Authors: Lora Leigh
In memory of those who can never come home.
The warriors, the men and women whose courage and determination, whose loyalty and dedication to their country demanded the ultimate sacrifice.
My prayers for your loved ones, your wives, parents, children and friends are whispered nightly. My dream that your sacrifice was not in vain, is an ever present thought.
Your blood was precious, your laughter is missed, and your dreams though not realized, will never be forgotten.
You are the ultimate hero, and your precious light will shine forever in the minds, the hearts, and the freedoms you have provided for us.
May Heaven hold you in its embrace, as we shall always hold you in our hearts.
To Lisa Cesa, thanks for all the help and advice. It’s not always easy to find someone willing to give their time and friendship as you have, and it’s greatly appreciated.
Uncle Ronnie and Aunt Sug. I’ve missed you more than you know, and having you in my life once again is a gift I’ll never forget.
And to Bret. You’re growing up too fast, becoming a man too soon. But my pride and joy in you knows no bounds. Thanks for understanding, for supporting, and most of all, just for being you.
She was a vision of beauty.
Too fucking young, but her eyes weren’t those of a twenty-two-year-old. They were the eyes of a woman who had seen too much, who had known too much danger, too much pain.
Jordan watched as she went through the strenuous training maneuvers the Elite Operations backup team was putting her through and wondered how the hell he was going to say no to her.
She wasn’t strong enough to match the Elite Operations agents in physical strength or endurance, but she was more than a match for them in speed and ingenuity.
“She has no place to go, Jordan. She’s spent her life running from her father and her brother. She doesn’t have the education or the job skills to step out of this life. This is all she has.” Kira Richards stood beside him, the former CIA asset somber, persuasive as she attempted to smooth over the anger Jordan knew he wasn’t hiding.
He’d arrived at the training facility to check the status of his nephew, now known as Noah Blake, as well as the other operatives that were a part of his Elite Operations command. He hadn’t expected to find this tiny, sprite of a woman with masses of red hair, haunted green eyes and a too sad face sparring with the nephew in question.
“Elite Operations isn’t an orphanage, Kira,” he reminded her, careful to keep his tone cold, emotionless.
He couldn’t show the chink he knew this young woman had put in his defenses the first time he had met her two years before in Aruba during the Diego Fuentes operation. The operation involving Kira’s now husband, Ian, and his father Diego Fuentes, had been rife with danger. And there the girl had been, desperate to end the life of death and misery her father had waged to find her for nearly twenty years.
Her eyes had been shattered then, filled with desperation and fear that the plot to bring down the terrorist, Sorrell, wouldn’t succeed.
But she had been game. She’d thrown everything she had into revealing the identity of the man who had destroyed her mother and who had tried to destroy her.
“Elite Operations isn’t an orphanage, but we owe her,” Kira reminded him forcefully. “You know we do. Besides, she would be perfect in base operations. She knows communications, she knows how to organize things. Give her a chance.”
He glanced at the woman at his side. It wasn’t a request, it was an order. Make it happen. That was what she was saying. Just make it happen.
“You’re a contract asset for the Ops, Kira,” he reminded her. “This isn’t your decision to make. Nor is it up to those men out there.” He waved his hand at the training room viewed through the two way mirror he stood behind.
“The whole team has more or less adopted her, Jordan,” she informed him. “You can’t get out of this. If you don’t take her, then the backup team will.”
Hell, he had very little control over the Elite backup team. He couldn’t order Reno or Clint to do shit and he knew it. But he owed them, and he knew that as well. Just as he knew that working with them would be a damned sight more dangerous than being confined to the Elite Operations base would be. “She would fit in perfectly as your personal assistant as well as mine in communications,” Kira went on to say. “We’ve been in operation long enough that you know we need someone to fill the spot. She would be perfect for it.”
She would be perfect to make him crazy, that was what he knew. The few times he had been in contact with her, his blood pressure had nearly gone through the damned roof, and his cock had nearly burst from his jeans.
The need to fuck her had been so damned overwhelming that for the first time in years Jordan had considered breaking his own rule. Never fuck nor become close to his female operatives.
Losing one of them posed the risk of too much distraction. It was a distraction he could ill afford when the lives of the entire team depended on his ability to think straight.
She was eight years younger than he was, she was looking for a life, for a battle to replace the one she had fought for so many years. The battle to bring her terrorist father to justice. But he knew the dangers of not letting her in, the danger to her, and that terrified him.
Sorrel’s allies would find her and exact vengeance for the terrorist and white slavers death. The thought of the hell they would put her through before they killed her was enough to give him nightmares.
He knew the risk to himself as well as the team in letting her become involved. She was young, she had no official training, other than what she had received in her desperation to survive over the years. She was an impulsive redhead, and she was weakness.
“She’s not Catherine, Jordan. She’s not a field agent, and she has no desire to be one.”
And of course Kira would know exactly why he didn’t want her there.
Jordan turned away from her. She had known Catherine, though not very well. Hell, they had worked for the same damned agency in the same line of work. Except Catherine hadn’t survived it, because of him. Because he hadn’t been able to protect her and the unborn child she and her husband had dreamed of having. Because she had been a close friend, and when she had placed herself in a situation he hadn’t been prepared, he’d dropped the ball.
“I never said she was Catherine,” he stated coldly. “I said we’re not an orphanage. Bringing her in would be a risk.”
“But you’ll bring her in,” she demanded, but with just enough respect that he couldn’t deny the request out of pride..
Jordan sighed heavily. The knowledge of the debt he owed Kira, her husband Ian, and her Ian’s SEAL team was never lost on him either.
Together, they had saved his nephew, dragged him out of hell and even now, worked to heal the wounds inflicted on Noah’s soul.
Besides that, there was also the fact that they were a working unit now. Elite Operations and its backup team was a cohesive unit and throwing a wrench in the works over their choice of a base member wasn’t in his best interests.
It was the girl in question though, and the risk she posed, not so much to the unit, but to his own self control.
“Bring her in.” He heard his voice harden and he knew that the fact that he didn’t agree with the choice wouldn’t be lost on Kira.
“That’s all I needed.” Satisfaction filled her voice, and when he turned to look at her, he saw the amusement in her soft gray eyes.
“This is a mistake, Kira,” he informed her, knowing the anger was slipping past his careful control.
She stared back at him, her lips quirking as an unholy gleam of wicked laughter sparked in her gaze. “Why? Because you get hard for her? Think of it this way, Jordan, she’ll add a little spice to your life.” Despite the flippancy in her tone, understanding filled her gaze.
“I don’t need spice in my life.”
“Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to live again,” she said gently. “You’re like Nathan, almost dead inside. Catherine wouldn’t have wanted that for you, and I know Killian doesn’t. She was your friend, Jordan, not your albatross.”
As he watched her walk away he felt the familiar guilt, the knowledge that even Kira didn’t know the truth.
He was the reason Catherine was dead. And he would never let himself forget that. Because of it, he refused to involve himself in the lives of his agents.
He was their commander. He wasn’t their friend.
He turned back to the two-way mirror that provided a view into the training room and watched Tehya again. He had let her into the Ops, but he would never let her into his bed, or into his life.
And he swore he would never let her into his heart.
Six Years Later
Riordan Malone Sr. looked up from the marble gravestone and his silent goodnight, his fingers caressing the sun-warmed stone as though he could reach the woman fate had taken from him so many decades before.
Wild Irish and soft as a summer morn, his Erin had given his life meaning, then she had given him two sons that a man could be proud of.
Courageous, brave, strong sons.
His eldest, Grant, may have been forced to appear less than honorable, less than courageous for a while, but he had done it to protect his own sons and the sacrifices he had made were no less than Rory Sr. would make himself.
His youngest son, however, the one his wee Erin had called her mini-Rory. He was the one Riordan “Rory” Malone Sr. was perhaps the most proud of.
“Jordan.” A smile tugged at Rory’s lips. His son always approached him as though he were never certain of his reception. As though he were unaware of the power of a father’s love.
He watched as Jordan moved across the small cemetery, his long legged, powerful form tall and strong as he walked up to his mother’s grave.
Rory watched as Jordan touched the top of the stone lightly as he had done for so many years. In the gesture, Rory saw things, sensed things he knew his son would never be comfortable with him knowing.
He saw a son’s regret, a man’s aching loneliness, but even harder to see was the flash of weariness. Jordan was growing tired, and that was dangerous for a warrior like him.
“I miss her.” Rory patted the stone gently as he turned his gaze from his son and stared at the marble instead.
She was his talisman, his Erin. She had been his boyhood dream, his teenage love, and finally, she had become his wife. The mother of his sons, the foundation of his soul. She’d made him swear to linger on this earth without her to see to the happiness and safety of her boys. And he’d done as she asked. He had pushed himself through each day with only that purpose in mind.
This son, ahh, but this one, he tested an old man’s strength.
He looked toward Jordan’s truck before bringing his gaze back to his son. “You’ve not brought young Tehya with you then?” he asked.
Jordan’s jaw tightened as it always did whenever Rory asked about the girl. As though Jordan somehow thought that if he didn’t speak of her, then he wouldn’t feel for her.
Rory almost chuckled at the thought, but he doubted his son would appreciate it.
“She’s packing.” There was a snap to Jordan’s voice that had Rory’s brows lifting in surprise.
He nodded. “You told me last month she would be.”
He was saddened to see that team coming to an end. They had given Jordan purpose, Rory had often thought. And their leaving meant young Tehya would be going as well, and that, he feared, might be the breaking point for Jordan.
“I have a few things I have to do after everyone’s off base,” Jordan all but growled. “Do you need anything before I leave?”
Rory shook his head. “Noah and Sabella, they take care of things.” He nodded toward the house. “Those children of theirs may give me gray hair, but I’ll be fine. I was just about to bring the groceries inside.”
He had to grin as he thought of the miniature Nathan, or rather Noah as he was known now. Noah and Sabella’s eldest son was already the image of his Da, though he had enough of his mother’s features to hide the fact he was one hundred percent Malone.
“I’ll get them,” Jordan said before glancing down at the tombstone once more.
Ah, the boy had more than groceries on his mind.
Disappointment lanced him though as, rather than speaking, Jordan turned and walked toward the truck.
Watching, Rory sighed as his son collected several bags and moved into the small cabin beyond.
“Such stubbornness, Erin,” he sighed. “He takes that after you, lass. I was never such a hard-headed man.”
He knew, if she still stood by his side, then she would be rolling her eyes in amused disbelief.
That had been his Erin.
“Ah lass, when will he see?” he asked her softly. “Irish Eyes, he has them. He’ll never be free from her now.”
Only since the red-head had arrived at the Elite Ops base had Jordan gotten that bright sapphire color to his eyes. Irish Eyes.
They revealed more, Rory guessed, than his son would have preferred. And Miss Tehya…well, she was the cause right enough. Rory knew his boys, and he knew their hearts. Just as he knew Jordan’s heart belonged only to that young lass.
Jordan could play the devil till hell froze over, but he couldn’t fool his father. He was suffering from his stubbornness and his denial.
“What do we do now, Erin?” he asked. “How do we save our boy now?”
He’d been asking his wife that question for far too many years.
His fingers stroked over the stone as Jordan returned, his gaze now calm, though icy cold.
Yes, this was how Jordan handled all those pesky emotions he refused to allow himself to deal with. He froze them out.
“I’ve got to head back, Da,” Jordan told him. “Is there anything more you need?”
Rory shook his head slowly. “Is there anything
Jordan’s jaw clenched. “No games today, Da,” he warned him.
Rory chuckled. “I’d like to see the lass before she’s out of our lives forever,” he said. “Once she leaves, Jordan, she’ll never come back without your invitation. I’d like to tell her goodbye.”
Jordan looked away for a long moment before giving a sharp nod. “I’ll let her know,” he promised, and Rory almost grunted mockingly at the promise.
He let his boy get away with it though.
When the truck had sped away, Rory turned back to Erin’s grave.
“Far too much like you, my love,” he whispered again. “Like talking to a brick wall.” He smiled at the memories. “But a fine woman you were Erin.”
And God knew, he missed her.
He missed her until he felt withered, lost without her as he struggled to keep his promise to her.
“Work on him love,” he finally sighed. “Lead him in the right direction.” This time, his fingers clenched on the stone. “I’m ready to come home to ya, Erin. Help me, just this one time.”
He’d never asked it of her before, but he was damned tired.
It had been far too many years since he had seen her, far too many years since he had loved her.
And he was ready to go home.
She was a vision of beauty.
Standing in the dim light of the silent communications room of the Elite Operations Alpha Base in the heart of Big Bend National Park, Tehya Talamosi, looked like a woman awaiting the lover that would fulfill her naughtiest dreams. A lover that had waited far too long, and left her far too lonely if the expression on her face was any indication.