for dear life.
A man was the last thing she needed now that she’d finally proven herself worthy of being on Alpha’s frontline—especially a man like Vince Franklin.
Everyone had lost their damn minds—including Vince. That was the only excuse for what had happened at the paintball range earlier in the day. But in the light of a full moon, the crazy started spreading like the fire he’d put out in the bar’s bathroom only two hours into his shift—and the fuckery hadn’t stopped there.
So far, he’d broken up three fights—one of which resulted in a phone call to the local sheriff’s department—fished a drunk coed out of their Dumpster—don’t ask—and dodged no less than a dozen ass-grab attempts by Bea Nicholas and her quilting circle.
Vince filled one order after another, slowly making his way to the end of the bar where the head Grabby Hands herself waited, more mischief sparking in her eyes the closer he got. He reached beneath the counter for a crate of clean mugs and received a sharp sting on his left ass-cheek.
This night couldn’t end any fucking sooner.
Forcing a deep breath, Vince slowly stood and locked the older woman in his sights.
“Behave, Bea.” He pointed a warning finger at the eighty-some-year-old.
“Oh, honey. I’ve spent most of my life misbehaving. I can’t change now,” she teased, not a speck of remorse anywhere to be seen. Her crew of ladies howled in laughter behind her. “Besides, it was an accident. My hand slipped.”
Her friends continued their hyena-type laughter. Jesus. Octogenarian misfits, the entire damn lot of them.
“When your hands start developing a mind of their own, it’s time to water down the drinks,” Vince said dryly.
“Now, there’s no need to get hasty.” Bea looked appalled at the idea of being cut off. “I’ll tell you what, hon…agree to be the male model for our senior art class, and I bet you’ll find my hands will keep to themselves.”
He didn’t want to fucking ask, but the words left his lips anyway. “Don’t people pose naked for those kinds of classes?”
“Your point?” Bea wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
“What’s wrong, Navy? Afraid to shed your skivvies for a roomful of art enthusiasts?” came Charlie’s sultry, English-accented voice. Goddamn, it was the voice of a phone sex operator—not that he knew what one of those sounded like.
Charlie, taking a break from her girls’ night across the room, whipped up two simultaneous batches of frozen margaritas and slid one pitcher Bea’s way along with a saucy wink. “You’re way too adventurous for Navy, Bea. You’d run circles around him.”
Vince shot the pink-haired thorn in his side a glare. “Because I don’t want to pose naked in front of a group of women with a fondness for pinching my ass? Like you’d do it?”
“I did. Last week.”
The mug in his hands slipped, splashing beer all over his jeans and shoes. Charlie. Naked. No clothes. His dick twitched at the mental image, one he should be familiar with by now considering he’d pictured it at least twice a fucking week. Hell, more.
“Dropped something there.” Charlie grinned. After lifting his jaw back into position, she hopped over the counter again, taking a full tray of drinks back to the other side of the room.
Vince forced his eyes off the sway of her ass and turned to a smirking Bea. “She didn’t seriously pose for you all, did she?”
The older woman sipped her margarita. “She sure did. She even promised to come back for couples’ week. I’d ask if you wanted to volunteer, but when I told him we’d already secured our lovely Charlie, that ridiculously handsome Beau brother, from the construction company in town, immediately offered his services. Maybe you could be his understudy…if he calls in sick.”
Vince caught himself grinding his back molars at the thought of Charlie posing with the oversexed douche. The guy had so many notches on his post that the damn thing couldn’t stay upright—and he boasted about each and every one of them.
“Behave.” He gestured to Bea’s group’s replenished margaritas. “Or I really will confiscate your drinks.”
Vince returned to his orders, walking away from the chorus of chuckles.
The town of Frederick didn’t have much in the way of a tourist flow, which made spotting the stranger at the end of the bar easy. Somewhere in his mid-thirties and dressed in a suit and tie, the man should’ve been in a boardroom instead of a country dive.
“What can I get you?” Vince asked.
The stranger’s attention remained fixed on the other side of the bar. Vince followed the man’s gaze, annoyance stirring his gut when he realized he was watching Charlie and the girls.
Vince cleared his throat and didn’t bother with pleasantries. “You need to either order a drink or get off the stool. Patrons only.”
Preppy Boy finally turned around. “I’ll take an ice water.”
Vince waited for the punch line, but when it didn’t come, he reached for a glass. He’d no sooner turned toward the tap machine when Preppy’s eyes slid back toward Charlie. He plunked the water down, making it splash on the countertop. “What else?”
“Nothing.” Preppy Boy reached for his drink. “Actually, you could hit me up with a little bartender gossip. The blonde? With the pink hair? Is she here most nights?”
Vince crossed his arms over his chest and heard his jaw crack.
At his silence, Preppy spared him a quick glance. “Oh, come on. You know, the hot little number who was over here a few minutes ago? The one with the perfect rack and killer ass?”
“I know who you’re talking about. I just have no intention of answering you, and if you knew what was good for you, you’d keep your distance.”
Preppy cocked up a suspiciously well-groomed eyebrow. “Are the two of you an item or something? Or are you playing the part of the big bad protector?”
“She’s not an item with anyone, and I don’t need to protect that woman from anything when she can do it all on her own. Just saving you the embarrassment of getting shot down—or knocked down. With her, it could go either way.”
Preppy took a sip of his drink. “Thanks for the advice, friend, but I can handle it—and her.”
Vince leaned closer to the bar and to the stranger, throwing a little extra menace into his tone. “Let me make myself a little clearer, friend. She’s not the type of woman who’s going to be handled—by you or anyone else. As a matter fact, none of the women in this joint are, so if you’re looking to cause trouble, you best walk away while you still have the use of both your legs.”
Vince almost wanted the ass-hat to argue because, not having been in the field for more than a week, he could use a little action. Unfortunately, Preppy stayed silent and gave a slight nod. Vince turned back to the waiting customers, barely missing an innocent Bea-grab, when his gaze caught a familiar pair of brown eyes watching him from the other side of the room.
Fuck. He really should start thinking about taking his own advice.
* * *
Charlie ripped her eyes away from the bar before the three women she’d claimed as best friends called her out on her distraction. Again. Despite the fact that they’d all met less than a year ago, they sometimes knew her thoughts better than she did, a side effect of having girlfriends to which she wasn’t yet accustomed. Any childhood friends she’d collected growing up had been kids whose parents had decided to stretch their legs at the same rest spot.
Learning through life experiences. That’s how her mom had once described their vagabond existence, hopping from country to country, never staying in one place for longer than a week or two. No classrooms. No school dances. No best friends—until now, which was why she tried bloody hard not to chase them away with her snark.
“Stop staring a hole through me. Please.” Charlie narrowed her eyes, focusing on the bull’s-eye in front of her. The dart flew from her fingers and missed its mark by three damn rings.
“I’ll stop staring when you tell us the truth,” Penny bartered from her perch on the stool. Fingering her red hair, she studied Charlie before throwing her attention toward Rachel and Elle. “You guys see it, too, right? I mean, I’m not completely off my game?”
“Definitely hiding something,” Elle agreed with a nod.
Rachel, at least, gave Charlie an apologetic look. “You have been a little off tonight.”
Charlie didn’t want to lie—something had been different since she’d stepped into the bar. Normally, meeting up with the girls meant a male-free night of fruity drinks, dirty jokes, and relaxation. Tonight, she simply felt plugged in…like her body was on a constant alert, prepped for something to happen.
She almost blamed Vince for the source of the itchy, hyperaware tingle on the back of her neck, but his attention warmed her body from the lady bits out; it didn’t make her feel like an entire colony of ants were doing the Irish jig on her spine.
“Fine.” Penny sighed. “You don’t want to tell us what’s on your mind. At least explain what you did to poor Vince when you went over to get our pitcher. He went from looking annoyed to shell-shocked, and then…I don’t know what that was when you walked away.”
“I may have mentioned my posing for Bea and the ladies at the rec center,” Charlie admitted.
Elle’s nose wrinkled up, the blonde deep in thought. “But why would that make him look like he’d walked in on his parents having sex?”
Rachel burst into laughter, nearly falling off her seat. “You didn’t tell him what kind of posing you were doing, did you?”
Charlie chuckled. “If his mind chose to go the dirty and naked route, who am I to steer him in the right direction?”
“Wait,” Penny interjected. “You posed nude?”
- "4 stars! Heavy on the romance, the Alpha team returns and is tasked with protecting a U.S. senator's daughter. The suspense is ever-present...and the heat between the hero and heroine is intense."—RT Book Reviews on Holding Fire
- "Smartly balances slow-burning passion and explosive high-stakes danger. This book kicks off an adventure-packed romance series, and readers will eagerly anticipate the next installment."—Publishers Weekly on Heated Pursuit
- "4 stars! Fast paced and intriguing."—RT Book Reviews on Heated Pursuit
- "Sassy and sexy! Heated Pursuit will leave you breathless with each action-packed page."—Cristin Harber, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
- "A fantastic, fast paced, and well developed debut! A hot alpha saving a feisty woman...what's not to love?"—Sidney Halston, USA Today bestselling author, on Heated Pursuit
- "Heat, humor, and heart-pounding action! I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!"—Annie Rains, USA Today bestselling author, on Heated Pursuit
- On Sale
- Aug 29, 2017
- Page Count
- 336 pages