Karen Anders
living love on the dangerous side
Romantic Suspense Author

Her Alpha Marine

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HE’S GOING TO PROTECT HER…NO MATTER THE COST

A Coast Guard mission goes wrong, and a vengeful arms dealer targets rescue swimmer Neve Michaels and her family. Neve heads to South America to eliminate the threat, but her journey isn’t without company: her self-appointed guardian, Russell “Rock” Kaczewski. The infuriatingly gorgeous ex-marine is the last man she wants…and the only one she needs.

Rock has worked hard to keep his mind, and hands, off his best friend’s little sister, but keeping her safe from those who want her dead will put his code of conduct to the ultimate test. That stubborn woman is willing to do anything to save those she loves…and Rock will do everything to save Neve.

EXCERPT

Death will come for you on swift wings.

Looking over her shoulder, especially an injured one, wasn’t a walk in the park. Neve Michaels had been chafing at the restrictions ever since she fractured her clavicle and bruised two of her ribs during a rescue mission gone wrong.

But someone stalking her made it ten times worse. Her doctor was impressed at her dedication to PT and the amount of flexibility and strength in the injured arm, and told her that the healed break was now the strongest bone in her body.

She was now ten weeks into recovery after surgery and feeling almost back to normal, but still had six weeks left on her recommended medical leave. The terrible bruises from her shoulder to her elbow and down her torso had faded. She was back in the pool, even doing the crawl. Getting back to her crew aboard the Jayhawk helicopter and performing her Search and Rescue swimmer duties for the United States Coast Guard was all she thought about…

With the exception of the rescue that haunted her. She’d been reprimanded in the past for bucking protocol, and her commander wasn’t happy about her broken collarbone. He’d had a thorough investigation conducted on her, and she’d been cleared of any blame in the rescue.

There wasn’t a day that went by that she didn’t remember their faces. She had deep remorse and shame, those feelings combined in a troubling sense of guilt. And that guilt ate at her with a terrible sense of foreboding. She wasn’t subject to disciplinary action because the investigation deemed the storm and other factors were at fault, but Neve felt—and she thought her commanding officer might guess—that she would have been in better condition if she heeded the pilot’s suggestion they wait just a bit for the winds to die down.

She just wanted to get back to active duty and put the tragedy behind her.

Even though she was expecting it, the knock on her front door made her jump and rise quickly to her feet as if she was facing a threat, her heart pounding. She approached the door like it was a live grenade. “Who’s there?”

“The Avon Lady,” was the deep, husky reply.

She sighed when she opened it. She had expected her brother Tristan would be standing there ready to take her grocery shopping. Instead, she found Russell “Rock” Kaczewski, her brother’s best friend and business partner.

Gorgeous, frustrating and wholly commanding Russell.

She got a sense of danger she couldn’t quite pin down whenever she came within sight of this man, and it had nothing to do with getting hurt—at least not in the physical sense. Neve couldn’t seem to drop her guard one iota around him.

There were times when she didn’t understand the way he looked at her or the way he acted. At one moment, his intense gaze would rake her, and then in the next it was banked and indifferent. He confused her, and she’d be lying to herself if she didn’t acknowledge she thought about him in a way that heated every molecule of her body. But he maintained his distance and kept his attentions toward her platonic. Which suited her fine. Getting tangled up with Tristan’s friend, his best friend, wasn’t smart; he was a take-charge man just like her father. Too many complications and problems could come of it.

His brotherly behavior toward her was just fine. Brotherly. Yeesh. She certainly did not feel the same way about Russell as she felt about Tristan or Thane. At all.

He was tall, six-five, with a heavily muscled, 240-pound, ripped body. His impossibly broad shoulders and shredded arms were encased in a tight-fitting, short-sleeved black Henley T-shirt, a few of the snaps undone to reveal the enticing column of his strong neck and the smooth skin of his wide chest. His equally impressive lower half was in a pair of worn-out jeans, snug in all the right places. He smelled delicious, an earthy and subtle blend of wood and fruit. His face, covered in a sexy-as-all-get-out short black beard, no mustache, was made of more angles than curves with animal magnetism in every line. He couldn’t be described as cute or even handsome. Neither was the right word. Russell wasn’t pretty. He was striking, serious even when he smiled, and looked like he’d been to hell, kicked asses, took names and knocked the ash off his boots before coming back. As easy as a walk in the park.

There were two features that Russell possessed that were the exception to the pretty rule: his eyes, an incandescent, deep, aching blue and his thick and silky hair, the color of midnight, and cut long enough in the front to spike over his forehead.

Feeling her resolve weaken, Neve seriously thought about confiding in him. But getting close to Russell wasn’t a very good idea. She’d call Tristan later today and mention the situation.

She’d felt trapped for the two days after receiving the plain white envelope outside her door with a piece of paper inside. On the paper was a single line: Death will come for you on swift wings.

“Your voice is pretty deep for an Avon Lady…but I hope you brought all the eye shadow colors to model for me,” she shot back at him.

He gave her a classic Russell smile, tight, bland, then a split second later, he narrowed his eyes. “What’s wrong?” He was instantly alert, and that was also quite intimidating and, dammit, so sexy. Russell had been—or, according to him and her brother, was still—once a marine…always a marine. He’d retired five years ago and opened up Rockface, a chain of sporting goods stores. He’d convinced Tristan to join him as a partner and to leave the marines when his last tour was up. Now they were running it together. Just like they had been working together in a two-man US Marine Scout Sniper team.

She’d never seen her brother Tristan happier. He was settled down, engaged to Amber Dalton, a blonde beauty and tough-as-nails NCIS agent he’d met and fallen for while they were working on a friendly fire incident at his last billet, Mountain Warfare Training Center at the foot of the Sierra Nevada.

“Nothing’s wrong,” she replied, trying with all her might to give him no reason to worry about her.

He tilted his head and said, “Are you sure, Neve? You look spooked.” He leaned in, brushing her arm and shoulder to get a better view of the apartment as if he was expecting some kind of threat behind her. She responded automatically to his warmth and strength, swaying toward him. When he pulled back, the air of danger only intensified as he studied her face.

“I’m fine. Just didn’t expect you.” She never liked it when someone saw her emotions. “Where’s Tristan?”

“He’s in Vermont, Stowe to be exact, with Amber. Did you forget they were going on that buying trip and taking the time to visit with her family?”

“Oh, God. I did. I totally forgot. He told me a few days ago. It must have slipped my mind.” Yes, he had. That was the day before she’d gotten the disturbing and alarming warning.

She’d looked up the saying on the internet and discovered it was part of a supposed curse written near the entrance to Egyptian king Tutankhamun’s tomb. But there was never any proof the door had actually been inscribed with those words. It was a myth. In fact, it was rumored that the archaeologists who had found the tomb were all cursed and died because of that. She didn’t believe in curses or myths.

“Are you ready to go?” he asked.

She nodded and grabbed her bag from the side table. After closing the door, she locked it and tucked the keys in her jeans pocket. At least this would be a quick trip to grocery shop. She really didn’t need that much.

Russell made way for her to go first, the touch of his hand at the small of her back much too provocative, and the hallway much too narrow to accommodate her, let alone Russell’s powerful frame.

She sensed his subtle appreciation of her as a woman. His awareness was in the ease of his touch, the light pressure of his fingers and the unspoken admiration in his eyes. Unnerving and charming, flagging him as both a gentleman and a rogue, contrary but apt descriptors for him.

They left her apartment complex, Spanish-flavored, charming red and orange stucco buildings with black wrought-iron and quaint balconies, situated not far from downtown and affording her a view of San Diego Bay.

They headed to the I-5, a major highway that ran from Mexico all the way to Oregon.

“Whole Foods, please, Russell.”

He sighed and glanced at her. “Why can’t you just call me ‘Rock’ like everyone else?”

“I don’t know. You always seem to be Russell to me.” Before she could stop herself, she glanced in the rearview mirror as they pulled away from the high-rises, watching for anything suspicious.

“You just like to argue with me.” He glanced at her, and she could feel that scrutiny again. She pretended to look for something in her purse. Russell was one of the few men she’d been attracted to who she argued with this much. She’d left behind her high-school boyfriend when she’d enlisted. She didn’t want to be tied down, and Doug was never leaving Dutch Harbor. After him, there had mostly been casual dating and an occasional one-night stand.

“Maybe, and maybe you just like to argue with me.”

“I can’t be forced into calling you something that doesn’t work for me.” She pulled out some lip gloss and smoothed it on. That, too, seemed to hold his attention, his eyes briefly dropping to her mouth.

“You don’t seem to mind me calling you ‘Fins.’”

She shrugged. “That’s your choice, and I have no problem with that.” The truth of the matter was that “Russell” was more formal and “Rock” was too personal. She preferred to keep it formal between them. “Fins” was much less personal to her than her first name. He always pronounced “Neve” with a soft inflection that drove her crazy.

One hand was on the wheel of his cherry-red Lexus SUV. The other was lying against his well- muscled thigh. He had beautiful, strong looking hands, his fingers long and tapered, the tips blunt. She wondered how they would feel—nope. Stop it! That was a road best not traveled.

She would be so glad when she could stop relying on other people to drive and she could pick up her own groceries. Tristan was adamant that she wasn’t to do any heavy lifting until she was fully shipshape. And, to be honest, the only reason she went along with him was to be sure she healed as fast as possible. It was in her best interest. Loving her Search and Rescue job, she hated being out of commission.

“How is Dex doing?” Dexter Kaczewski was Russell’s younger brother, a Navy SEAL who had just recently had a harrowing experience with getting attacked in Afghanistan. Then he’d had to go on the run with Senator Piper Jones from her own Diplomatic Service detail. Once she’d finished her husband’s Senate term, she’d moved to be with Dex here in Coronado.

“He’s great. He’s just got back from deployment. They’re giving him another medal.”

“Of course they are. How is Piper?” Neve couldn’t stop checking the rearview mirror to see if they were being followed.

“So we’re going to have a wedding in the family. I’m going to be…ah…an uncle.”

“You’re kidding me?” She smiled for the first time in weeks. “Oh, my God, that is so exciting.”

“Yeah, he deserves to be happy. I was surprised he even gave her a chance. He’s been burned so many times.”

“Are you ready to be an uncle?”

He took a few moments to answer, and his voice was infused with pleasure when he said, “I am. Ready for the rug rats.”

The tone of his voice made her stomach jump as if he was saying he was ready for children. That was a really, really deadly and pothole-ridden road with land mines, and she wasn’t going down it. Maybe never.

Sexy Inspiration:

Petty Officer Neve Michaels, USCG rescue swimmer broke her collar bone during a search and rescue gone bad—the guy was dead before she got to him. Three weeks after the rescue, someone breaks into her apartment and tries to kill her. She lets the police, her brother and her friends think it was a home intruder when she knows it was an assassin sent specifically for revenge. The guy she couldn’t save is part of a family of arms dealers and his oldest brother is now gunning for her and her whole family. She’s at the top of his hit list. To save her family and herself, she’s got to take him out before he takes her out. But, before she can go on the offensive, Russell “Rock” Kazcewski happens. He’s too smart to believe her story and once he sees all her gear, he makes her spill the beans. Rock has no intention of letting her go off to a foreign country to track down a gun runner alone. He just has to find a way to keep his hands off his best friend’s sister. Yeah, right, ignore all the signs that say Neve has a thing for him, too. The hardest part of this op isn’t the thick and dangerous jungle, the almost impossible op or the murderous weapon brokers—it’s the threat to their hearts.

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