LOCKE AND KEY
THE STOIC SPECIAL FORCES OPERATOR
There’s only one person to blame for darkening the last years of Locke Oliver’s military career: Cassidy Noble. And damn if he doesn’t have to save her from the side of a frozen mountain. Even after the job is done, he can’t shake the woman from his thoughts. He blames her for the deaths in his Army unit so many years ago, and he’s not ready to let that go. It’s driving him to the point of distraction, and now his Titan Group boss says to get his act together or get out.
THE FEISTY, FALLEN REPORTER
Cassidy is a disgraced journalist, once accused of treason—Or she’s an American hero. It depends on who you ask. She’s on a mission to rebuild her name and started with a simple question but discovered a complex web of spies and possible human trafficking. Titan Group believes in her. Locke does not. Until he can’t deny the truth any longer about the past or what she’s uncovered in her investigation.
BECOME AN INSEPARABLE TEAM
Cassidy volunteers to go undercover. Locke would do anything to stay by her side as she slips into the network and is sold to the highest bidder. All is going right until everything goes wrong. Nothing is as they expect including falling in love with the woman he thought he hated.
Locke caught sight of the ski-patrol shack. Shack was a questionable term. If it had electricity, that would be a miracle. The thing had been made for the ski-resort conditions but maybe not for long-term housing. The SOS cell phone call had been placed to the US almost thirty hours earlier, and even that call, their intelligence report said, was broken and marred by interference then cut short. There wasn’t a follow-up phone call, and all return calls and attempts to find the signal had failed.
Titan Two closed in on the drift-covered shack. The snow had all but blocked one side. Too much longer, and it would be buried in totality with no new air supply. Locke glanced at the white, pillowed snow. Hell, if the building was covered, forget ever finding it. Even though Parker had triangulated where the call had come from, it almost looked like a snowdrift. Too much longer, and they wouldn’t be able to help.
“No known targets,” Roman announced.
“Stay on guard.” Rocco signaled for them to move.
Warily, they stepped from the tree line into the open snow and moved to the front of the ski-patrol shack and dug to make an entrance. A minute later, the door was visible.
“Knock, knock,” Jax joked, and Rocco pushed him aside.
Shovels sheathed, they grabbed their weapons, ready to breach the door and enter. Hopefully, the civilian would be alive. No one wanted a dead teacher. Rocco pushed the door in and cracked the light. They filed in, taking positions, and Locke saw a hump under a layer of blankets. Nothing moved.
Damn it… dead teacher.
They stood at the ready, waiting. Bishop and Rocco were on either side of Locke.
Jax stomped a boot. “Wake up.”
The blanket moved. A small twinge of relief surged in Locke’s blood—wait. The blanket moved twice. Locke’s finger caressed the trigger for whoever else might unexpectedly join them.
“We have two people here,” Rocco reported to HQ as they all lifted their weapons, targeting the moving lumps under the blankets. “Parker, you read me?”
Unexpected situations didn’t fly well in Parker Black’s war room. Maybe the teacher’s disrespect of a Russian family had nothing to do with a simple card game but rather with a person—a much bigger problem for Titan and the extraction.
A couple slowly sat up. They could have been cold or sick. Who knew? But they were alive. That was what mattered—assuming they were friendly—and they huddled under blankets and coats. Locke didn’t see a risk or weapons pointed their way.
Rocco gave the stand-down-and-help gesture, and Titan moved into action. Jax helped them onto their feet, gave the couple instant heat packs, and quickly changed out their layers for thermo-care resuscitation blankets. Locke readied for hunger and hydration, and waited for first aid requests.
“Ma’am.” Bishop moved to the teacher’s companion, assessing. “How are you?”
Locke stepped in to follow up on the teacher, but the flash of the unknown person—a woman, a redhead—caught his eye. A cold shiver of recognition tugged at his subconscious. He couldn’t shake the eerie feeling, but he needed to focus. The sense of déjà vu tickled his spine, and he rolled his shoulders, handing the teacher an energy bar. “Thirsty?”
“Yes.” The teacher—Alex Gaev—nodded.
Bishop had separated the couple. Locke tried to look out the corner of his eye, but the mask blocked his view.
“Thanks.” Alex guzzled the liquid in the bottle and glanced at the woman.
“Your girlfriend?” Locke questioned.
“No, someone the school sent.” His teeth chattered as he pulled the parka’s hood farther over his head.
“We didn’t know there were two of you.” He took the guy’s trash, shoving it into a zippered compartment.
Locke nodded and pulled off his facemask completely, needing a better glance at the redhead. Bishop stepped out of Locke’s line of sight, and he met the gaze of the woman’s blue-green eyes. He couldn’t see the few freckles he already knew she had, just like he couldn’t ignore how deeply her presence cut him, like a knife into his soul. All the memories came rushing back as the only woman he hated stared back at him.
Mere feet separated them, and Locke stumbled back. God, his chest compressed like an avalanche slide had buried him alive. “No.”
Cassidy Noble was a living memory of loss. Of memories and heartache. Of death and destruction. She reminded him of explosions and the worst that war had to offer.
Cassidy’s blue-tinged lips fell open. “Locke?”
The room came to a standstill.
“You again?” Locke’s fists bunched in his gloves—until the wind howled, and he swore he could hear bombs exploding in Iraq when the black sky glowed as bright as day. Those detonations had ruined his life. Ruined so many lives. Except he blinked back to the Krasnaya Polyana reality and stared at the woman who held all the blame caused by her flagrant—
Jax grasped his bicep. “You good, man?”
In no way was Locke good. He recoiled, his ice-cold blood matching the temperature outside. Had they risked their lives for her? No way. He shook his head. No way could the universe screw him like this.
“What’s going on?” Bishop approached him cautiously, as if Locke were a rabid animal, and Rocco moved closer to Cassidy.
Locke never misspoke. He never took a misstep. He sure as hell wouldn’t spit venom at civilians they were there to rescue. But the words that fought to roll off his tongue at that moment were inhumane. His forehead pinched. His neck felt tight. He couldn’t breathe—
“Locke.” Cassidy stretched her arm out.
“Don’t you dare,” he snapped.
Whiplash and shock hit Titan at once. The wind died to a whisper. Even Mother Nature wanted to hear what was happening.
“5 Stars! Another wonderful book by Cristin Harber!” Kimberly’s Hot Reads Blog
“I love their camaraderie, banter, and general bad-a__ness.” -Kim of Reviews by Tammy and Kim
“This is a must for all suspense/romance lovers and is simply CRISTIN HARBER at her very best.” -Catherine Hayward
“No two stories are ever the same, and you just can’t help falling in love with each and every one of the sexy and strong men that make up Titan.” –Head Stuck in a Book