Vibrators were better than men in so many ways, Cyn Cooper decided. As she wove her way down a trail in the Smokey Mountains, her thoughts about her sex life were grim. At least vibrators actually got you off, and they couldn't betray you and get you fired. The hot August sun burning her fair skin, and the pack pinching her shoulders, barely penetrated her mental fog as she moped over how badly she'd screwed her chances with Delta Star. She brushed a wisp of blond hair away from her heated face and kept going. Getting placed on administrative leave one week out of basic training had to be a world record. Only someone with her bad karma could have done it.
Telling herself to suck it up, she tried to refocus on her pristine surroundings. The redbirds singing in the trees up ahead, and the wildflowers dotting the hiking trail, helped bring her serenity. She'd lick her wounds in private, get her head on straight, and march back into Bran Frost's office with a renewed sense of purpose.
Retreating to her grandparent's farm always gave her peace, even if they weren't around to visit with her. Her Grand's were off on their world cruise, a celebration of his retirement as local sheriff. She missed them both, their council. Even though she doubted she would have shared the news of her humiliating downfall, all at the hands of a handsome man.
Just proved you couldn't trust the lying bastards. She rolled her shoulders to work out the new kinks, as she pictured Jonas Brent's smiling face. She should have realized that Jonas, with his sweet southern twang and his blond good looks, had been too good to be true. Even his accent had been fake! Thank goodness she hadn't been stupid enough to go to bed with him.
A snap from the bushes caught her attention. Loud as a ricochet, it echoed off the steep cliff walls all around her making her shiver. Chilled, she suddenly noticed that the birds had fallen silent. Her heart pounding, she reached for the knife hidden at the scabbard under the waistband of her cargo shorts. Before she could completely unsheathe the her weapon, a scruffy man burst out of the thick scrub brush, his rifle pointed straight at her heart.
Her nose wrinkled as his foul stench reached her; and she stumbled back against a large boulder dotting the side of the path. The knife slipped from her lifeless fingers and clattered behind the rock. A look at his leering face told her he didn't notice. He was too busy ogling her breasts. She hunched her shoulders, her pink plaid camp shirt closing over her white tank top. She didn't want to give him ideas.
Revolted as the weirdo ogled her, she weighed her chances against him. She had her pepper spray and piece in her pack. If she was smart, she could take him. Wearing camouflage gear, he reminded her of a commando on patrol except that he was filthy with a two-week growth of stubble on his gaunt face. The hills seemed to breed weirdoes, but something told her he wasn't of the nub or goober variety. She assessed the wired look in his eyes and felt her hopes sink. He was sure as hell hopped up on something, not good. Worse, he'd gotten the drop on her. How could she have been so careless? Maybe it proved she didn't really have the chops to make it in this field.
Telling herself to cut the pity party, she decided that she could take him. He was armed and bigger than her petite five foot two, but at least she was playing with a full deck.
"Move," he said gesturing with his rifle.
Knowing she'd run out of options, she pushed away from the boulder and stepped in the direction he indicated and off the trail. Wincing as the briars scratched her legs, she slowed down, then let out a horrified gasp when he jabbed his rifle into her spine.
Biting her lip, she picked up the pace trying to ignore the scratches, cursing the fact that she'd worn cargo shorts instead of pants. Up ahead there was a break in the gloom of the pines, a clearing. Her nose wrinkled at the smell of wood smoke and something burning. Campers! She was saved.
She bolted through the trees into the clearing and froze as she got a very bad feeling. Six makeshift camouflaged tents were tucked into the shadows. This was no happy camping trip. Two women tending a cook fire scowled at her. She swallowed a growl of frustration. They weren't going to come to her rescue. At least there weren't any other men around.
At that thought, the foul smelling sentry let out a shrill whistle behind her, and she groaned knowing it was a signal. Footsteps crashed through the brush a moment later confirming her thoughts. A group of equally scruffy men poured out of the woods. What a bunch of cowards hiding in the woods. Her eyes narrowed with scorn as they surrounded her. To a man, they stared at her like they saw her as a piece of meat, making her cringe inside. She readied herself to fight glaring back at them. She'd kick all their asses.
A big, older, white haired man came out of a tent and languidly walked through the ring, bringing her thoughts of escape to a jagged halt. Silas Carver! Her breath caught as she took in his spooky, washed out eyes. The men deferentially slunk back showing that he was undeniably in charge. His survivalist group Proclaim was responsible for bombings and home grown terrorism throughout the south. Did Delta have any idea he was in the Smokeys? It would be a career saving coup, if she survived to tell them. The paranoid look Carver pinned her with was harsh; chilling her as she forced herself to breath deep, not give in to panic.
"What cha got here, Rat?" Carver asked the hopped up sentry as he stalked up to them.
She noticed that the older man stood just out of striking distance. Damn it, he was smart. She forced herself to relax, and tried to look non-threatening.
"Trouble," Rat said, spitting tobacco juice in her direction.
Cyn jerked out of range, repulsed. The only way out was to play innocent, and with her big blue eyes, she was good at it. Batting her eyelashes at Carver, she stepped forward, noting the flash of amusement in his eyes. He was a man and she could twist him, she decided, her smile tight. "I got separated from my hiking club. Would you gentlemen please be kind enough to point me the way to town?"
The guffaws of the men set her teeth on edge, but Carver didn't laugh. His eyes narrowed proving he was no fool. She didn't drop her smile, but instead stood loose, her hands empty, proving visually that she was unarmed and no threat to them.
Then she saw a new man surge through the group, and froze. Dark and masterful, he moved with the leashed energy of a panther, his brown eyes sharp as they slashed her with a furious look. She trembled in reaction, feeling exposed. Rafe Martinez, aka Diablo. Scruffy as the others, his air of confidence would have set him apart from the pack even if she hadn't known he was Delta Star. Stunned, she cataloged all his hunky features as relief surged through her making her dizzy...sultry mouth, killer body, and a thick longish mane of dark hair. She was saved, she felt like laughing. He had to be here working undercover.
He crossed the clearing, coming between her and Carver, making her step back. She'd often fantasized about Diablo; heck half the female agents had a crush on him. Would he remember her from the intro course he'd taught? His harsh gaze flicked at the empty scabbard sticking out of her waistband then up to the military pack she was wearing, and he scowled. She could practically feel him ice over and trembled in response. She knew the score the mission came first and careless agents were sacrificed if necessary. She watched his eyes narrow dangerously; would he betray her, sacrifice her for the mission? Her heart twisted as her mouth went dry.
She watched his gaze turn sensual as he focused on her lips for a beat and then slowly traveled down her body. Nerve ending sizzling, her body helplessly heated in response, her nipples tightening, and her sex dampening. She shuddered trying to bring her inappropriate response under control. Breathing deep, she took in his masculine scent, clean pine and him, and trembled.
"What the fuck's going on here, Carver," Rafe bit out as he pulled his gaze away from her. He turned to confront Carver. "Don't you remember we've got work to do, amigo?"
Cyn sighed, and relaxed feeling shielded, even if that hadn't been Rafe's intention. Tucked behind him she remembered her pepper spray, and fumbled for the straps of her pack.
"Well, we got us a little problem here, Diablo," Carver commented in a low conversational tone.
"So I noticed," Rafe said his focus remaining on Carver. "Who's the broad?"
Broad. She stopped digging for the pepper spray to glare at Rafe's broad back. Carver chuckled.
"Now that's why I hired you on, Diablo, your sharp eyes."
"Bull," Rafe said and laughed. "You hired me for my explosives capabilities after Frost fired me."
Cyn froze shocked by the casual statement. He had to be making that up. But he'd sounded so matter of fact and stood relaxed betraying no sign of tension. She peeked over his shoulder and noticed Carver's gloating smile. No! It couldn't be true...lord; she didn't want it to be. If it was, she was dead. They wouldn't talk so freely in front of her if they planned to let her go? She tensed, getting ready to run.
Carver spat. "Your capabilities so far have amounted to jack shit."
"Get me the proper equipment and I'll change your mind."
"There's always an excuse with you, ain't there." Carver said with a grin, "She claims she got separated from her hiking club. What do you say we slit her throat?"
At that, Rafe turned to spear her with a hot look, frowning at her hand in her pack. Her fingers slipped off the canister of pepper spray and she froze. His scowl told her he knew what she was up to.
"It'd be a hell of a waste of talent."
There were low male laughs all around.
Cyn's jaw dropped at the comment. The frank masculine appraisal in Rafe's eyes made her breath catch in her throat. Two strides brought him to her and he reached out to snag her arm, making her blood sizzle. As heat rushed through her, she burned with annoyance. She couldn't give in to his sexual spell, not if she wanted to be an effective agent.
"She's mine," he said his hand tightening on her arm.
Cyn gasped at the statement, but glancing out at the jealous glares of the others, she inched closer to him. At least he was trying to save her. His macho smile told her he liked her reaction and made her dig in her heels. "I don't..."
"Shut it," he barked, jerking her against him.
Her mouth clasped tight as her curves slammed up against his hard body. His heat, his essence, threatened to swamp her, and her knees wobbled. Blinking back tears as her emotions boiled over, she looked helplessly into his dark eyes. He muttered a swear word.
"Didn't say you could have a woman, Diablo," Carver said.
"I didn't ask," Rafe said, picking her up and tossing her over his shoulder.
Cyn gasped for breath as he slung her over his shoulder and carried her off like a wild cave man. She had a terrific view of his butt as he made for the edge of the clearing.