Isa startled awake, nearly jumping out of both her skin and the unfamiliar bed. With her heart in her throat, it took a few moments for her to collect her bearings, the events of the last twenty-four hours slowly easing their way back: being stalked, being tossed in the back of a moving van, and then being whisked away to a secret underground bunker beneath a distillery just off the Potomac River.
Somehow her mundane, unchanging routine had been knocked on its side and flipped around, and even though she couldn’t directly pin it on Roman Steele, he served as a good target.
Isa reluctantly slipped out of bed, thankful to Zoey for the extra set of clothes, and padded barefoot into the hall. With no one around to guide her toward coffee, she used her questionable sense of direction to find the kitchen and once again was taken in by the industrial homeliness of the Steele Ops common area.
Polished cement floors and red brick walls complemented the warm tans and leather-accented furnishings, and colorful abstract artwork gave the sprawling underground space pops of color. It was the perfect blend of rustic home and modern industrial…and then you looked to the left and it was like stepping into one of the situation rooms you see on television.
Instead of artwork, computer screens took up nearly the entirety of the far wall, and a large cage nestled in the corner held weapons and unrecognizable high-tech toys. Steele Ops had a forward operating base smack in the heart of downtown Alexandria, and the people sipping on boutique whiskey sours above their heads hadn’t the slightest clue.
Isa helped herself to the still warm pot of coffee and, clutching her mug, wandered the underground halls. Music drifted down the corridor. She followed the sound and the vibrating floor and found its source in a gym that made her own community center look puny.
On the left, a modified boxing took center stage, and a small army of treadmills and a rower commandeered the right. Isa stepped around a garden of suspended heavy bags and came to a dead stop.
Roman Steele, hair pulled back into a short ponytail clipped at the base of his neck, sat on a bench, sweat rolling down his bare chest. Faint red welts covered his knuckles as he unwrapped sparring tape from his hands and flexed his fingers.
Whatever he’d been doing down here, he’d been doing it for a while.
Isabel studied his hands. Large and calloused, they were obviously adept at taking and giving a beating, but she couldn’t help but remember how gentle they’d been after her almost abduction. He’d shocked them both when he’d palmed her cheek, and then she’d shocked herself by hoping he’d lean in and kiss her.
Ever since she lost her fiancé, she’d turned off the need for male companionship. Oliver Park had been her ticket to a love like her grandparents had had, and he took that with him the day he died. Standing there wondering what Roman Steele’s hands would feel like on parts of her body that aren’t her face wasn’t the right way to honor him.
Isabel chastised her raging libido just as Roman leaned over, stretching his legs out in front of him. Actually, his one leg and his prosthesis.
Roman’s left below-the-knee amputation took her off guard, but not because she wasn’t familiar with them. In the Army and stationed at Walter Reed’s research facility, she’d seen her fair share of amputations. She just hadn’t known Roman was an amputee.
He removed his prosthesis, a brand she couldn’t pinpoint, and slipped off his sock. The thin piece of nylon fabric protected the sensitive skin from being rubbed raw, but Roman winced as he rubbed his stump. The compression stocking obviously wasn’t working.
Roman’s head snapped up. The second his dark eyes lasered in on her, he replaced his grimace with a determined mask of blankness. “Can I do something for you, Doc?”
“Can I do something for you?” As fast as she’d run away from bedside medicine, sometimes old habits were hard to kick.
Roman’s face looked anything but pleased. “See a lot of BTKs working in the lab?”
“No. But I did in the Army.” Smirking, she took a step closer. “I should probably be insulted at the surprised look on your face, but I’ll let it slide. This time. Besides, it’s not like you’d be the first.” She nodded toward the intricate prosthetic in his hand. “You mind if I take a look? I haven’t seen one exactly like this before, but I’ve handled my fair share.”
He handed it over. “This is a prototype. A buddy of mine started designing them after coming home with his own amputation. He wanted me to try it out for a while and see how I like it.”
“It’s impressive.” She studied the intricate system of gliding pistons and gears. “These joints allow for a lot of free movement. I bet your friend is big into extreme sports.”
Roman’s lips twitched. “Yeah. How’d you guess?”
“Shock absorbers.” She pointed to the layered pads surrounding the contraption’s heel and where the ball of the foot would be located. “So what’s happening?”
“Nothing at first. It moved like silk, but the harder I pushed it, the more it lagged. Felt like it was catching on something every time I took a step.”
Isa flexed the toes and bent the ankle, studying all the shifting parts. Roman’s careful scrutiny didn’t go without her notice, warming her cheeks until she finally found the issue. “It’s that middle piston in the center. It looks like there’s some gunk on it. Working it over with some oil or WD-40 might do the trick.”
Roman studied her carefully. She didn’t offer to help him, knowing the kind of answer she’d get. Judging by the look of his amputation, he’d had it for a while and knew more about prosthetics and limb massage than she did.
He took the prosthetic and set it aside to grab a blade device. “Guess I’ll go old-school until I can get my hands on some.”
Giving him privacy, she looked around the room. “So this is where you guys train?”
“Some of us. I think Knox and Tank use it the most out of everyone. I prefer to use the one at my place.”
“But does yours have one of those,” Isa teased, gesturing to the thermal tub tucked into the back corner.
“Actually, I have three.”
“What do you mean?” She turned toward him as he got to his feet.
“I live on the second floor of a warehouse off the pier, and I’m converting the first floor into a gym for people like me.”
“For anyone who needs a little extra head space to go along with their exercise regime. I know what it’s like to be used to living one way and then get knocked down a few hundred pegs. Crawling your way back isn’t always pretty, and it’s easier to do what you need to do if you’re not worried about being someone’s entertainment.”
“That’s great, Roman.”
He narrowed his eyes. “But…?”
“But nothing. I think that’s an incredible idea.”
Roman looped a towel around his neck and stepped closer. “It’s still a work in progress. For now, I have my hands full with Steele Ops…and a certain mouthy doctor.”
Isa rolled her eyes, and then their trajectory slid down the impressive view of Roman’s torso. Damp with sweat, his six-pack abs glistened and just begged her reach out and touch, to see if they were as rock hard as they looked.
Actually, an eight-pack. She recounted.
Isabel balled her fists at her sides and tried to shift her gaze from the impressive hip ridge that cut across his lower waist and dipped into his basketball shorts. Evidently Roman wasn’t the only one who needed a cold shower.
Her body flushed, suddenly way too warm, and got warmer when Roman cocked an eyebrow up into his hairline. “When you’re done mentally objectifying my body, do you want to tell me why you’re up so early?”
“You were up earlier than me.” Tempted to steal his towel and use it to fan her suddenly overheated body, Isa shifted on her feet. “And I was not objectifying your body.”
“I don’t sleep much…and yes you were.” Roman leaned against the wall, giving her a model-worthy pose that put every muscle on display. His lips twitched as he tapped the corner of his mouth. “You still have a little drool right about there, Doc.”
“What do you…?” It took a few seconds for her to register his meaning. “Oh, get over yourself, Mr. Secret Sexpert. Yes, you’re attractive, but I’m old enough to know sometimes the pretty outside packages can be rotten to the core on the inside. Besides, I have a general rule to not get involved with guys who think I’m capable of biological terrorism. Call me fickle.”
“I never said that I thought you were involved.”
“You didn’t need to. Your face may be a blank mask ninety percent of the time, but your pretty brown eyes are extremely telling.”
“Pretty?” Roman’s voice dropped a few octaves, its gravelly tone practically brushing against her skin as he pushed off against the wall and stepped closer. “I don’t think anyone has ever used that adjective to describe me before.”
“Let me guess what people have used: frustrating, irritating, mule-headed, and stubborn. Have I gotten any of them right so far?” Isabel matched his step with one of her own. She wasn’t sure if it was her temper making her hot, or Roman’s heated gaze. Either way, too much longer of this and her panties would leave scorch marks on her rear end. “Do you want me to keep listing? I could probably go on for days.”
Roman stepped closer, putting them an arm’s length away. “I may not have any fancy letters behind my name, but I’m pretty sure a few of those words are basically the same thing.”
His body heat beckoned her, and she shivered as she stepped forward. Two feet and counting. “And yet using one doesn’t seem like enough.”
“Every single one of those adjectives can be turned around and used to describe you, too, Doc. Or did you forget your little edict before storming out of the room yesterday?”
Isa’s mouth dropped, and she leaned closer until her shoes bumped Roman’s. “I did not storm.”
He challenged her with a faint lift of his brow. “But you did give an edict? Or a demand? How would you like to spin it?”
“I may be mule-headed, Roman Steele, but you’re the whole damn donkey.”
Isabel didn’t know who moved first.
Their bodies clashed together in a tangle of limbs and tongues. Thrust and retreat, they devoured each other with every breath. Isa speared her fingers into his hair, fusing their mouths together as Roman, fingers biting into the flesh above her yoga pants, backed her against the wall.
A small moan escaped her throat as she swiveled her hips against the growing erection pushing against her stomach. Holy crap, the man was huge everywhere. Lifting one leg, she anchored it around his thigh and tilted to get closer, cursing the clothes that kept her from feeling every inch of his body.
Maybe it was lack of oxygen, or a freak rush of hormones, but by the time she forced her mouth away from Roman’s her head spun like a carousel. He trailed his mouth down the curve of her neck and nipped and kissed until she was a whimpering ball of need.
“Roman,” Isa groaned.
As if saying his name broke through the fog of lust, they broke apart as suddenly as they’d come together. Isa’s heartbeat thundered in her ears, the only thing she could hear other than her and Roman’s heavy pants.
At least she wasn’t the only one affected by whatever the hell had just happened.
Instead of telling her the kiss was a mistake, or that it couldn’t happen again, Roman stalked out of the gym muttering a long string of curses. Isa leaned against the wall until she could lock her knees, and absentmindedly touched her mouth, her lips pleasantly swollen.
In her thirty-one years, she’d never been kissed with that kind of heat. That much need. It was a little bit scary and a whole lot of overwhelming…but not any more than admitting her body was already itching for it to happen again.
Excerpted from FATAL DECEPTION by April Schwartz. Copyright © 2020 by Gunner Publications, LLC. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing/Forever. All rights reserved.
Steele Ops #3
April Hunt "will keep you on the edge of your seat" with this heart-pounding romantic suspense novel of a military man and the one woman he can't resist (Lori Foster, New York Times bestselling author).
Roman Steele learned a hard lesson about trusting others. While serving his country, he put his faith in the wrong person and lost a leg for his loyalty. So far, civilian life suits him -- as long as he doesn't have to deal with anyone. But when he's called in to investigate a break-in at a high-security lab, he finds himself butting heads with the lead virologist, a woman as infuriating as she is beautiful.
When criminals break into Isabel Santiago's lab and steal a deadly virus, she's desperate to find the culprits before they turn her research into a weapon. But first, she must put her trust in the brooding security expert who sees danger around every corner. As she and Roman race to track down the culprits, these two unlikely partners find there's more at stake for them than they ever imagined possible -- but only if they stop the enemy in time.
Romance Suspense [Forever, On Sale: November 10, 2020, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781538763414 / eISBN: 9781538763391]
April blames her addiction for chocolate on growing up near the country's chocolate capital, Hershey, Pennsylvania. Born and raised in a rural area, April always had lots of time to cultivate an active imagination, penning her first book at the age of ten, with a child's typewriter a lot of liquid white-out. Even though both her stories and writing methods have changed drastically through the years, one thing hasn't. Her imagination. Cowboys, military men, and alpha bad boys with a penchant for corrupting the good girl are among her favorite heroes to bring to the page. As both a contemporary and romantic suspense author, April loves sweet, second-chance romances as well as the thrills and squeals of being involved with a man who feels more naked without his Glock than without his skivvies. When April's not donning her writing gloves, she's busy raising two energetic kids and husband. And there isn't a day that passes when she's not dreaming up yet another happily ever after...
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