Ex-DEA agent Erin Montgomery is reluctantly back on the job, posing as the sex-kitten groupie girlfriend of rock star Sean Ledger. She'll be joining his band's tour to try to catch an obsessed, dangerous fan. Tormented by nightmares of her failed last assignment, Erin's not exactly eager to be drawn back into the fray. But once she meets Sean, all rocker, all man and dripping with raw sex appeal, she knows she's right where she belongs.
Sean is reluctant to have someone investigating his crew, but when he meets Erin, his objections fly out the window. The beautiful, hard-bitten agent turns him on like no other woman ever has. Sean's caught glimpses of the fiery passion lurking under Erin's cool front and he's determined to break through her hard exterior and make her his.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Love and Protect by Naima Simone
Erin jerked awake. Her chest heaved as she stared with unseeing eyes at the ceiling. A shiver racked her body and the raw burn of the scream scalded her throat as years of conditioning crumbled under the nightmarish images that even now assaulted her.
God, she hated sleeping.
She threw the covers aside, swung her legs from the couch cushions and sat up. Reaching forward, she grasped the MP3 player and 9mm off the coffee table where they waited for her like old, comforting friends. Maria Callas' La Mamma Morta poured into her ears and, with smooth motions born from years of practice, Erin broke down the weapon piece by piece. The practical, brisk task belied the emotional storm brewing inside her. Like Linus' security blanket, the classical music, combined with the routine of dismantling and cleaning the gun, calmed her racing heart and thoughts. The cold metal in her hands reminded her that as long as she held it, she remained in control.
Brick by brick, block by block, she rebuilt the white concrete wall in her mind. Behind its impenetrable shield she shoved all the memories, the debilitating emotions of fear, pain and anger. The safeguard firmly in place, her calm reasserted itself. Her heart slowed, her pulse resumed its normal pace and the perspiration dried on her skin. With the barrier once again erected, nothing could shake her. Nothing.
When the already-pristine gun was cleaned and reassembled, she methodically began the task again. And again. The psychologist she'd seen for all of two months had had plenty to say about the "soothing" habit. Obsessive compulsive...avoidance... Blah, blah, blah. Whatever. She was disturbed.
As long as it kept the demons at bay.
The cell phone next to her jumped and vibrated against the table. Her gaze flicked to the digital clock on the other end of the table and back to the buzzing phone. Two a.m. Who would be calling at this hour* Hell. Who would be calling her, period*
She snatched the phone, flipped the cover up and pressed it to her ear. Long-ingrained habit kept her from speaking first. Whoever waited on the other end knew who they'd called. Besides, late-night phone calls rarely meant a wrong number. Bad news, maybe, but seldom wrong.
Surprise shoved the suspicion aside. Only one person called her that.
Ex-partner. Erin narrowed her eyes at the sound of Braedon Roberts' drawled greeting. Even after a years absence, the honeyed accent never failed to remind her of lazy days and sweet iced tea. Too bad sweetened shit gave her a toothache.
"Long time, no hear from."
"And from your overwhelming enthusiasm I can tell how glad you are that I called." The chuckle in her ear attested to how little her flat welcome offended him. Then again, as long as she'd known him, not much affected that good-ol'-boy, South Carolina humor. The man could laugh with you one minute and put a bullet through your head the next. His ruthlessness and focus had made him a damn good undercover agent and partner. Those same characteristics made her wary of this late-night call.
"What do you want*"
"Sweetheart," he tsked, "ever heard that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar*"
"Since I'm not trying to catch a damn thing, maybe you can cut to the chase and tell me what you want."
"Okay, fine. I see a year-long hiatus has only sharpened that tongue of yours." A heartbeat of silence passed. "How about your edge*"
A dull roar burst to life in her ears, growing louder with each passing second. Her heart pounded in concert with the rising noise. Sweat prickled her suddenly clammy skin. Hell no. Hell. No. Only one reason existed for him to ask her that. Only one...
She slammed the phone shut and threw it on the couch. She eyed the damn thing as if it would sprout fangs and strike.
Seconds later, it vibrated again. She edged away from the sofa. Buzz. A glass of wine sounded good. Buzz. Damn. He wasn't going away. On the fourth ring, she crossed the two steps to the couch and snatched up the phone with a swipe of her arm.
"What the fuck do you want*" she snarled, the white cement wall in her mind fracturing under the weight of her anger and panic. Her fingers curled around the phone and threatened to crack it in half. "Get it off your chest so I can tell you to go to hell and you can leave me alone."
"Erin, please. I wouldn't come to you if I didn't need your help. If I didn't need you." His sigh echoed through the phone at her hostile silence. "It's been a year, E. A year since you've shut yourself off from the world, from me. I'd hoped in that time you'd stop blaming yourself for Jack's--"
"Get on with it," she snapped, cutting him off. Wheeling around, she paced in front of the coffee table. If he continued down that line of conversation she would hang the phone up and smash the thing with the butt of her gun. She refused to go there with him.
She ground to a halt and pressed a fist to her forehead as if she could hold back the tide of memories that threatened to consume her.
"I'd hoped you'd healed," Braedon said. "But I don't have the luxury of allowing you more time. I need you, E. I have a job and you're the only person I can turn to. The only person I trust."
"Then that means we're both fucked." She didn't trust her damn self. She still jerked awake at nights, sweating from nightmares, her only solace music and a gun. With her faulty brain, if she were the one person he trusted, then he, too, was screwed bigger than shit.
"You're the best agent I know--"
"Cut it, Erin," Braedon bit out, all traces of his Southern drawl erased as the hard inflection of the DEA-operative-turned-security-consultant commandeered its place. "You're the only one who believes you're damaged goods. I don't care if you lost a whole damn team. It doesn't change the fact that you're the best."
God, if she'd only been so lucky. At least a team of cops went in to an operation knowing and accepting the possibility of losing their lives. Jack...her stomach clenched and an invisible hand squeezed her throat, slowly strangling the breath from her. With a will born of sheer desperation, she shoved the stabbing grief behind the wall, already mortaring the cracks. "Like I said. History," she gritted out.
"Erin, I've never asked you for anything in the years we've known one another. I'm asking now. I'm begging if that's what it takes to get you to listen--really listen to me. My friend has asked for my help but it's a job I need you for." Frustration tinged his voice. "You probably don't remember but I used to mention a guy I went to school with who was in a rock band. Well, his name is Sean Ledger and he's in trouble."
Sean Ledger. The name ricocheted inside her mind. No fucking way.
Despair. Terror. Helplessness. Feelings she'd believed buried with a horrific childhood were resurrected and clawed from the grave to drag her back down to its dark, desolate depths.
"Back off, Braedon." She closed her eyes and instantly an image of Sean Ledger appeared. Except not as the lead guitarist of the rock band Odyssey looked today but as an angry, seventeen-year-old youth. "Shit," she murmured, dropping her head back. Opening her eyes, she stared at the white spackled ceiling.
"I'll call you back."
"Erin, dammit!" Braedon barked in her ear. "Don't you hang up on me again."
"Then don't make me," she retorted, desperation sharpening her voice.
"If I don't hear from you in fifteen, I'm calling you back," Braedon warned, his voice an ominous growl.
"Fine," Erin snapped and flicked the cover closed. Her hand dropped to her side as if the small phone weighed a ton. The irony of being asked to help the person who had once been her savior wasn't lost on her.
She stalked to the couch and rumpled blankets and dropped onto its soft cushions. They might as well as have been boulders for all the notice she took of their comfort. She propped her elbows on her thighs and cradled her head in her palms. It felt as if she'd been ripped open and every painful memory, every shameful secret were on public display. She'd endured the rigorous policy academy training, survived the bumfuck her career had become. And yet, here she sat, trembling like a child terrified of things that went bump in the night.
She didn't experience many moments like these--at least not while awake--and only the dark memories of her childhood could conjure these flashes of weakness.