Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
The Hostile Operations Team
Hot & Bothered: Ryan & Emily
© 2015 by Lynn Raye Harris
ABOUT THIS BOOK
He can never have her. Having her means the end of his career in the Hostile Operations Team. But when he learns she’s carrying his child, he’ll have to make a choice…
Ryan “Flash” Gordon has been drawn to Emily Royal bin Yusuf since the first moment he met her. But she’s a terrorist’s widow, which means she’s completely off-limits. A HOT special operator can never be with a woman whose name is on government watch lists the world over.
But when Emily begs him for just one night, he can’t refuse. The next morning, she’s gone. Not just from his bed, but from his life.
Emily can never clear her name—or can she? When a rogue CIA operative offers her a chance to put her past behind her and do something for her country, she leaps at the opportunity—even though it means leaving behind the man she’s fallen in love with. But not before she lets herself have one night with him.
One night with stunning consequences…
EMILY ROYAL BIN YUSUF WAS JOGGING along the path in Rock Creek Park, listening to Fall Out Boy on her iPod and thinking about the paper she had due in her psychology class next week, when a man fell in beside her. It was broad daylight and there were plenty of people in the park, but the sudden appearance of a man at her side unnerved her.
After the life she’d led in recent years, she was still working on responding like a normal adult and not someone with a paranoia complex. But she wasn’t there yet.
She told herself he was passing, that she was in his way, but he didn’t pull ahead. And she stubbornly kept her gaze on the path, refusing to look at him though her heart was beginning to pound harder and her endurance was failing as a result.
Finally she slowed her pace and stopped as he kept going. Thank God.
She checked her Fitbit for her heart rate and started to walk. She hadn’t gone as far as she wanted, but maybe it was time to head back to the apartment she shared with another student. That psych paper wasn’t writing itself after all.
The man slowed up ahead. Then he turned and started jogging back toward her. He was tall and dark, intense and muscular like the Special Ops soldiers she knew. He was barely sweating as he approached. He passed her, then turned and fell in beside her again.
Emily thought about running off the path and screaming, but she told herself that was an overreaction. There were plenty of people here. Plenty of witnesses. Possibly he just wanted to hit on her. He was handsome enough, though he did nothing for her.
“How are you, Emily?”
She stumbled to a halt and whirled to face him. “How do you know who I am?”
“A lot of people know who you are.”
Her heart thumped. “Did the colonel send you?”
Colonel Mendez was the leader of the Hostile Operations Team, a secretive black-ops group that had evacuated her from Qu’rim. Her sister worked for them. Victoria had done a lot to find her in Qu’rim, worked for some shady people, before she’d thrown her fate in with HOT. Emily didn’t know details, but she knew Victoria had cut a deal with Mendez to give Emily a normal life again.
Or as normal as could be for the widow of a known terrorist leader. She’d been naïve when she’d gone to Qu’rim with Zaran, but she wasn’t naïve any longer. Being married to Zaran would affect the rest of her life. It wasn’t the same as a drunken binge or a drug arrest as a juvenile. This was bigger. She was on no-fly lists the world over. She could never hold a government job. Never have a security clearance.
And she couldn’t, under any circumstances, confess her feelings to the one man who meant something to her. His career would be ruined if she did. Hell, he risked enough by talking to her, but she couldn’t cut that thread. It terrified her to think of cutting it. So long as she had him in her life, even peripherally, she could survive what the world threw at her.
The stranger snorted. “Mendez didn’t send me.”
He lifted his head and let his gaze slide over the brown grass and bare trees in the park as if he were searching for something. Definitely a Spec Ops guy. And yet that didn’t make her feel any better about him.
“Let’s walk before we draw attention.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Just walk with me, Emily. We’ll stay on the path. I promise that you want to hear what I have to say.”
She lifted her head. It was cold out, but she was warm from her jog—and from the adrenaline coursing through her. “And what could you possibly have to say that would interest me?”
“I’ll tell you when we’re walking.”
She dragged in a breath as she considered him. Yes, she was scared—and she was intrigued too. Still, she was cautious. She’d learned to be. “Tell me who you are first.”
The man grinned. “My name is Ian Black.”
THERE WAS ONLY ONE WOMAN RYAN “Flash” Gordon wanted, and she was off-limits. Hugely off-limits. So off-limits that his balls tightened just thinking about the potential rage machine her sister would unleash on him if he touched her.
But that one woman had just walked into Buddy’s Bar, where HOT hung out in their downtime, dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a leather jacket. Her blond hair was loose and flowing down her back, reaching nearly to her ass. The long strands curled at the ends, and Ryan imagined wrapping his fists in those locks and tugging her to him so he could ravage her mouth with his own.
She looked up from where she’d gone to stand with her sister, her gaze meeting his. Her brown eyes softened a little, and his heart kicked in his chest.
Goddamn, why had he let himself get tangled up in this? Why had he let her keep texting him, talking to him, calling him in the middle of the night so she could tell him about her day?
Emily Royal bin Yusuf—it was critically important to remember the bin Yusuf part, because no one else was going to forget it anytime soon even though she’d dropped her married name—was the saddest person he knew. And no wonder, considering what she’d been through. He knew she’d had drug and alcohol problems as a teenager, and he knew that when she’d met Zaran bin Yusuf, the man had given her what no one else could at that moment in her life.
He’d given her understanding, and he’d given her hope. Too bad the dude had decided radical Islam was the path he needed to follow. He’d dragged Emily to Qu’rim, and he’d terrorized her every bit as much as he’d terrorized nations. More, probably.
A hand clamped down on Ryan’s shoulder. He worked hard not to react, not to slam whoever it was into the floor and ask questions later. Good thing, because Nick “Brandy” Brandon was standing there grinning at him.
“Lighten up, Flash. Here’s your beer.” He handed over the ice-cold bottle of Sam Adams.
Brandy’s expression grew serious as his gaze strayed to his fiancée. Victoria Royal stood with Emily, their heads bowed together as they talked. Victoria had quietly set her beer aside the instant Emily appeared. Ryan knew she wouldn’t touch it again while Emily was at the bar.
“Victoria’s worried about Emily,” Brandy said. “She’s started dating some guy.”
Ryan’s stomach tightened. Yeah, he knew about that. When Emily had asked him what she should do, he’d told her to go with her gut. She hadn’t replied for hours. Then she’d told him she’d accepted the guy’s invitation to see a band at a bar.
It had been everything Ryan could do not to howl. He’d made sure, however, that she texted him her whereabouts. He’d been poised to leap into his car and go rescue her if necessary. Hell, he hadn’t slept that night until he’d heard from her.
Then HOT had been on a mission and he’d been out of pocket for weeks. Weeks in which he’d gone crazy imagining Emily dating some guy, needing a friend to talk to and having nowhere to turn.
When Ryan had returned Stateside just a few days ago, he’d been relieved to find messages from her on his phone. He hadn’t seen her until today though. And it was killing him that he couldn’t wrap her up in a hug and tell her how glad he was to see her.
“I think Emily is stronger than anyone gives her credit for,” he said, watching her again. And then he took a swig of his beer to cover the awkwardness as Brandy looked at him.
“Maybe she is,” Brandy finally said before turning to watch Victoria and Emily. “God knows a lesser woman would have crumbled under the weight of everything that happened out there.”
Ryan knew he meant Qu’rim and the mission that had almost ended in Brandy and Victoria dying. Until Emily saved them. She’d had to kill Zaran to do it, but she hadn’t hesitated.
Ryan had killed before. It was the job, killing those who wanted to kill him. Protecting the nation. Stopping the bad stuff before it happened.
But Emily wasn’t a black-ops soldier. She wasn’t trained. She’d stabbed her husband with his own knife, and she was never going to forget the moment when the blade sank into soft flesh and the man she’d once cared for bled out on the floor.
Ryan had met her for the first time only minutes after. She’d been covered in blood and mumbling “Oh God” over and over again. He’d tried to comfort her. Sometime in the next few days while her sister recovered from her own wounds, Ryan had found himself drawn to Emily’s side.
She’d clung to him, figuratively, and she hadn’t stopped in the months since that night. Nor did he want her to, even though he knew it would be best for her. Best for them both.
Victoria turned a worried glance toward Brandy, and he made for her side without another word. Ryan sat there, staring at the three of them and wishing like hell he had the right to go to Emily. Finally Brandy handed her a drink from the bar—a sugary Coca-Cola because Emily didn’t do diet—and she slipped the straw between her lips.
A minute later she strolled away from Brandy and Victoria while their attention was on Matt “Richie Rich” Girard and his fiancée, Evie Baker, who’d just arrived. Evie was still brushing snowflakes from her jacket as Matt tugged her into his arms and wrapped her in a hug as he said something in her ear that made her laugh.
Ryan envied them—envied all his teammates who’d found love—but he knew it was easier for some than for others. His gaze landed on Garrett “Iceman” Spencer and Grace Campbell. Now that was a pairing he’d have never expected, but somehow it worked. Grace softened Ice’s edges. Ice roughened up Grace’s polish. It was perfect.
“How are you, Ry?”
Ryan’s entire body tightened at the sound of Emily’s voice. She’d come up on him when he wasn’t watching for her, and her presence socked him in the belly like always. He concentrated on keeping his breathing slow and even. “Same as when you asked me in your text last night.”
Emily didn’t get too close, but then she didn’t stay away either. Her eyes were fixed on his face. Her cheeks were still pink from the cold weather, and she smelled like apples and cinnamon. He’d never pressed his lips to her skin, but he wanted to. Especially now, when he hadn’t seen or heard from her in weeks.
“I missed you,” she said softly.
He swallowed. “Nah, you just missed having someone you could bug with your econ homework.”
She normally would have laughed at that. She didn’t this time. She just shook her head. “No, it was you.”
Ryan’s fingers tightened on the beer bottle before he set it on the table behind him. “Guess I should go away more often if it makes you miss me.”
He said it jokingly, which was his default setting for emotion. He’d learned early in life to never let anyone see how things hurt you. Always keep them guessing with a smile and a joke. It was the safest way.
“You’ll always go away, Ry. And I’ll always miss you when you do.”