Master Sergeant Duke Gunnison sucks at retirement. He has no intention of turning in his combat boots for golf shoes. His former life in Special Ops, where he protected innocents and fought dangerous enemies, provided the rush he continually craved. Without the constant missions to feed his adrenaline addiction, he’s lost his sense of purpose and he struggles to find meaning in his new life—until he gets a life changing phone call.
Grey Holden, a founder of the prestigious private security agency The Omega Team, offers Duke a chance at a second life doing what he was born to do—a special op to safeguard the daughter of an important Ukrainian diplomat. But Mila Bartosh is not only a special envoy’s daughter, sent to accompany her father as he negotiates the removal of troops in eastern Ukraine. She’s on a secret mission of her own—to exact revenge on a powerful Russian mob boss, guilty of unspeakable crimes.
Mila is determined to help protect her father and accomplish her treacherous undertaking at all costs. But as her tasks become more complex, she unexpectedly reunites with the man who stole her heart and then vanished into the night, never to be heard from again, until now. Her love ’em and leave ’em paramour is none other than her new American bodyguard Duke Gunnison. With innocent lives on the line, can she carry out her missions while avenging her broken heart?
“Duke” Gunnison had seen his leg twisted at a gut-churning angle after his team’s convoy had run over a bomb in a Croatian field. His left arm had bled like red rain when two bullets from Serbian rebel forces made holes the size of dimes in his biceps. And after flying through a second-story window and landing on an old Volkswagen Beetle during a Special Ops mission in Sarajevo, his entire body had turned various shades of black and blue, plus a sickening green.
Yet for all he’d put his physique through during his Army career, he was pretty certain he’d never been rougher on it than he had in the last five months since retiring from the military.
He pushed aside a potato chip bag from his bare chest and leaned forward in his extended La-Z-Boy to examine the rest of his reclining form. By some miracle, the definition of his abs still managed to show under sun-darkened skin. His thighs remained toned, at least while he flexed them. Unfortunately, the best part of his view was the new red briefs covering his Johnson.
He’d promised himself to lounge around the house a while and figure out the next chapter of his life when he got out of the service. The steady climb of his weight and softening of his muscles attested to his success on the first half of his pledge. The second half was proving considerably more difficult though.
What did a crotchety ex-Delta Force soldier with skills in espionage, hostage rescue, explosives and the like do in the civilian world? His experience couldn’t be listed on a resume, no matter how good he’d been or the number of medals he’d received. Hell, the United States government barely acknowledged the existence of Delta Force. As far as any potential employer could know, he’d spent twenty years since the age of seventeen as a cryptologic linguist specializing in Slavic languages. Other than working as a translator—no thanks—what prospective jobs were realistic, not to mention personally satisfying?
He reached into the bag and pulled out another handful of chips, then, one by one, slipped the salty snacks into his mouth while pondering the question for the hundredth time. He was a smart guy. He could pick up and live anywhere, whenever he wanted. The world was his oyster. All he need do was make a decision and follow through to the best of his ability like he always did.
So why was making this particular decision so problematic?
Perhaps his sister’s idea of starting his own wilderness outfitter company in Colorado or Alaska wasn’t as crazy as he’d first thought. He had plenty of money. He had talent. He was still relatively young. Sure, he might not be the easiest guy to be around, but if he worked on being a little more pleasant and put his back to the physical demands of the business, he could be extremely successful being a guide out in the wild.
Maybe then he’d find inner peace.
Maybe then he’d feel fulfilled.
Maybe then he could even find a nice girl and settle down.
His hand froze, leaving a final broken chip stranded an inch from his lips.
Oh, hell to the no.
That was it. He needed to lay off the greasy foods. They were affecting his brain. After working almost half his lifetime in counterintelligence and dealing with people who spoke in half-truths or lied as easily as they breathed, he knew too damn well he’d never find a woman he completely trusted. Aside from his military buddies, who had pulled him from more scrapes than any man should have lived through, putting his complete faith in anyone else simply did not compute. Not one little bit.
His heart felt a pang, and a long sigh slipped from somewhere deep inside.
The woman from Crimea.
She’d saved his hide during that mission, plus a whole lot more. A whole lot more.
I’ve never felt this way about anyone.
I want to be with you.
I…I love you.
He shook his head and dropped the remaining chip back into the bag, refusing to think about his last Op, the woman or their time together. Right now, he needed to get up, put on some gym shorts and go for a run. Get some air and work his muscles. At the very least, he should throw on some clothes. A robe or something. A decent man wouldn’t lounge around the house all day in his underwear munching junk food and watching crap on television. He knew far too much about Showcase Showdowns, who was screwing who on the soaps and the latest celebrity gossip.
His cell phone rang, interrupting the disturbing realization. Duke brushed his fingertips on his briefs, cleaning off residual crumbs and salt before picking up.
“Who wants to know?”
“This is Grey Holden.”
Duke sat up and peered at the display on his phone, his lips turning up just a fraction. He recognized the name. How could he not? He might not have worked with Grey Holden, but he sure as hell had heard about the guy. The number, however, had a Florida prefix. Lots of retired military lived in Florida, but the only Grey Holden he knew about hailed from Montana.
“I don’t know any Grey Holden. You’ve got the wrong number, brotha.”
“I think you do. Does Operation Eastern Shield from two thousand six mean anything to you?”
A full-on smile took control of his mouth. “As a matter of fact, it does. Want to tell me why a man from Montana appears to be calling from a state crawling with lovebugs the size of hand grenades?”
Duke heard a long breath being pulled and then let out.
“I hate those fucking things,” Grey said.
“I don’t blame you. Nasty little critters.” Duke retracted the footrest of the recliner and stood. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this call, Lieutenant Holden?”