Kate Dillon has never met a man worth his weight in packing peanuts. Maybe she's simply too stubborn, too independent and too much of everything men don't want. Just when she's decided that Mr. Right doesn't exist, James Riley crashes back into her life.
Ten years ago Riley barely noticed her, but she was certainly aware of him! Body like a Greek god. Mind like a steel trap. Heart of stone. And nothing has changed. Or so this professional soldier would like her to believe. As Kate is pulled into a crazy adventure with Riley and his daughter, she sees he's more than a heartless fighting machine. He's denied himself everything--and has everything to give. Now to make him admit it!
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November 01, 2010
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Excerpt from The Moon That Night by Helen Brenna
Washington, D.C. Sunday, 10:36 p.m.
"Get back or get dead." Riley inserted a detonator into a small amount of C-4. "I'm blowing the door." While he preferred all the assholes surrounding him dead, that particular objective would have to wait. He spun around the dark corner. "When this goes," he said to the supreme asshole behind him, "we'll have less than five minutes to get the statue and get out of here."
"You're really going to pull this off, aren't you?" David March said, grinning.
"What has to be done gets done."
"The consummate soldier." March chuckled. "I knew you were the best man for this job."
When this was all over Riley was going to show March what being best was all about. He turned as the small explosion blew the lock to smithereens and the door swung open.
March pointed to Riley. "Clear the room."
A cloud of smoke and tiny particles of debris hung in the air, making it impossible for Riley to see more than several inches in front of his face. Slowly he stepped across the threshold. From nowhere a chair came at him. He put up his hand, grabbed the leg and yanked it away. The unknown attacker screeched. A woman. Perfect.
Wrapping his arms around her midsection and pinning her hands at her sides, he quickly immobilized her. Although they'd anticipated someone could be working in the room, they hadn't expected any resistance, and he sure hadn't expected to feel curves this nice on the likes of a museum curator.
"Let me go, you big ape!"
The woman struggled against him, but despite the fact that she had fairly well-defined muscles, there was no contest. A good foot shorter than him and little more than a hundred pounds, she was about as much trouble as a pesky gnat buzzing around his neck.
"Who are you?" she yelled. "And what do you want?"
That voice. Something about the surly tone had a distinctly unpleasant familiarity. He was frantically trying to make the connection when the woman slammed her heel down on top of his foot. "Enough," he said quietly, despite the fact that his foot now throbbed. "I'm not going to hurt you."
As the smoke cleared, he let her go. She spun around and wound up, preparing to wallop him. The sight of her--pale skin contrasting with dark hair and golden-brown eyes firing as bright as a sunlit tiger's eye--hit him like a rubber pellet to the chest, knocking the wind from him and leaving him totally unprepared. "Kate Dillon?"
Her fist connected with his diaphragm, and he sucked in a breath. For a lightweight she packed one hell of a punch.
"Riley?" Surprised, she jumped back and studied him. "Is that you?"
It might have been almost ten years since he'd last seen her, but a man didn't easily forget a girl like Kate.
She'd been all of about seventeen years old and a pistol then, too. One little stint as a bodyguard during a personal leave and he'd been more than happy to get back to active duty. He and Kate hadn't seen eye to eye on anything, and while he would've liked nothing more at the time than to tie her up and put a muzzle on that sassy mouth, she'd been a job. He'd promised to protect, and protect is what he'd done for three hellish days. And nights.
Back then she'd been attractive in a promising sort of way, but he'd never been into robbing cradles. While her youthful beauty might have turned into an I-eat-men-for-midnight-snacks kind of allure, with no makeup and her hair bunched in two short, braided pigtails she looked as if she still couldn't walk into a bar and order a beer without getting carded.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, glancing at his watch. Time was ticking.
"Shouldn't I be asking that? You just blew off my door."
He glanced around the room. A lab of sorts. "You're working here, aren't you?" "What's it to you?"
Surprise, surprise. Her mouth and attitude hadn't improved. Double the reason he'd never made a move on her all those years ago. Not only had she been too young, she'd also been too outspoken for his tastes.
As far as he was concerned, women were supposed to be soft-spoken and compassionate. A woman should complement her man, not compete with him. He wasn't a chauvinist, simply a realist. Throw together two people who were too much alike, and instead of harmony all you'd get was chaos. There was no doubt in his mind
that Kate Dillon plus a man like him equaled chaos times ten.
"What do you do here?" he asked.
"At the moment, restoration work. Why?"
This was too much to be a simple coincidence, but it still didn't make sense. "March!" Riley called. "You coming or not?"
March came into the room, followed by a couple of his goons, including Mick Coben, his right-hand man. "Good job," March said to Riley before fixing his gaze on Kate. "Hello, Miss Dillon."
"Who are you?" she asked.
"David March. A great admirer of your work." He glanced around the room, his gaze landing on the obviously old statue on the nearby table. "What do you need to finish repairing that piece?"
He glared at her. "I don't have time for this."
She glared back at him. "And I'm supposed to care?"
"No." In one surprisingly swift movement, March was by her side with the barrel of his gun pressed against her temple. "But I'm guessing you care about making it out of this building alive."
Riley pushed March's gun toward the ceiling, and Coben made a threatening step forward. "Back off, Coben," Riley said.
March gave a short nod, and Coben reluctantly stepped down.
"She wasn't part of the plan," Riley said.
"Of course she was." March grinned. "Kate's a night owl, aren't you? Especially when she's on deadline to get repairs finished before an exhibit opens."
She only narrowed her eyes at March.
Son of a bitch. The pieces were starting to fall into place in a twisted David March kind of way. That man had been a thorn in Riley's side ever since they'd done their first tour of duty together in the Gulf War. Sometimes he wondered if he was ever going to be rid of the unprincipled a-hole.
"I'll handle Kate." Riley bit out the words.
"You have one minute." March stepped back. "Then things go my way."
"Kate, listen to me." Riley turned her to face him. "These guys aren't messing around."
"Excuse me, but aren't you one of these guys?"
"I don't have time to explain--"
"For once in your life, girl, could you do what you're told?"
"I'm a woman," she snapped. "Not a girl. Thank you very much."
Coben chuckled softly. "Can't handle her, old man? Need help, let me know."
Riley might be a bit worse for wear after twenty years in the marines, but it'd be a cold day in hell he couldn't handle this little spitfire, let alone the likes of Coben. "Kate, I'm only going to ask you this once." He jerked his head toward the work in process on the table. "What do you need to finish your repairs on that piece?"
"Nothing," she said through clenched teeth. "I was basically finished with it."
"What do you typically need to repair this type of statue?" March asked.
"Kate," Riley said softly, "answer the question." "Clay," she said. "Some tools and adhesives." "That's it? You're sure?"
"Yes," she hissed.
"Get those supplies together and let's go." She didn't move.
"Now." Riley grabbed her by the back of the neck and pushed her toward the reddish-brown clump of clay on the table. "The man isn't kidding about putting a bullet in your head. Got it?"
Her cheeks turning an angry red, she stuffed a hunk of clay into a thick plastic bag. After grabbing a handful of tools from the workstation and some small containers of paint and glue, she snatched up a shoulder pack. "Now what?"
March ignored her and reached for the ancient-looking statue she'd been working on. "Can't forget this."
"Don't touch that!" One of the goons grabbed Kate's arms and held her back. With one quick twist she shook him off and grabbed the statue. "This is a fragile, authentic Greek figurine from the Hellenistic period. It's about twenty-five hundred years old."
March grinned. "I'm well aware of that."
"It may be priceless in terms of historic value," she muttered, "but it's certainly not worth this effort."
"That, dear Kate, is a matter of opinion."
Riley's watch beeped, signaling thirty seconds before the guards would hit. "We gotta get out of here."
"Give me that statue," March said, ripping it out of her hands.
Gripping Kate's arm, Riley dragged her out of the room. They'd no sooner closed the door on the stairwell than security guards rushed into the hall behind them. March's men laid out a burst of rapid fire, stalling the onslaught.
Down three flights of stairs, through a maze of hallways, and past a ghostly quiet shipping and receiving area, Riley pushed through a back door and into the chilly November night air. Since he'd knocked out the streetlights earlier, the only illumination in the alley came from a hazy moon. The van, lights off, was idling only a few feet away.
March climbed into the vehicle. "Get her in here," he called to Riley. "Now!"
Angry and exhibiting not the slightest bit of fear, Kate glared at him. "You're really going to kidnap me?"
Life from Riley's perspective was straightforward and simple, every decision black and white. This was as clear-cut as it got. Without an ounce of remorse he stared back at Kate and ground out, "Get in."
Positioned tightly between two of the jerks who had robbed the small museum she worked for occasionally, Kate sat on her butt across from Riley, swaying to and fro as the van hightailed it through the streets of Washington, D.C. A burst of cold autumn air traveled up her back, sending a shiver down her spine. Figured. She would manage to get kidnapped and thrown into the back of a van without a jacket during a record-setting November cold snap. As escape options quickly flicked through her mind, her gaze clashed with Riley's.
"Don't even think about it," he said, low and deep.
If he was even as half aware of everything going on around him as she remembered, there was no way she was getting out of this vehicle. "You used to be one of the good guys." She glared at him. "But then, maybe that was all a lie."
A couple of the other men laughed. The instant Riley turned his gaze on them, they quieted. All but one. A man just as big as Riley, if not bigger, sneered at him. "Full of bullshit," the man said. "That's about right."
"Coben," Riley said, "when this is all over, you and I are going to settle a few things."
"Why wait?" Coben snickered.
Interesting. No love lost between those two.
March glanced back from the front passenger seat. "Knock it off."
Riley's gaze, as unreadable as ever, flicked toward Kate. After all these years she couldn't believe she still remembered Riley, but what woman ever forgot the most irritating man she'd ever met?
When her sister, Maggie, and Maggie's now husband, Nick, had run into some trouble in Greece several years back, Riley had escorted Kate back to the States and acted as her bodyguard for several days. Not only had he stuck to her like slip on clay, he'd barely spoken the entire time. Although one-word grunts had been the extent of his side of their limited conversations, his disapproval of her--her appearance, her life, her opinions--had rolled off him like twenty-foot waves.
If the disdainful look in his eyes when he glanced her way was any indication, his assessment of her hadn't changed. Neither had he. Still cold, silently focused and built like a linebacker, he wasn't handsome in a traditional sense. But with his features--eyes as blue as a cobalt glaze, sharply bowed lips and a cleft in his chin partially hidden by several days of stubble--God help the women of this world if Riley ever chose to smile, let alone laugh.
He sure hadn't even come close to cracking a smile during the entire three days he'd been her bodyguard all those years ago, and still she'd found herself viscerally attracted to him. He'd been her first major-league crush, the first man--not boy--to make her pulse race and her skin burn.
She'd been too stubborn to admit to her teenage self that back then he'd completely intimidated her, but the truth was if she hadn't been scared to death of the way he'd made her feel, she might've been nicer to him. Then before she'd had a chance to come to grips with her strange feelings, he'd left. Mission accomplished. Time for new orders. She'd been so insignificant to him she'd been shocked he'd remembered her name.
So what had happened to him that he'd sunk to kidnapping and theft?
The moment Riley turned his attention toward the front, she slowly reached into her pack, felt around for her cell phone and hit the emergency call button.
Riley immediately grabbed her arm and tore the phone from her hand. Without a word, March took the cell from Riley and set it on the console in front of him.
"I can't believe you're doing this." She stared at Riley. "What do you people want from me?"
He looked away.
None of this made sense. "That one clay statue isn't worth this trouble," Kate whispered.
"By itself, no," March said. "But put it with the others and the collection is priceless."
Whether or not a collection actually existed was debatable, but many experts believed that a small rosebud carved into each of several ancient statues now located in various spots around the world indicated they'd been made by the same nameless artisan, something that was extremely unusual for the time period in which they'd been created.
"So that's what this is about?" she said. "You're going to steal the other primordial deity statues in that set?"
Most people were familiar with the Olympian gods of Greek mythology--Zeus, Aphrodite and the like--but many had never heard of the firstborn gods, those said to have actually created the universe. Gods like Gaia, Nyx and Tartarus, the gods of earth, night and the underworld. There were others, too, depending on the stories to which a person subscribed. Some writings told of as many as ten such primordial gods.