Ruthless Peril
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Ruthless Peril

Stealth Security Book 3 – A Novella


Can Hunter Davis rescue her from a ruthless kidnapper?

She’s grabbed by a vindictive killer.

Tessa Pate manages the Stealth Security office, as support for the former SEALs turned bodyguards. She’s tough, fit, and quick witted. Plus, the team has taught her some moves to use against any aggressor. On a personal level, it’s not so easy to find the right man for her. But she accepts an invitation from Hunter, a loyal member of the team. Before he arrives to escort her to dinner, she’s thrown into a car trunk and whisked away. But her captor has his hands full, and likely regrets choosing her. He has mistaken her for another woman, but there’s no turning back.

Will her captor get the revenge he seeks?

Former SEAL Hunter Davis is on the Stealth team. He is drawn to Tessa’s strength and beauty. When he finally asks her out to dinner, the evening turns into a nightmare. Late, and at a disadvantage, he fears for Tessa’s life. Her captor wields a gun and is out for revenge. No matter the stakes, Hunter vows to save her.

Can Hunter rescue her, before it’s too late?

Tessa refuses to be intimidated, and fights back. She’s a challenge for her captor, but without Hunter, she may be doomed. It’s a first date gone terribly wrong. But will she have another chance?

Fans of Kaylea Cross, Katie Reus, and Misty Evans will enjoy this book!

Ruthless Peril (Stealth Security Book 3) is a novella, and a standalone romance with no cliffhanger.

Stealth Security Series:

Cold Peril (Garrett and Marlene)

Lethal Peril (Wyatt and Beth)

Ruthless Peril (Hunter and Tessa)

And More Coming!

 

Reviews


Excerpt


Chapter 1

Tessa Pate moved to music that pumped through her headphones. She looked forward to another day in the office at Stealth Security. She hummed along to Dusty Springfield, taking in the beach scene, before heading to one of the most elite private security companies in the City of Angels. Living in Santa Monica meant easy access to the beach, where she could soak in the tranquility of the waves lapping at the sandy shore.

Tessa had been with Stealth since college, but she hadn’t joined the business knowing exactly what she was in for. In the years she’d been there, she’d taken control of the office, and lifted the burden from Travis Hewitt’s broad shoulders. She may have started out as the receptionist, but now she managed the office, oversaw the finances, booked jobs, and kept the guys organized.

The company founder, Travis Hewitt, had set up his team of ex-SEALs to take advantage of their training and experience. It took a special kind of personality to deal with them, both as a manager and sometimes a confidante. As the only woman in the office, Tessa had been nervous at first, but became more competent in her work and settled into the office routine.

She admitted that working with the guys, in the circle of their protection, was the safest place to be. Travis looked out for her like an older brother would, and the guys had shown her a few advanced moves to supplement her self-defense training.

Tessa checked her watch; she was early for a change. She’d set her alarm to allow for a visit to the shore before another week began. Often she worked on projects over the weekend, so needed a stroll along the water to clear her mind. She turned toward the boardwalk. The morning was beautiful, and she breathed in the smell of the salt air blowing off the Pacific.

Stepping onto the boardwalk, she felt lighter. The wind whipped her long hair over her shoulders and she took a deep breath, then leaned her elbows on the weathered wooden planks of the railing. James Brown sang in her ears about payback, and she tapped her fingers on the wood as she stared out over the sparkling water.

It was early enough that the walkway wasn’t crowded, but there were a decent number of joggers. And strolling the walkway were new mothers in expensive yoga wear pushing strollers, several dog walkers, and other people like her, who were in search of a little solace before getting behind a desk.

On the sand below, a small dog frantically ran after a Frisbee, whipped up into the air by the wind. The young man who threw it glanced up at her. Then he jogged through the sand, heading her way, with the Jack Russell barking at his heels. Tessa’s good mood began to fade.

Can’t a girl just look at the damn ocean in peace? With a frustrated sigh, she adjusted her headphones tighter over her ears, then turned away from the eager young man. She heard a muffled shout, but didn’t turn around. Instead, she lengthened her strides.

A hand gripped her shoulder, and Tessa spun around, knocking it aside with her forearm. “What the hell?” Annoyance surged through her as she came face to face with the guy she had seen with the Jack Russell on the beach. She narrowed her eyes at him and noticed a jagged scar over his left cheek, marring his face.

Tessa seemed to recall the man from someplace, but she couldn’t be sure. She smelled his cheap cologne. His mouth moved to the tune playing in her ears. She didn’t have time for this. She gave him a warning look then turned away.

But the man reached out and grabbed Tessa’s wrist, jerking to get her attention. She twisted her arm out of his grip. Hours of practicing the move made her confident in her motions, and surprise flickered in the man’s dark eyes.

She pulled her headphones down around her neck and glared at him, planting her feet solidly on the boardwalk. “This better be good, buddy. Make it quick…if I’m late for work because of you, I’ll be really pissed off.” Tessa kept her voice loud; she wasn’t going to let this guy off the hook easily. He looked embarrassed, and Tessa let him wallow in it. “Well?”

“I’m sorry…you just looked like someone I know, or at least someone I thought I knew. I was trying to talk to you, but…” He held out a small bundle of gray fabric. “You dropped this. I wanted to give it back to you.”

Tessa glanced at the object in his hands. He was using that as an excuse to talk to her, but she despised being manipulated. As if she would fall for a stupid trick like that. “I didn’t drop anything. You need to work on your pickup lines, Cochise.” She pulled her headphones back up over her ears. “And don’t touch me again.” She turned on her heel and marched away from him with a determined stride.

There was an eerie tone about the man’s presence, and it bugged her. It wasn’t only that he’d approached her and interrupted her alone time. His demeanor was suspicious, his appearance sleazy. It put her on guard, and she sped up her pace. The sooner she was away from the idiot, the better.

She was definitely going to be late, but at least she had a good story for Travis. He would be proud of her for using the move he’d taught her; it was simple but effective. Hell, she was proud of herself too. But she would be lying if she didn’t admit that she was a little bit shaken by the whole experience.

Instinctively, she looked over her shoulder, but she couldn’t see the man in the crowd. The Jack Russell was sitting on the boardwalk, next to a blond woman who snapped a lead to its collar. Tessa shook her head and brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. Ridiculous. Only on a Monday. She straightened her back and adjusted the straps of her laptop bag over her shoulder.

She made the commute to the downtown building. Since they didn’t advertise, there was no need for a flashy storefront. Travis had offices on the upper floors. Their security analyst Ripley McConnell, affectionately called Rip, liked that it was easy to secure. And the guys appreciated it because there was a kitchen, and more importantly, a shower and a bed to crash in if they were working an especially intensive case or client.

She’d spent a night there once or twice herself, and it was no secret that often she felt more at home in the office than she did in her apartment. When she stepped toward the entrance, the automatic doors slid open. She hustled inside with one more look over her shoulder before the frosted glass door closed behind her. The street was busy with shoppers and tourists, but she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Tessa considered telling the guys about the occurrence at the beach, but decided against it. The team had enough on their plate. Besides, it had just been some weirdo. No big deal. She shuddered at recalling the man’s hand on her. He better not come near her again, or he’d regret it.

When the elevator opened at her floor, the security camera whirred then swung in her direction. She waggled her fingers at it and stuck out her tongue, then mouthed, “Good morning, boys.”

She dug her keys out of her bag and swiped her key fob against the security pad that Rip had installed, before pressing her thumb over another sensor. She pulled her headphones down around her neck as the door beeped softly three times then swung open.

Travis was in the kitchen looking over some of the logistical plans she’d typed up over the weekend, then emailed over a secure line. Garrett Flynn was across from him, and appeared deep in thought. It hadn’t been that long ago that Tessa had attended his wedding in New York. She thought of how handsome he’d looked in a tux. And his bride Marlene had looked like a fairy-tale princess.

The guys waved without looking up, engrossed in their work. One of the guys, Cooper Brennan, wasn’t in the office to assist. He was the resident computer expert, but was attending an all-day seminar, scoping out the latest technology. In the bodyguard business, it was vital to stay on the cutting edge of advancements.

Tessa’s office was down the hall from the kitchen, so she deposited her bag then returned for a caffeine fix. She covered the reception desk, but had her own office too.

“You know, you’re going to go deaf if you keep your music that loud.” Travis had a tone of teasing admonishment, and Tessa realized that her headphones were still blasting.

As she fumbled for the volume control, a pair of strong hands grabbed her waist and spun her around. She found herself staring at the solid wall of Hunter Davis’ chest. He pulled her around in a faux two-step to the tune booming from the depths of her headphones.

Tessa shrieked in fake annoyance as he swung her around the kitchen, while Travis and Garrett turned to watch.

“We’re trying to work here, Davis…could you and Tessa hit the ballroom somewhere else?” her boss said.

Hunter laughed. “Oh, come on, Travis, you probably know a few moves too. Don’t be shy.” He spun Tessa across the floor again, and this time she pulled her wrist out of his grip with the same move she’d used that very morning on her erstwhile boardwalk beau. She found the volume on her iPod and fixed Hunter with a glare that she didn’t really mean.

It was hard to be mad at these guys in a serious way. They were rough and tough on the outside, but she knew deep down they were kindhearted. She’d known Travis and Rip the longest, but had become friends with Garrett and his wife Marlene, too.

On the other hand, Hunter was newer to the team, and she wasn’t sure what to make of him. He’d flirted with her before, but that had been good-natured and from a distance. This was the first time she had been so close to him, and she wasn’t sure if her heart was beating the way it was because of his jerky dance moves, or for another reason.

“You’re right, Tessa, it’s too early for dancing. Can I make you a cup of coffee?” Hunter said.

Tessa shook her head. “No way. I don’t trust anyone to get my coffee right without explicit instructions. Even then, someone always screws it up. I’ll do it.”

Hunter smiled and she brushed past him. Her heart skipped a beat, but she did her best to ignore it. She refilled the water in the coffee machine and made her morning brew, very particular about how she liked it. Making coffee could be an intimate thing, something one did for a lover in the early morning hours after tumbling out of a bed you had just shared.

Something caught her eye and she glanced up. Hunter’s blue eyes met hers. “What?”

“Nothing. I’m just watching you make your coffee.”

“Why?” Tessa kept her voice neutral, then cursed as she spilled some coffee onto the marble counter. Hunter passed her a paper towel, and she wiped up the mess.

“No reason, just research; that’s my job, remember?”

Tessa snorted and sipped at her coffee. “I know exactly what you do around here, Hunter Davis.” She turned to leave the kitchen, then called over her shoulder, “Speaking of work, you’d better follow me. I’ve got something new for you.” Hunter followed her into her office and flopped onto the couch that sat against one wall.

Tessa pulled her laptop out of the bag and settled behind her desk before pulling out a file from the top drawer. Hunter’s name and Stealth ID were written on it. She looked over at the couch where Hunter lounged with his fingers laced behind his head, his long frame stretched across the black leather couch, his boots resting on one arm.

When Tessa cleared her throat dramatically, Hunter looked over in feigned disinterest. “So, are you sending me anywhere interesting today? Or just the same old stuff?”

Tessa cocked an eyebrow and flipped open the folder. “Funny you should ask. One of our VIPs is in need of a route plan with five different arrival and approach options. All routes must avoid the freeway and shouldn’t take longer than the conventionally obvious GPS route. Do you think you can handle that?”

Hunter swung his legs off the arm of the couch, and his boots hit the carpet with a heavy thud. “Is that all?” He gave her an easy smile, and Tessa’s stomach did a tiny flip.

She had to admit that Hunter’s easygoing nature and quick smile were melting some of her hard edges. But she’d been in this game long enough to know that it was stupid to fall for a coworker. But then again, there were worse things that could happen. Garrett had ended up married to one of their clients, after all. His wife was the movie star Marlene Parks, whom he’d rescued from a stalker.

She returned Hunter’s smile. “That’s all for now, but if you want some Brownie points, you might want to find an extra route option…just in case.” She gave him a knowing wink, and was rewarded with the widening of his devastating smile. Hunter took the file from her outstretched hand.

“Now, get out of here before Travis checks the time and realizes that you’re still here.” In response to her exaggerated stage whisper, Hunter snapped into a salute then exited her office.

Tessa smothered a giggle when the six-four former SEAL tiptoed out, as if to sneak past Travis and Garrett, when he went down the hallway. After Hunter left, she shook her head. For a serious military man, the guy definitely had his moments of spontaneity.

Tessa turned her attention back to her laptop and tried to focus on organizing the upcoming week. She had sent out the schedule on Saturday night, and now it was time to tighten up the rest of the appointments and bookings. They had four new client meetings this week, and the contents of the calendar for the month were a source of satisfaction.

It was hard not to be proud of how Stealth had grown, and she knew that Travis appreciated everything she did for the company. She grabbed another file from her desk and walked out into the kitchen area again.

“I still think that this is too simple…there has to be another way around this. If I have to go to this damn premiere, it has to be more secure than this.” Garrett stabbed the papers with his forefinger for emphasis.

Travis leaned back in his chair and rubbed a hand across his forehead. “Look, we’ve been over this a hundred times. If you’re not satisfied, we have to take it back to Rip. You’ll have backup, and Hunter can plan a new route.”

Travis sounded tired, but Garrett didn’t appear to be listening. He’d been ranting about attending the LA premiere of his wife Marlene’s latest film for weeks, and it didn’t help that there were press interviews involved.

Garrett had a short fuse when it came to being in the limelight with his movie-star wife, but the reminder of her brush with danger at the hands of an obsessed fan was clearly more than he could handle. “It’s not the route. The route is fine. It’s the event itself. If I can’t be sure that everything is secure, then what good am I?”

“Maybe we can use one of the new guys as a photographer?” Travis said. “Get someone in the crowd who blends in a little better? Someone less obvious than one of us.”

The tension rose, so Tessa inserted herself into the conversation. “I know you’re nervous about the press interviews, Garrett. If we have one of our guys in there, would you feel better?”

Garrett’s jaw stiffened, but he leaned back in his chair then nodded. “If I can’t be in the room, that’s the best option. I know she has to do the interviews.”

“I’ll pick one of the new guys, who won’t stand out. But he will be right there, every second of the interviews.”

“Okay.”

Travis gave Tessa a look of gratitude. Garrett was detail oriented and intense about his work, so when it came to Marlene’s safety, he could be like a dog with a bone.

“All right, then, we’ll get it settled,” Travis said. “The premiere isn’t for another two weeks. We’ll prep the team for the assignment and obtain the press credentials. Wyatt will be your backup.”

That should handle it. Wyatt Mercer was top-notch, a trusted member of the team, and recently back from a case in New York. With both Garrett and Wyatt on site at the premiere, it couldn’t fail.

Her boss looked relieved to have the matter sorted out. Tessa made a few notes on a Post-it and stuck it to her phone. She would deal with all of the details later. “Hey, bossman, it’s nine already. If you have a minute, we need to discuss this new client before they show up for the meeting.”

Garrett gathered up his papers and headed toward Rip’s command center. As he passed Tessa, he paused to squeeze her elbow in thanks, and she gave him a sunny smile. Once again, she was warmed by the way these stern men cared about the women in their lives.

Travis was tough as nails, but he adored his wife Melanie and his twin girls. It was a joy to watch them together. Garrett and Marlene were recently married and clearly in love. Tessa hoped she might be able to find someone too.

Tessa walked over to where Travis was seated and dropped the folder into his outstretched hand. “Thanks for that. I didn’t even think about the interviews; it’s not exactly my area of expertise.”

Tessa shrugged. “What would you do without me? It’s okay; you don’t have to say that everything would fall to pieces around you. I know it’s true.”

Travis laughed and opened the folder. “Whatever you say, Tessa. Now, sit down and let’s go through this. The clients will be here in about an hour, and we both know that expectations are high.” Tessa did as she was told and opened her notebook.