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6:30 a.m., McLean, Virginia
A trancelike calm kicked in, as it always did once she settled into her sniper’s “nest.” Oblivious to the cold, she peered through the scope of her rifle and smiled. From the sixth floor of the abandoned office building, she had a perfect sight line into Brewed Awakenings. And soon her targets would start to gather for their monthly breakfast.
She’d been called a well-tuned killing machine, her reputation acquired from fifteen years of kill shots. But this was no ordinary contract kill; this was the mother of all kills. Her reputation in the global “work for hire” community was on the line, for one. Her newfound standing with the Russians, for another; they would pay well when she performed to their satisfaction. Even more important, however, was her personal objective: revenge.
And she was primed and pumped to kill.
- • •
This early on a Monday morning was so far from Jamie Cooper’s comfort zone he felt as if he’d landed in a different zip code. All because of a woman who wouldn’t give him the time of day.
Disgusted with himself, he sat at the large table the hostess led him to. He was the first to arrive; the members of DOD’s two off-the-books black ops teams weren’t due at Brewed Awakenings for a good fifteen minutes. Opening a menu, he sized up the twenty or so other customers. He’d give it a 99 percent probability that none of them represented a threat. Even off the clock, he never dropped full alert status.
And right this moment, he was alert for one team member in particular: Rhonda “Bombshell” Burns.
The new head computer analyst and security expert had thrown him way off his game. In the six months she’d been on board, the woman had singlehandedly elevated the stereotype of “computer nerd” to “computer sexpot.” Taggart’s term, not his, but he damn sure agreed. The woman was a walking, talking wet dream.
But God help the man who called her that to her face; her smackdown would be brutal. And hot.
Get your head out of your ass and recalibrate, Coop.
The Bombshell was strictly “look but don’t touch.” Not only was she his teammate, but she’d also made her total lack of interest in him crystal-clear.
Yet here he sat, waiting to set eyes on her. And the woman barely spoke to him.
How screwed up was that?
If Taggart and Mike knew he’d turned stupid over a woman, they’d laugh their asses off. Needle him about being a stalker. Want to check his temperature.
Maybe they’d be right. Maybe he was sick—in the head. He’d actually set his alarm so he could watch her make her grand entrance. It was so high school. But her entrances were always grand—so he cut himself a little slack.
Then he spotted her walking past the plate-glass windows. When she sashayed through the door, he nearly stopped breathing. It felt as if a combat boot had kicked him in the chest. Her cheeks were flushed pink with cold, her baby-blues sparkled, and her thick, glossy blond mane framed her face like the angel hair his mom used to drape on their Christmas tree.
Except Rhonda Burns was no angel. As she slipped off her coat and hung it on the rack by the door, her skintight pink sweater, ass-hugging skirt, and nosebleed-high heels conjured up thoughts that could send him straight to hell. He shifted in his chair because suddenly, his pants were a little too tight for comfort.
He didn’t know where she got those soft, fuzzy sweaters, but he hoped she never ran out of them. And he hoped she never changed the way she dressed, the way she smelled, the way she walked, and the way she radiated confidence and sass and sensuality.
With her luscious curves and “look all you want, enjoy, but don’t touch” attitude, she made his day every time she walked into a room. And now she was walking right toward his table.
He could handle her; he had no doubt about that. But beside the fact that the Department of Defense would frown on any type of slap-and-tickle between teammates, the oh-so-tempting Rhonda would undoubtedly prove to be a massive complication. And he liked his personal life just the way it was: pie simple.
But because he couldn’t help himself, he did his best to get a rise out of her now and then, just to feel the afterburn of her explosion.
“Good morning,” she said crisply.
To show that her frosty greeting hadn’t fazed him, he flashed her a smile, which she didn’t return.
She smoothed a hand over her hair and gave a toss of her head that sent her long golden tresses flowing over one shoulder. Sitting regally on the chair he’d pulled out for her, she crossed one long leg over the other, then made the monumental effort of glancing at him. “A little early for you, isn’t it, Hondo?”
There was the needling he’d come to enjoy.
“Good morning to you, too, Buttercup.” She hated cutesy nicknames as much as he hated being called Hondo.
She dismissed him like a used napkin. “Make yourself useful. When they bring coffee, pour me a cup. I’ve got to go powder my nose.”
Pretty darn sure that she just wanted to get away from him until more members of the team arrived, he deliberately cleared his throat. “Somebody forgot the magic word.”
A disingenuous smile flashed, then disappeared. “Please.”
“Your coffee will be my number one priority.”
She turned away and, like every other man in the restaurant, he watched the sweet, deliberate sway of her hips as she walked toward the ladies’ room.