Major Hank Renshaw knows almost everything there is to know about Gabrielle Ballard. Except for what it's like to touch her. Because Gabrielle is his best friend's fianc�e. Or she was. Until his buddy died in battle--right after making Hank promise to find her...
So now Hank's in New Orleans. In Gabrielle's apartment. Watching her nurse her infant son. It's not honor that draws him to her. It's not duty that makes him stay. It's need he's feeling, plain and simple--the desire to take the woman he's always wanted and finally make her his own.
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
April 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Honorable Intentions by Catherine Mann
New Orleans, Louisiana: Mardi Gras
"Laissez les bons temps rouler!" Let the good times roll!
The cheer bounced around inside Hank Renshaw, Jr.'s, head as he pushed through the crowd lining the road to watch the Mardi Gras parade. His mood was anything but party-worthy.
He needed to deliver a message on behalf of his friend who'd been killed in action ten months ago. Tracking down his best bud's girlfriend added twenty-ton weights to Hank's already heavy soul.
Determination powered him forward, one step at a time, through the throng of partiers decked out in jester hats, masks and beads. Lampposts blazed through the dark. The parade inched past, a jazz band blasting a Louis Armstrong number while necklaces, doubloons and even lacy panties rained over the mini-mob.
Not surprising to see underwear fly. In years past, he'd driven down from Bossier City to New Orleans for Mardi Gras festivities. This town partied through the weekend leading all the way into Fat Tuesday. If former experiences were anything to judge by, the night would only get rowdier as the alcohol flowed. Before long, folks would start asking for beads the traditional way.
By hiking up their shirts.
A grandma waved her hands in the air, keeping her blouse in place for now as she shouted at a float with a krewe king riding a mechanical alligator, "Throw me something, mister!"
"Laissez les bons temps rouler!" the king shouted back in thickly accented Cajun French.
Hank sidestepped around a glowing lamppost. He spoke French and Spanish fluently, passable German and a hint of Chamorro from the time his dad had been stationed in Guam. He'd always sworn he wouldn't follow in the old man's aviator footsteps. While his dad was a pilot, Hank was a navigator. But in the end, he'd even chosen the same aircraft his dad had--the B-52. He couldn't dodge the family legacy any more than his two sisters had. Renshaws joined the air force. Period. They'd served for generations, even though their cumulative investment portfolio now popped into the billions.
And he would give away every damn cent if he could bring back his friend.
Chest tight with grief, Hank looked up at the wrought-iron street number on the restaurant in front of him. Less than a block to go until he reached Gabrielle Ballard's garret apartment, which was located above an antiques shop. He plunged back into the kaleidoscope of Mardi Gras purple, gold and green.
And then, in the smallest shift of the crowd, he saw her in the hazy glow of a store's porch lights. Or rather, he saw her back as she made her way to her apartment. She didn't appear to be here for the parade. Just on her way home, walking ahead of him with a floral sling full of groceries and a canvas sack.
Hurrying to catch her, he didn't question how he'd identified her. He knew Gabrielle without even seeing her face. What a freaking sappy reality, but hell, the truth hurt. He recognized the elegant curve of her neck, the swish of her blond hair along her shoulders.
Even with a loose sweater hiding her body, there was no mistaking the glide of her long legs. The woman made denim look highend. She had a Euro-chic style that hinted at her dual citizenship. Her U.S. Army father had married a German woman, then finished out his career at American bases overseas. Gabrielle had come to New Orleans for her graduate studies.
Yeah, he knew everything about Gabrielle Ballard, from her history to the curve of her hips. He'd wanted her every day for a torturous year before he and Kevin had shipped out. The only relief? Since she lived in South Louisiana, while he and his friend were stationed in Northern Louisiana, Gabrielle had only crossed his path a couple of times a month.
Regardless, the brotherhood code put a wall between him and Gabrielle that Hank couldn't scale. She was his best friend's fianc�e, Kevin's girl. At least, she had been. Until Kevin died ten months ago. Two gunshots from a sniper at a checkpoint, and his friend was gone. That didn't make Gabrielle available, but it did make her Hank's obligation.
Gabrielle angled sideways, adjusting the sling holding her groceries and the canvas sack, to wedge through a cluster of college-aged students in front of the iron gate closing off the outdoor stairs to her apartment. A plastic cup in one guy's hand sloshed foamy beer down her arm. She jumped back sharply, slamming into another drunken reveler. Gabrielle stepped forward, only to have the guy with the cup block her path again. She held her floral sack closer, fear stamped on her face.
Instincts still honed from battle shifted into high gear, telling Hank things were escalating in a damn dangerous way. He scowled, shoving forward faster without taking his eyes off her for even a second. The street lamp spotlighted her, her golden hair a shining beacon in the chaos. She pressed herself into a garden nook, but the sidewalk was packed; the noise of the floats so intense that calls for help wouldn't be heard.
Hank closed the last two steps between him and the mess unfolding in front of him. He clamped his hand down firmly on the beer-swilling bastard's shoulder.