Soldier of Fortune
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave
Release Date: Nov 18, 2009
Joanna “Mac” McGregor loves her father, and she’ll do anything to keep him safe after Alzheimer’s starts to steal his mind. That takes money, and Mac uses her only skills—those of soldiering—when she takes up a security contract in Iraq. She doesn’t have time for men, her last vacation fling in Fiji relegated as one perfect moment to hold close during the grim reality of war.
Soldier Louie Lithgow is tired of fighting, the constant danger, and has decided this is his last contract. He wants to retire, sink his savings into a place on the beach, and find the sexy Joanna, his holiday lover.
Mac’s arrival in Iraq causes consternation. They’ve both been economical with the truth, but the attraction sizzling between them flares hot and bright. They embark on a clandestine affair—professional and confident during their high-danger day, passionate with the release of emotional stress during their torrid nights. One thing is clear—they have different goals and the future is both murky and dangerous. If they survive their contracts.
Note: Readers first met Louie in Summer in the City of Sails.
Note for Readers: You must be over eighteen to read this excerpt.
The charter flight from Jordan to Iraq was a short hop but plenty long enough for Joanna “Mac” McGregor to second-guess her decision to take up a contract in the security sector with Chesterton UK. The wheels of the plane hit the runway, a solid thump before the pilot applied the brakes. Tension seeped into hands holding a fantasy paperback, turning her knuckles white. It wasn’t just her. Even the guys at the back of the plane—the ones who had bantered their way through the entire journey and tried to tempt her into joining the Mile High Club—fell silent. Mac stared out the window. She’d seen the stark reality of Baghdad firsthand when the plane circled the runway to land—the endless sand giving way to the greener city. Checkpoints. Security forces. Burnt-out vehicles, buildings damaged by both allies’ and insurgents’ bombs.
Too late to change her mind and return to New Zealand now.
She’d gone through the lengthy interview process, answered all the questions about why a woman would want to undertake such a dangerous assignment and finally signed on the dotted line. After all, not much call for her skill set in an office and she couldn’t earn this sort of money doing anything else. Icy determination to succeed curled through her gut, squared her shoulders.
Mac disembarked with the rest of the security force, a few intrepid reporters and a camera crew, the initial blast of heat when she walked down the stairs sucking her lungs dry. Sweat broke out over her body and her shirt soon clung to her clammy skin. Something she’d become used to quickly. After formalities, she waited with the other recruits—the new ones and the others who had signed on for a second or third tour. Like her, they were in it for the money, some for the adrenaline rush. Some of them would return home to family and friends. Some would die. Time would tell which camp she fell into.
The only route into the city, dubbed Route Irish by the Americans, was the most dangerous stretch of road in the world. Despite the fences on both sides of the road, there were dangerous overpasses and numerous car bombs planted to snare the unwary. From the briefing, Mac knew they’d attempt to drive straight through any situation, be it bullets or bombs. Stopping wasn’t an option.
Five minutes later, they pulled out in convoy, protected by security forces from New Zealand and the United Kingdom, their driver pausing to wait while a United States military convoy crossed the road ahead of them. Overhead Mac watched two Black Hawk helicopters drawing fire, diverting it from the road. The entire time their car remained in radio contact with others from the convoy. The drivers and guards constantly assessed risk, on the lookout for threats.
Mac stared out the window, gut jumping because she knew danger lurked around every corner. Signs at the checkpoint authorizing lethal force brought home the reality of her situation. If she found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, she would die. No one left to look after her father then. She scowled at the thought and shoved it away.
Their convoy drove past the International zone, patrolled by the US military, the only part of the city considered relatively safe. They didn’t stop, their destination the less-secure area where many security forces and their clients lived.
The Red zone—her home for the next six months.
Mac climbed from the rear of the armored vehicle, grabbed her gear and followed the other recruits into the main barrack-like building. All the domestic comforts, Mac thought, taking in the mismatched furniture, the clean but scuffed linoleum floor and the poster of a busty blonde hanging drunkenly on the far wall. She dumped her bags at her feet.
A tall, dark-haired man prowled through a doorway on her right and headed to the front of the room, his piercing blue eyes taking in the new arrivals. Mac’s breath caught the instant she glimpsed his face, hurled back to the past.
Shock drop-kicked her square in the gut. Why wasn’t he at home in New Zealand? Only her military training kept her face impassive, the astonished gasp trapped inside her throat. Her training did nothing to halt the images flooding her mind, the memories of hard muscles beneath her questing fingers and the way it had felt each time his cock plunged between her legs. Damn, Louie had lied to her.
His gaze slid over her and continued, but Mac knew by the slight widening of his eyes he’d recognized her. Probably dealing with the same stunned shock as her.
Baghdad wasn’t exactly a place she’d expect to run into a former lover. Heck, she hadn’t anticipated seeing Louie again at all. They’d been two people scratching an itch with no intention of taking their relationship further. Just good clean fun between likeminded adults relaxing on a tropical holiday.
Louie dispatched the new arrivals with military precision and soon only she remained, waiting for a room allocation.
“Joanna, what the hell are you doing here?” A tic pulsed in his jaw, highlighting his displeasure.
Mac scowled. “I’m here to do a job. Mac McGregor. I should be on your list.”
Louie scanned his list and shoved it into the back pocket of his khaki trousers before stalking closer. “You told me you were a secretary.”
Because she didn’t talk about her job. Because she’d wanted to forget the nightmare of war for the duration of her holiday.
Louie kept coming but Mac held her ground, refusing to let him intimidate her. Finally he halted, standing close enough for the heat emanating off his muscular body to bring another rush of memories. She drew a ragged breath, shoving aside the frisson of awareness. Not gonna happen. This was work.
At almost six foot, she was tall, but he towered over her, forcing Mac to crane her neck to look him in the eye. “You told me you were a lawyer, not that we did much talking while we were in Fiji.” She caught the flare of his nostrils, the slight narrowing of his eyes and knew Louie wasn’t as unaffected as he pretended.
“You can’t stay.”
“I’ve signed a contract.”
“You’re a woman.”
“Give the man a prize.” Mac wanted to say a lot more but bit down on her tongue, figuring she’d better not cuss her new boss. The necessity to prove herself in the male-dominated occupation wore thin after a while. “I’m ex-army with ten years experience. I’ve worked in Afghanistan for six months. I’m good at my job or I wouldn’t be in Iraq.”
“It’s dangerous. People die here.” Louie’s gaze drifted across her lips, settled for an instant before he backed up and glanced away.
“That’s why I came. To help keep workers safe during the reconstruction process. I want to make a difference, and besides, this is the only way to make quick money.” And boy did she need it.
“Your presence is going to be a problem.”
Mac’s mouth dropped open. Once she realized, she slammed it shut so quickly her teeth clacked. “Oh yeah? Frightened you can’t keep your hands off?” He sure as hell hadn’t called that a problem when they were in Fiji. Mac quivered inside, her breasts prickling when she remembered how it had been—the hot, urgent hunger between them. The sweet release of tension.
“This has nothing to do with sex. It’s about how the men will feel working with a woman. It will divide their concentration.”
“Bullshit,” Mac snarled, sick of fighting the same old skirmish. She advanced on Louie, poking her finger at his chest to punctuate her words. “I’m a soldier the same as the rest. It doesn’t matter what sex I am. I’m here to do a job and that’s what I’ll do.”
They stared at each other, exchanging a wealth of information and emotions without speaking a word—determination, defiance, irritation. Desire.
“Hell.” Louie dragged a hand through his dark curls, a clear indication of his inner turmoil.
Mac remained glued to the spot, adrenaline pumping hard and fast through her body. She swallowed and mentally shook herself free of the spell she’d fallen under. Louie’s presence wouldn’t be a problem. She wouldn’t let it. “My room?” she prompted.
“We’re full. You’ll be rooming with me.”
Disbelief held her still. Oh yeah. That would be right. Fate would make her room with temptation on two legs. Not that she’d ever admit her problem to him. She arched her brows, pretending merely idle curiosity. “You?”
“Yeah.” He eased away from her and folded his arms across his broad chest, the move drawing her unwilling attention. His sensual mouth kicked up into a mocking smile. “Worried about not being able to keep your hands off?”
Mac snorted. “You wish.”
His blue eyes gleamed with the same mischief he’d demonstrated during their time in Fiji. “Grab your gear, Joanna. I’ll show you the way.” He strode to the door without waiting for her reply.
“The name is Mac.” Tight-lipped, she scooped up her bags and stomped after the man, murder on her mind. Work and play. Two very distinct and different things in her mind. Joanna played while Mac worked and concentrated on keeping them both alive. Together they made one balanced soldier.
“Our room,” Louie said, making the situation sound way more personal than warranted. He pushed the door open and stood aside for her to enter.
Plain and small. A set of bunks lined one wall while the other bore a set of lockers, the top of which doubled as a shelf. A couple of travel magazines and an old newspaper were visible. A wooden desk sat against the third wall of the room, a thin thriller paperback under one leg bringing sturdiness and balance. A slim black laptop took up most of the surface.
“The showers are down the hall. You have the top bunk.” He paused, his eyes glinting with a private joke. “You like being on top so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
Mac gritted her teeth but didn’t comment, instead silently giving thanks she wasn’t the blushing type.
“We’re going out this afternoon for reconnaissance. You’ll be riding along.”
Mac nodded, always glad to get into the local routine. A regular schedule helped her settle quicker, kept nerves under better control.
“The mess is open at midday for an hour.”
“Thanks.” Mac dumped her bags and started to unpack. Not a big chore since, like all the others, she traveled light. She sensed rather than heard Louie leave and let a slow, shuddery breath ease out. A nightmare. The man had preyed on her mind more than she cared to admit. They’d had some good times in Fiji. Very good. Working with him would be difficult although not impossible. She could cope. Rooming with the man though, that was going to be a problem. The room smelled of him, tempting and seductive. She already knew what it felt like when his hands moved across her naked body. Each drift of his fingers, the pads slightly calloused and bringing seductive friction with each touch. His confidence.
Oh yeah. He knew the way around a woman’s body. Heat collected, pooling low in her belly, bringing an edgy awareness. Uneasiness.
“Damn.” She was in trouble here and wise enough to admit it.
“Hot, hot and a little hotter. This was a phenomenal read. Not just your standard woman, Mac was a woman with honor and a really overdeveloped sense of responsibility. She puts her life on the line every day to take care of the man who raised her. Burned once by a lover who couldn’t handle her convictions, she’s wary and reserved. But Louie won’t have any of it. I really enjoyed all of the characters in this read, and read it very quickly. Not to be missed.”
~ Night Owl Reviews, Top Pick
“If you are looking for a quick read with a strong alpha male, steamy love scenes and good action, this is for you.”
~ Smexy Books
“There is high danger and a little suspense in this fast paced story of two lovers re-united under hard circumstances. Louie doesn’t give up on making Mac his girl and you will enjoy the wild ride!”
~ Book Junkie
“If you have never read Ms. Munro…shame on you. She writes relatable characters in a realistic setting that resounds with you days after you have read the book.”
~ Recommended Read, Harlie’s Books