Undercover agent Chance Mackenzie knew that the best way to capture an elusive terrorist was to use the man's daughter as bait, so he seduced Sunny Miller and set out to discover her father's whereabouts. Sunny's own innocence was questionable, and gaining her trust was nearly impossible. And even with all his experience and training, Chance found it difficult to overlook her beauty. However, Chance soon realized that Sunny wasn't running from him -- she was running for her life, and she needed Chance's protection. But keeping Sunny safe would involve telling her the truth . . .
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April 30, 2008
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Excerpt from A Game of Chance by Linda Howard
Chance loved motorcycles. The big beast between his legs throbbed with power as he roared along the narrow winding road, the wind in his hair, leaning his body into the curves with the beast so they were one, animal and machine. No other motorcycle in the world sounded like a Harley, with that deep, coughing rumble that vibrated through his entire body. Riding a motorcycle always gave him a hard-on, and his own visceral reaction to the speed and power never failed to amuse him.
Danger was sexy. Every warrior knew it, though it wasn't something people were going to read about in their Sunday newspaper magazines. His brother Josh freely admitted that landing a fighter on a carrier deck had always turned him on. 'It falls just short of orgasm,' was the way Josh put it. Joe, who could fly any jet built, refrained from commenting but always smiled a slow, knowing smile.
As for both Zane and himself, Chance knew there were times when each had emerged from certain tense situations, usually involving bullets, wanting nothing more than to have a woman beneath him. Chance's sexual need was ferocious at those times; his body was flooded with adrenaline and testosterone, he was alive, and he desperately needed a woman's soft body in which he could bury himself and release all the tension. Unfortunately, that need always had to wait: wait until he was in a secure position, maybe even in a different country entirely; wait until there was an available, willing woman at hand; and, most of all, wait until he had settled down enough that he could be relatively civilized in the sack.
But for now, there was only the Harley and himself, the rush of sweet mountain air on his face, and the inner mixture of joy and fear of going home. If Mom saw him riding the Harley without a helmet she would tear a strip off his hide, which was why he had the helmet with him, securely fastened behind the seat. He would put it on before sedately riding up the mountain to visit them. Dad wouldn't be fooled, but neither would he say anything, because Wolf Mackenzie knew what it was to fly high and wild.
He crested a ridge, and Zane's house came into view in the broad valley below. The house was large, with five bedrooms and four baths, but not ostentatious; Zane had instinctively built the house so it wouldn't attract undue attention. It didn't look as large as it was, because some of the rooms were underground. He had also built it to be as secure as possible, positioning it so he had an unrestricted view in all directions, but using natural formations of the land to block land access by all but the one road. The doors were steel, with state-of-the-art locks; the windows were shatterproof, and had cost a small fortune. Strategic walls had interior armor, and an emergency generator was installed in the basement. The basement also concealed another means of escape, if escape became necessary. Motion sensors were installed around the house, and as Chance wheeled the motorcycle into the driveway, he knew his arrival had already been signaled.
Zane didn't keep his family locked in a prison, but the security provisions were there if needed. Given their jobs, prudence demanded caution, and Zane had always prepared for emergencies, always had a backup plan.
Chance cut off the motor and sat for a minute, letting his senses return to normal while he ran a hand through his windswept hair. Then he kicked the stand down and leaned the Harley onto it, and dismounted much the way he would a horse. Taking a thin file from the storage compartment, he went up on the wide, shady porch.
It was a warm summer day, mid-August, and the sky was a cloudless clear blue. Horses grazed contentedly in the pasture, though a few of the more curious had come to the fence to watch with huge, liquid dark eyes as the noisy machine roared into the driveway. Bees buzzed around Barrie's flowers, and birds sang continuously in the trees. Wyoming. Home. It wasn't far away, Mackenzie's Mountain, with the sprawling house on the mountaintop where he had been given...life and everything else in this world that was important to him.
'The door's open.' Zane's low, calm voice issued from the intercom beside the door. 'I'm in the office.'
Chance opened the door and went inside, his booted feet silent as he walked down the hall to Zane's office. With small clicks, the door locks automatically engaged behind him. The house was quiet, meaning Barrie and the kids weren't at home; if Nick was anywhere in the house she would have run squealing to him, hurling herself into his arms, chattering nonstop in her mangled English while holding his face clasped between both her little hands, making certain his attention didn't wander from her--as if he would dare look away. Nick was like a tiny package of unstable explosives; it was best to keep a weather eye on her.
The door to Zane's office was unexpectedly closed. Chance paused a moment, then opened it without knocking.
Zane was behind the desk, computer on, windows open to the warm, fresh air. He gave his brother one of his rare, warm smiles. 'Watch where you step,' he advised. 'Munchkins on deck.'
Automatically Chance looked down, checking out the floor, but he didn't see either of the twins. 'Where?'
Zane leaned back in his chair a little, looking around for his offspring. Spotting them, he said, 'Under the desk. When they heard me let you in, they hid.'
Chance raised his eyebrows. To his knowledge, the ten-month-old twins weren't in the habit of hiding from anyone or anything. He looked more carefully and saw four plump, dimpled baby hands peeping from under the cover of Zane's desk. 'They aren't very good at it,' he observed. 'I can see their hands.'
'Give them a break, they're new at this stuff. They've only started doing it this week. They're playing Attack.'
'Attack?' Fighting the urge to laugh, Chance said,
'What am I supposed to do?'
'Just stand there. They'll burst from cover as fast as they can crawl and grab you by the ankles.'
'Any biting involved?'
'Okay. What are they going to do with me once they have me captured?'
'They haven't gotten to that part yet. For now, they just pull themselves up and stand there giggling.' Zane scratched his jaw, considering. 'Maybe they'll sit on your feet to hold you down, but for the most part they like standing too much to settle for sitting.'
The attack erupted. Even with Zane's warning, Chance was a little surprised. They were remarkably quiet, for babies. He had to admire their precision; they launched themselves from under the desk at a rapid crawl, plump little legs pumping, and with identical triumphant crows attached themselves to his ankles. Dimpled hands clutched his jeans. The one on the left plopped down on his foot for a second, then thought better of the tactic and twisted around to begin hauling himself to an upright position. Baby arms wrapped around his knees, and the two little conquerors squealed with delight, their bubbling chuckles eliciting laughter from both men.
'Cool,' Chance said admiringly. 'Predator babies.' He tossed the file onto Zane's desk and leaned down to scoop the little warriors into his arms, settling each diapered bottom on a muscular forearm. Cameron and Zack grinned at him, six tiny white baby teeth shining in each identical dimpled face, and immediately they began patting his face with their fat little hands, pulling his ears, delving into his shirt pockets. It was like being attacked by two squirming, remarkably heavy marshmallows.
'Good God,' he said in astonishment. 'They weigh a ton.' He hadn't expected them to have grown so much in the two months since he had seen them.
'They're almost as big as Nick. She still outweighs them, but I swear they feel heavier.' The twins were sturdy and strongly built, the little boys already showing the size of the Mackenzie males, while Nick was as dainty as her grandmother Mary.
'Where are Barrie and Nick?' Chance asked, missing his pretty sister-in-law and exuberant, cheerfully diabolic niece.
'We had a shoe crisis. Don't ask.'
'How do you have a shoe crisis?' Chance asked, unable to resist. He sat down in a big, comfortable chair across from Zane's desk, setting the babies more comfortably in his lap. They lost interest in pulling his ears and began babbling to each other, reaching out, entwining their arms and legs as if they sought the closeness they had known while forming in the womb. Chance unconsciously stroked them, enjoying the softness of their skin, the feel of squirming babies in his arms. All the Mackenzie babies grew up accustomed to being constantly, lovingly touched by the entire extended family.
Zane laced his hands behind his head, his big, powerful body relaxed. 'First you have a three-year-old who loves her shiny, black, patent leather Sunday shoes. Then you make the severe tactical error of letting her watch The Wizard of Oz.' His stern mouth twitched, and his pale eyes glittered with amusement.
Chance's agile mind immediately made the connection, and his acquaintance with the three-year-old in question allowed him to make a logical assumption: Nick had decided she had to have a pair of red shoes. 'What did she use to try to dye them?'
Zane sighed. 'Lipstick, what else?' Each and every young Mackenzie had had an incident with lipstick. It was a family tradition, one John had started when, at the age of two, he had used his mother's favorite lipstick to recolor the impressive rows of fruit salad on Joe's dress uniform. Caroline had been impressively outraged, because the shade had been discontinued and finding a new tube had been much more difficult than replacing the small colored bars that represented medals Joe had earned and services he had performed.
'You couldn't just wipe it off?' The twins had discovered his belt buckle and zipper, and Chance moved the busy little hands that were trying to undress him. They began squirming to get down, and he leaned over to set them on the floor.
'Close the door,' Zane instructed, 'or they'll escape.'
Leaning back, Chance stretched out a long arm and closed the door, just in time. The two diaper-clad escape artists had almost reached it. Deprived of freedom, they plopped down on their padded bottoms and considered the situation, then launched themselves in crawling patrol of the perimeters of the room.
'I could have wiped it off,' Zane continued, his tone bland, 'if I had known about it. Unfortunately, Nick cleaned the shoes herself. She put them in the dishwasher.'
Chance threw back his head with a shout of laughter.
'Barrie bought her a new pair of shoes yesterday. Well, you know how Nick's always been so definite about what she wants to wear. She took one look at the shoes, said they were ugly, even though they were just like the ones she ruined, and refused to even try them on.'
'To be accurate,' Chance corrected, 'what she said was that they were 'ugwy.''
Zane conceded the point. 'She's getting better with weaned them last having to wait for Zack's round blue eyes were fiercely focused on the bottle in Chance's hand. 'Why did she wean them so early?' Chance asked as he resumed his seat and settled the baby in the crook of his left arm. 'She nursed Nick until she was a year old.'
'You'll see,' Zane said dryly, settling Cam on his lap.
As soon as Chance brought the bottle within reach of Zack's fat little hands the baby made a grab for it, guiding it to his rapacious, open mouth. He clamped down ferociously on the nipple. Evidently deciding to let his uncle hold the bottle, he nevertheless made certain the situation was stabilized by clutching Chance's wrist with both hands, and wrapping both chubby legs around Chance's forearm. Then he began to growl as he sucked, pausing only to swallow.
An identical growling noise came from Zane's lap. Chance looked over to see his brother's arm captured in the same manner as the two little savages held on to their meals.
Milk bubbled around Zack's rosebud mouth, and Chance blinked as six tiny white teeth gnawed on the plastic nipple.
'Hell, no wonder she weaned you!' Zack didn't pause in his gnawing, sucking and growling, but he did flick an absurdly arrogant glance at his uncle before returning his full attention to filling his little belly.
Zane was laughing softly, and he lifted Cam enough that he could nuzzle one of the chubby legs so deter-minedly wrapped around his arm. Cam paused to scowl at the interruption, then changed his mind and instead favored his father with a dimpled, milky smile. The next second the smile was gone and he attacked the bottle again.
Zack's fuzzy black hair was as soft as silk against Chance's arm. Babies were a pure tactile pleasure, he thought, though he hadn't been of that opinion the first time he'd held one. The baby in question had been John, screaming his head off from the misery of teething.
Chance hadn't been with the Mackenzies long, only a few months, and he had still been extremely wary of all these people. He had managed--barely--to control his instinct to attack whenever someone touched him, but he still jumped like a startled wild animal. Joe and Caroline came to visit, and from the expressions on their faces when they entered the house, it had been a very long trip. Even Joe, normally so controlled and unflappable, was frustrated by his futile efforts to calm his son, and Caroline had been completely frazzled by a situation she couldn't handle with her usual impeccable logic. Her blond hair had been mussed, and her green eyes expressed an amazing mixture of concern and outrage.
As she had walked by Chance, she suddenly wheeled and deposited the screaming baby in his arms. Startled, alarmed, he tried to jerk back, but before he knew it he was in sole possession of the wiggling, howling little human. 'Here,' she said with relief and utmost confidence. 'You get him calmed down.'