Heated Pursuit


By April Hunt

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Penny Kline didn’t come to Honduras on a pleasure trip. She’s here to rescue her kidnapped niece, the only family she’s got left. What she didn’t plan on was walking into a covert ops mission-or being wrapped up in the hard-muscled arms of Rafe Ortega. The cool-as-ice operative’s touch may get her all hot and bothered, but no man can have a hold on her heart until her niece is home where she belongs.

Even in the tropics, Alpha Security operative Rafe can take down the bad guys without breaking a sweat. Hostage extractions. Clandestine missions. Those are the things he’s been trained to handle. Relationships? Not so much. But one look at this strong, sexy redhead and he’s seized by a fierce urge to protect her at all costs. Now Penny and Rafe will have to up their game because they’re about to go into a master criminal’s lair without backup, and the danger—and passion—is about to explode . . .



I wouldn’t be seeing my book on the shelf if it weren’t for my family and the unending love and support that they’ve given me each day. Thanks to my husband for understanding when the laundry loads started piling high, and to my children, who were as enthusiastic about having pizza for dinner on day one as they were on days three and four.

My rock star agent, Sarah E. Younger—your encouragement and support have no boundaries. Your guidance, as always, is invaluable and treasured. I couldn’t have been blessed with a better soul to guide me through this crazy world of publishing. I’m proud to be a member of #TeamSarah.

Thank you to my editor, Madeleine Colavita, for loving this book and my slightly damaged heroes as much as I do. You’ve helped me achieve my dream of sharing Heated Pursuit with the world, and of making it what it is today. And to everyone at Grand Central / Forever—thank you! You’ve helped make this experience one I’ll treasure forever.

Through the years, I’ve made so many friends in the writing community—invaluable, amazing, talented friends. As #TeamSarah continues to grow, so does my overwhelming pool of support. And of course, my #GirlsWriteNight crew—Tif Marcelo, Rachel Lacey, Annie Rains, and Sidney Halston. You ladies have been with me through this crazy ride, doling out encouragement when needed, cattle prods when required, and thumbs-up when deserved. To you, I say, #LiftedPensUnite!

My darling best friend and CP, Tif. I never would’ve thought that in the midst of a busy twelve-hour shift, I would’ve found my greatest writing champion. If there’s one person for which I could say that this book never would’ve happened without, it’s you. You really have been with me from day one: from conception to plotting, to querying, and beyond. Your encouragement and support mean more to me than you’ll ever know.

And to my readers—thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share with you my troubled heroes and the women they never knew they needed but now can’t live without.


Penny’s damp underwear stuck to her skin in an uncomfortable bunch, but it wasn’t a man’s skillful pair of callus-roughened hands or his dirty, talented mouth that had caused the problem. The blame lay entirely with the god-awful Honduran humidity.

It didn’t matter. No degree of sweaty undies or unfortunate chafing would slow her down. Nothing could make her turn back, because her family meant the world to her—and Rachel was the only one she had left.

A tingle at the base of her neck made Penny skid to a stop. Her gaze snapped left and right, heart trilling as shadows stretched into human-sized figures and melted away with the twinkle of a far-off light. Nothing looked amiss, but two tortuously slow seconds later, the sound of a boot scraping asphalt had her spinning around with fists raised.

Half-hidden in shadow, the man ducked her sweeping arm and pivoted much too fast for someone his size. In a blink, he reappeared over her shoulder. Months of training and practice brought her heel down onto his large, booted foot and she turned…straight into a hulking black-camo-clad figure.

Holy ever-lovin’ god of iron giants.

Behind his ski mask, the man’s piercing blue eyes raked down the length of her body. He towered over her by more than a foot, and given the width of his broad shoulders and massive chest, he outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds of solid muscle.

Penny swallowed the fear rising in her throat and did the first thing that popped into her head—she aimed a swift kick between his legs. And then she ran like hell.

Each painful inhale rattled in her lungs as she pumped her legs harder. Her hair whipped across her line of sight, temporarily obstructing her view. Seconds ticked by at an agonizing crawl. Fifty yards. Twenty. The closer her rental Jeep came into view, the louder the echoing pound of footsteps behind her became.

An inch away from the door, strong hands propelled her face-first into the grimy driver’s side window.

“Let go of me.” She twisted and squirmed, cursing as he yanked her arms sharply behind her back and pinned them into place with his two hundred–pound frame.

Ya era tiempo,” her captor said, tossing a deep growl of Spanish to their left.

About damn time. Years of studying the language had Penny’s heart sinking to her stomach…because she knew he wasn’t talking to her.

One dark figure after another emerged from the shadows. Dressed head to toe in matching black fatigues and masks, the metallic glint of weapons flickered off the four bodies like a commando’s version of bling. The fact that not a single gun was pointed at her head became a small comfort when a dark van screeched to a halt in front of them.

“Oh hell.” She took a deep breath and choked on burnt rubber fumes.

She needed to think, and the hard erection nestled against her ass reminded her there wasn’t room for mistakes. If something happened to her, Rachel would be lost forever in the hands of a monster. She couldn’t let that happen. She wouldn’t let that happen.

As if sensing a forming plan, her assailant bent down, his mask brushing against her ear. “Play nice and you won’t get hurt, sweetheart. But if you don’t stop struggling, I can’t make that same promise.

Penny fought against the ice-cold tingle his rough whisper zipped down her spine. Her joints screamed in protest, but she edged closer to the only area susceptible to attack. The second fabric brushed against her palm, she curled her fingers and squeezed with everything she had.

“Fucking hell!” Blue Eyes wrenched her grip free of his balls and tossed her over his shoulder as if she were nothing more than a rag doll.

“Damn it! Let me go!” She elbowed the back of his head, and when that didn’t get a reaction, she plowed a fist into his left flank—and the damn man kept walking, not once losing his stride. “Put me down! Entiendes?

Behind her, someone bound her kicking legs while another did the same with her wrists. When a gag came next, she snapped her teeth, nearly catching the hand that tied it into place. A sack over the head later and her world plummeted into darkness before they shuffled her into the waiting van.

Between the musty, stale air and being bracketed between her assailant’s rock-hard thighs, it didn’t matter that she couldn’t see her snug confines. Walls closed in around her, making each breath feel as if it would be the last. She made one last-ditch effort to squirm from her captor’s hold.

Blue Eyes’ grip locked her into place, her back plastered against his chest.

Little viper,” he murmured—in Spanish—into her ear. “It’s a damn good thing I wasn’t thinking about having children anytime soon.

I’m just glad she didn’t grab my balls.” Another voice chuckled. “Unlike you assholes, I’d like to expand my gene pool sometime down the line. But I am curious as to why she’s down here.

Me, too. And I’m sure as hell going to find out.” The familiar voice made Penny’s heartbeat stumble.

The tone was the same in Spanish as it was in English—abrupt and menacing even from its distance across the van. But why would Trey be in Honduras? And why the hell had he let his friend turn her into a pancake against the side of a Jeep?

*  *  *

If someone had told former Delta and current Alpha Security operative Rafael Ortega that he’d have someone tied up in the unit’s makeshift interrogation room, he’d have sworn it would’ve been the drug kingpin, Fuentes, or one of the cartel leader’s many henchmen.

Now, three hours after he and his team pulled the hood off the American woman in the privacy of their inner-city headquarters, Rafe still hadn’t entirely ruled out the redhead’s involvement. Something didn’t jibe, and when he couldn’t figure things out, it made him goddamned twitchy.

A body search he’d been a lucky enough bastard to perform revealed a single steel blade tucked into her boot and a burner cell phone that hadn’t sent or received any calls. No firearms. No identification. That was it, unless you counted breasts that would fit perfectly in the palms of his hands, and an ass that was made to be grabbed—or at the very least, ogled.

For the third time in as many hours, Rafe shifted himself in his pants and walked into the interrogation room. Instantly, he was bombarded with curses that would’ve had his fourth foster mother running to the nearest church.

“Ah. You missed me,” he goaded.

His comment earned him another round of expletives, each one more inventive than the last. He smiled, loving both the challenge and the murderous glint in her blazing green eyes.

Rafe met her glare for glare, not turning when the door opened to emit Trey Hanson, his best friend and former Delta brother. His own black mask still firmly in place, Trey took a position against the far back wall.

“Are you feeling any more talkative?” asked Rafe.

“Go. To. Hell.” The redhead tugged on her restraints with each word.

“I’ve been there. Too dry for my tastes.” Rafe let out a mental sigh. This was turning out to be more work than he’d anticipated. “Why are you in Honduras?”

She gave him an eat-shit-and-choke-on-it glare and he covered her hands with his, halting both the damage to her chafing wrists and assessing her sudden surge in heart rate. “I’m losing my patience, sweetheart. Let’s try this again. One. More. Time.”

Her gaze darted left, to where Trey stood like a six-foot wall ornament, flipping his KA-BAR knife in his hand like Rafe had seen him do countless times when bored. Something flashed in the redhead’s eyes, but when her gaze slid back to him, it hardened to green steel.

The slow, upward curl of her lips alerted him to the smart-mouthed remark about to be unleashed. “Maybe instead of asking me stupid questions you should put some ice on your boo-boo. Untreated swelling could cause permanent damage.”

He leaned to within an inch of her face. Fuck-and-him. Despite the layers of San Pedro Sula grime caked on her otherwise perfect porcelain skin, a vanilla scent clung to her body. It almost made him forget that her swift kick and good aim were the reason he actually did just get done icing his fucking balls.

“We have ways of making little girls talk,” he warned. “And trust me, it’s no day at the spa.”

Her gaze flickered over his shoulder. “I’ve never been a spa kind of woman. Ask your mute friend there in the back. After all, we were practically raised as brother and sister.”

*  *  *

Once Penny got over the fact that her surrogate big brother was lounging on the sofa across the room, it was easier to shift her focus—at least temporarily—to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Blue-Eyed.

Rafael Ortega looked like a walking sin stick, not a single ounce of softness anywhere on his body. His broad shoulders could perch a pair of economy-line sedans, and his snug shirt amplified a defined chest and quarter-bouncing set of abs. Everything about the man was rock hard and chiseled, but it was his biceps that had her close to drooling.

Nearly as big as her thighs, they bunched and flexed each time he staunchly folded his arms across his chest, the movement giving her a sneak peek of the tribal tattoo hiding beneath the hem of his sleeve. He was so not her type—too large, too intense, and way too brooding. But that didn’t stop the butterflies from forming in the pit of her stomach—and a bit lower.

Penny sat on the threadbare couch and forced a smile she hoped looked confident. “Nice place you have. A little compact for men of your size, but nice. Cozy.”

“Forget the sarcastic small talk, Penn,” Trey growled from across the room. “You owe me a few answers, so let’s get to why the hell you’re in Honduras.”

Fake it till you sell it. The words of her mentor at the bail enforcement agency had her lifting her gaze to Trey’s. “I don’t owe you a damn thing.”

“When you waltz your sweet ass into one of my missions, you most certainly do. You’re a goddamned social worker. You have no business walking the streets of San Pedro Sula as if you’re GI-fucking-Jane.”

“I can count the number of e-mails and phone calls I’ve gotten from you over the last few years on one hand, so don’t pretend to know my business. I’m not sixteen anymore. I don’t need your lectures, and I sure as hell don’t have to explain myself to you. The sooner that sinks into your head, the smoother this conversation will go.”

Rafe blocked Trey’s path in one step. In a low murmur, the two men exchanged words that pinched Trey’s lips into a tightened frown.

A few seconds later, Rafe turned, locking her in his sight. “I think we’ve gone about this the wrong way, Red.”

She matched his disarming half smile with one of her own and watched every line on his already chiseled face go still. “My name’s Penny. And you didn’t seem too concerned about stepping off on the wrong foot when you shoved a gag into my mouth, tossed a sack over my head, and hurled me into the back of a van.”

“Had to do something before you ended up injuring yourself.”

“Is that why you had me tied to a chair for hours, too? To protect me from bodily injury? You know what would’ve protected me even more? Not being manhandled at all.”

Penny, one point. Blue Eyes, zippo.

His eyes narrowed, taking her bait. “Then the next time you get the urge to take a stroll, do it during the day and not in a seedy part of a foreign city. The only people who trample through the San Pedro Sula warehouse district are either looking for trouble or they are the trouble. For all we knew, you could’ve been a human trafficker looking to make a sale. You were someplace you didn’t belong.”

He knew who I was.” She tossed a blatant glare at Trey and got a stony look in return. “Isn’t that right?”

Trey’s continued silence turned Penny’s insides into a pinball machine. She shifted her eyes to the plans littering the coffee table—schematics, maps, photographs, and itineraries. Considering their dark-wing commando look, none of it was surprising, except for one photo tucked beneath all the others.

Her hand reflexively reached for it, a knot instantly forming in her stomach. Gleaming back at her from the black-and-white picture were a familiar pair of cold, dark eyes.

Someone called her name, but she couldn’t answer. Tunnel vision narrowed her focus, darkening the corners of her sight until the harsh stare of the man in the photo morphed into the concerned eyes of Rafael Ortega. Catching her chin between his fingers, Rafe gently forced her gaze upward.

“Talk to me, Red,” he demanded gently.

He’s the reason I’m here.” She met Rafe’s gaze, lifting the picture up with a shaking hand. “Diego Fuentes has my niece, my best friend. And I’m not leaving Honduras without her.”


News that the same man who brought Alpha Security to Honduras three months ago had also lured a determined Penelope Kline went over like a bomb dropping into the middle of a churchyard. Handling crazy shit was Alpha’s specialty. Terrorists. Hostage retrievals. Not bogged down by bureaucratic bullshit, they got stuff done when the government couldn’t. Hell, they were currently aiding the Drug Enforcement Administration with an international manhunt for one of the most sought-after drug traffickers this side of the hemisphere—Diego Fuentes.

Penny’s grit was admirable, but on the third hour after the dropping of the metaphorical bomb, it was starting to give Rafe a damn headache that an entire bottle of aspirin and the sight of her curvy body couldn’t cure.

Three hours of tension. Of glares. Of listening to the faint squeal of the rotating ceiling fan in the background, and they were no closer to talking sense into the redhead than they’d been before. Even Trey, their trained hostage negotiator who could talk himself out of five-point steel restraints, hadn’t so much as gained an inch of her cooperation.

Penny Kline had systematically bested each of Rafe’s four teammates in the stubbornness department, and for Alpha operatives, it was a hard and bitter pill to swallow.

Sweaty and annoyed, Rafe cracked his neck and prayed for patience as he got his turn. “I’m not so sure you’re following along, Red. Fuentes isn’t a tame little pussycat. He’s the goddamned Dr. Frankenstein of the drug world.”

Penny leaned against the back of the couch, arms folded across her chest. She cocked up one delicate eyebrow as if something were wrong with him. And hell, maybe there was. He’d always prided himself on being cool and levelheaded. In his line of work, a quick temper got you in tough scrapes. Or dead. But for some reason, this little sprite of a woman put him close to an edge he didn’t know he had.

“He also loves dabbling in human trafficking and generalized murder and mayhem. Do you have something to tell me that I don’t already know?” she asked.

“Do you have any idea what would happen if a man like him got his hands on a sweet little thing like yourself?”

“No, because I’m too busy imagining what a man like him is doing to Rachel.”

Her voice caught on her niece’s name. Her gaze, previously matching his head-on, lost its ferocity with a few quick blinks. But it was the nibbling of her lower lip that was a red flare shot inches from his face.

Rafe told himself to give her a second to collect herself. But there was too much on the line, and not solely the team’s mission to bring down Fuentes before the bastard spread his superdrug, Freedom, to the States. Left to the atrocities of San Pedro Sula, no way could Penny come out whole and intact, and more importantly, she shouldn’t have to take that kind of risk. The fact she felt it necessary bothered him a hell of a lot.

Rafe ignored Trey’s grumbles from across the room. “If Fuentes has Rachel, we’ll find her.”

A chorus of nods and hell yeahs filtered through the group.

“You mean like you’ve found him?” She rolled her eyes with a snort. “I’m sorry. You said you’ve been down here looking for him for how long? Months? Rachel doesn’t have that kind of time. You’ve said yourself that Fuentes is a monster. If he doesn’t kill her or sell her to the highest bidder, then she becomes a walking guinea pig. I’m not going to let that happen.”

Trey unfolded his six-foot body from the couch and stood. “And you think you can do any better? Jesus, Penn, we’re trained for this kind of shit. You’re trained to place children in loving homes and help the elderly work out the kinks in their social security checks. What you’re not is a—”

“A social worker.”

“That’s exactly my point.” Trey nodded, looking smug.

“I mean, I’m not a social worker.” She gestured toward the laptop that sat on the beat-up coffee table. “Look it up. And it’ll speed things along if you use the Lebanon County Sheriff’s Office database.”

Logan, former Marine sniper and resident country boy, was already on it. With his well-worn cowboy boots and chewed-to-hell toothpick sticking out of his mouth, no one but his teammates would’ve expected it to take him less than a minute before letting out a loud, and obviously impressed, whistle. “Hot damn. Looks like our redheaded viper’s packing more than a mean kick. She’s got a license.”

Logan chuckled. Hands propped behind his head, he leaned back so the rest of the team could read the screen.

Trey gawked at the computer, then at Penny. “You’re a goddamned bounty hunter? What the fuck happened to being a social worker?”

“I got tired of the women in my shelter being afraid because their no-good exes skipped out on parole. And the term I’d prefer you use is bail enforcement agent.” An impish grin slipped onto her face as she scanned their surprised expressions. “I may not be a card-carrying member of the Commando Club, but I’m not entirely helpless either. And I’m not flying into this with blinders over my eyes.”

Most people chose not to meet Rafe’s gaze head-on. When he was young, he chalked it up to the startling contrast of his tanned coloring given to him by his Guatemalan mother and the blue eyes of his Anglo-American father. Then the closer he got to his teenage years, he partnered the oddity up with a fuck-off scowl, and like magic, most people kept their distance.

Obviously, Penny wasn’t included in that tally. Not only did she hold his gaze without so much as a blink, but she challenged it with a subtle eyebrow lift. The woman needed to come with a too-intense-for-public-consumption warning label.

“Kidnapping’s good business,” he pointed out. “This country’s filled with all kinds of low-level pond scum looking to make a few bucks. What makes you think it’s Fuentes who has Rachel?”

“Because she e-mailed me a picture of him right after he threatened her for sticking her nose in his business.”

“What business?”

“The disappearances of young women in the village where she’d been stationed. It didn’t take long for her to notice that each one coincided with visits from Fuentes and his men—which was at least once every other week, sometimes more frequent. The bastard had the elders thinking that the wrath of God would strike them down if they so much as muttered a word about it, much less interfered.”

Realization started to dawn. “And let me guess…she wasn’t so accommodating.”

“Rachel loved those people. She loved her job. The NGO she was working for wrote her off as bailing her post, but Rachel wouldn’t do that. She wouldn’t have gone unless someone made her leave.”

Hell, it fit. All of it. By plucking people in a society where no one would notice, Fuentes solved two of his problems—loose ends and productivity. While remaining stateside, Charlie, Alpha’s tech guru, had already gathered intel that led them to believe Fuentes was using the Honduran populace as his own personal test subjects. If Rachel had been about to cause him problems, the bastard wouldn’t hesitate in getting rid of her the most efficient way he knew how.

One minute was too long in the presence of a man like Fuentes. Rachel, about to hit a month, was quickly running out of time—if that time hadn’t already expired. Penny’s stern jaw told Rafe that she knew each and every one of the risks associated with this game of hide-and-seek, and she didn’t give a damn—because it was for family.

He didn’t have anything in the way of parents or siblings. Hell, he didn’t even have a goddamned houseplant. But Rafe understood that fierce loyalty all the same because it’s how he felt about each of his teammates.

But that didn’t mean she belonged here.

“What are the chances of you staying on a plane if we plop you onto one and fly your ass home?” Rafe asked, though he already guessed the answer.

“I’d be on the first flight back,” she said without batting a pretty green eye.

He didn’t doubt that for one damn second.

Penny met his gaze. “Look, I know you guys have a job to do here, and putting Fuentes out of commission is an important one. But so is mine. I’ll do whatever I have to do to prove I won’t be a liability. Put me through the gauntlet. I don’t care. But at least give me a chance before you send me on my way. Or try to.”

Rafe sent a sidelong glance toward his boss. Sean Stone had stayed not-so-miraculously quiet for the last few hours, absorbing everything around him. A man of few words, the former SEAL led Alpha Security with a firm, but fair, fist. No surprise to Rafe, Stone’s dark stare hovered over Penny to the point the redhead squirmed—albeit faintly.


  • "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
  • "4 stars! Fast paced and intriguing."—RT Book Reviews
  • "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
  • "Heat, humor, and heart-pounding action! I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!"—Annie Rains, USA Today bestselling author

On Sale
Oct 25, 2016
Page Count
304 pages

April Hunt

About the Author

April Hunt blames her incurable chocolate addiction on growing up in rural Pennsylvania, way too close to America’s chocolate capital, Hershey. She now lives in Virginia with her college sweetheart husband, two young children, and a cat who thinks she’s a human-dog hybrid.

On those rare occasions she’s not donning the cape of her children’s personal chauffer, April’s either planning, plotting, or writing about her next alpha hero and the woman he never knew he needed, but now can’t live without.

To learn more, visit:
Twitter @AprilHuntBooks

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