Charlotte Weber is no stranger to heartbreak. FBI agent Frank Shaw has swept in and out of her life as though she’s a revolving door, stomping on her heart in the process. Now that she’s finally had enough, he’s back again and seems determined to spin her life out of control.
Frank knows Charlie is the anchor for his lost soul, even though he can’t risk settling down. The demons of his past are too great, and he won’t run the risk of hurting her. This time, his only objective should be locating Charlie’s brother, Sean. But Charlie’s a complication, and not just because she refuses to believe Sean is guilty.
As Frank and Charlie fight for what they believe in, they also try to resist their powerful connection. The future is unclear, but when danger surrounds them, they are each others only anchor.
Excerpt © Kacey Hammell, 2017
Frank watched Charlie intently.
That name was for a young girl, not for a woman like her.
To him, she was all Charlotte. Confident, virile, elegant, intoxicating. A vixen who turned a man on with one sultry glance and then brought him to his knees with one heady taste of her. He hated calling her by such the tomboy-ish name everyone else called her.
Others didn’t see what he did. Which was a good thing, too; he didn’t want her sharing that part of herself with anyone else. Especially not with this Numbnuts Neal that Jonas had told him about last night. Another guy was sniffing around his lady, and he didn’t like it. Not one fucking little sliver.
“So.” Charlotte interrupted his thoughts. He’d deal with Numbnuts later. “Tell me”—she shoved the file aside—“in your own words, everything my brother has allegedly done. And sugarcoat nothing on my behalf. I’ll read the report later.”
There was the woman he cared for. The brook-no-argument heat in her eyes. Her deep, sea-blue gaze sliced deep and offered no mercy.
“Your brother actually went undercover five years ago. You knew he was changing jobs and would be out of the country for a long time. You told me that yourself, remember?” Charlotte nodded but said nothing. “Through my contacts and the agent in charge of the case, it’s been almost eighteen months since his handler’s spoken to him.”
Her eyes widened and she shifted, but remained silent.
“I tracked him down in the most desolate area of Tel Aviv and to a branch in a drug cartel he’d started investigating years ago. The minute details are in the file, but to make a long story short, I got too close. Breached a compound to look for evidence of your brother being there and anything else I could use in the case.” He ran a hand down his face, the skin itchy from not having shaved in days. “Only sparse personnel were to be on the grounds, less eyes watching, but the Intel I got had been wrong. Before I knew what was happening, I was getting shot at from every direction.”
“So Sean might not be the one who shot you.” Her eyes were eager, hopeful. Of course she’d latch on to the fact multiple bullets were aimed at him.
He shook his head, wishing he could answer her pleas. “I managed through the worst of it and found my way to an empty garage where I ran into your brother. And before you ask, yes, I am certain it was him. He appeared confused at first, then said, ‘Charlie’s Frank?’ So he knew who I was. Then voices and more gunfire rang out and coming toward us. Before I could react to anything, he suddenly raised his gun and shot me.” Frank rubbed his wound, still surprised he’d survived. The doctors had said a couple inches left or right, depending on travel of the bullet and bone fragment concerns, and surgery wouldn’t have been an option either.
“How’d you get out of there?” He hoped the concern in her eyes was true and for him, not just her brother.
“One of the other agents with me pulled up in a jeep. I ran out as fast as possible, and he hauled our asses out of there.”
Charlotte scoffed. “Okay Rambo-slash-John McClane, you still watch too many action films. Unless I hear it from Sean, I won’t believe he’d shoot you for no reason.”
She’d always been pigheaded, but Frank couldn’t believe she’d question it. “What reason would I have to lie to you? Hell, Charlo—ie, I latched on to the case to prove his innocence.”
“Why? Why did you want to get involved? You left Vikki and high-tailed it on the first plane out with barely any notice. You didn’t tell me much before you left. And you were on your way to partnering up with Gavin and Marc with the security stuff. But you dropped everything and left. Why was Sean’s case that important to you?”
“For you!” he bellowed, confused why she didn’t see that. “He is your brother, Gavin’s best friend, and I’d have access to the whole case to help him.”
“Don’t pretend that you were doing me any favors. I never asked you to get involved, Frank.”
“Well, of course not,” he growled low. “You’d never have found out any of it if I had my way. I was hoping to get Sean out of trouble and bring him home to you. But you overheard Gavin and I talking before I left. And as far as leaving Vikki, she and I discussed it. She needed space and was only too eager to see me go. She didn’t need my hovering at that point and wanted to stand on her own, or try to. Gavin watched over her for me.” He smiled. “You all did, and I appreciate it very much.”
“We’ve become great friends.” He loved the way Charlotte’s eyes softened as she talked about his cousin. “It is an honest friendship. And it has nothing to do with you.”
Months had turned her hard, distant. He only had himself to blame. They hadn’t left things on a positive note, but he’d hoped she’d understand one day.
Hell, he’d foolishly hoped that she would come to appreciate having him on Sean’s case rather than a stranger. Their personal relationship aside, he assumed she’d trust the agent he was, and how long and hard he’d continued searching for Vikki. What other proof did she need to trust him?
How wrong he’d been.
“I don’t want to think about Sean doing this.” The worry on her face tore at his heart. “Was he undercover too long? Is that a reason people believe he’s capable of such violence?”
“There are many cops and agents that have gone so far undercover they get caught up in the lifestyle and it’s impossible to find their way back.” Sadness crept across her face. “Sorry, Charlie, that’s as honest as it gets.”
“None of this makes sense.” She stood and piled paperwork on the file cabinet. “It goes against who Sean is, and not who Norris raised. I can’t wrap my head around it. My brother isn’t a monster.”
Her voice broke, breaking his heart in the process. Frank stood and crossed the room, then rested his hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry, hon. I know you’re scared, and I’m sorry you have to go through this.”
Charlotte turned, surprising him, and burrowed her face in his chest. Sobs tore from her, shaking her strong yet delicate frame. He wrapped her in his arms, resting his cheek on her head, and let her cry.
It had been so long—too long—since he’d inhaled her sweet scent of fruity shampoo and the coconut butter body wash she used every day. He’d barely made it through any meal that served any of the combinations, the memories of her too fervent to let him eat in peace. Soft, warm, and the tranquility that came to him whenever he held her close were all potently his Charlotte.
Home. Being this close to her again was like coming home. But he wasn’t a man looking for one place to settle down. And it puzzled him why he returned time and time again.
You know exactly why. You have an addiction, buddy. And she’s in your arms right now.
Yes, he supposed his conscience was trying to tell him something, but it was wrong. He kept returning here because of his friends, the security business. But Charlotte pulled him back in like a reel catching a fish every single time.
“No. Fuck no.” Her high-pitched squeal surprised him. He fell back on his feet, shocked at her strength to shove him so hard.
“Shut up. No. Damn it.” She glared at him, fists tight. “Get out. Don’t coddle me. Don’t console me. You won’t use me. Get. Out.”
“Use you? Coddle you?” He huffed. “You turned to me,” he yelled, frustration gnawing at him.
“Guess I’m an idiot, but I won’t fall for it. I won’t let you close enough to betray my brother. If I even hear from him again.” Her chest heaved and sweat dotted her forehead and cheeks. Frank had never seen her so out of control, seething and yet so stunning. How ferocious she was in battle.
Frank’s head whipped around to the intruding voice in the doorway.
“Charlie, are you all right?”
“We’re having a private conversation. Get lost, buddy.”
“Shut up, Frank. Come on in, Neal. He and I are finished.”
So this was Numbnuts Neal. Dark hair, squinty eyes, tanned skin. Dressed to the nines in a suit and tie, with a cute little handkerchief in his breast pocket, and a pair of round glasses in his right hand. Jesus, what a nerd. Frank wanted to pick him up and chuck him back out into the hallway.
“I, um, just came to see if you wanted to catch up. Maybe dinner?” Numbnuts eyed Frank with caution. Good. Frank wanted the guy scared shitless of him.
But the little prick stepped forward and extended his hand to shake.
Frank eyed the small limb with the urge to break it but wanting to be an adult.
“Oh, for cripes sake,” Charlotte groused. “Neal Simmons, Frank Shaw. And vice versa. Whatever.” She pushed a pile of folders into a shoulder bag then her phone and grabbed another smaller bag she slid under her arm. “I’ll call you later, Neal. I need a time out.”
“Hey, wait a second,” Frank called out, following her into the hall.
“No, I’m done here. I can’t do this right now.” She turned and rushed away.
Frank watched, jaw clenched. Anger and frustration filled him as Charlotte and Numbnuts disappeared. He strode back into her office for his cell phone he’d set on her desk earlier. Frank eyed the landline phone sitting there.
After extracting a small case from the front pocket of his pants, he opened it and pulled out the tiny device and lifted the dial-phone. He placed the electronic bug underneath it and set it back down.
If Sean contacted his sister, this would be one number he might call. As much as Frank disliked going behind her back like this, he had a job to do. No matter how much he cared about her, he’d do whatever it took to bring bad guys in. He wasn’t bred any other way.