Renegades Book 3
After a tragic incident in Afghanistan leaves Master Sergeant Nathan Ryker the only man standing in his tight-knit team, he spirals into an alcohol-and-sex induced escape. A call from his lifelong buddy pulls Ryker from the shadows with a request for help with his stunt company’s latest blockbuster. If Ryker can survive the next three weeks of leave and get back to his remaining men, he might just be all right. But a sexy woman who can take his mind off his trauma is too hard to resist, and when he hooks up with Renegades’ sultry, snarky office manager, his sanity takes a backseat to his first glimpse of a future he isn’t sure he deserves.
Still reeling from a bitter romantic betrayal, Rachel Hart wants nothing more than an uncomplicated hookup. So when the mysterious Nathan seduces her with a little dirty talk and one delicious kiss, Rachel drowns all her good sense in a Mandarin and soda and gives herself over to a night of sexual bliss. But her memories tarnish in the morning light when Rachel discovers his real identity and his link to Renegades. Her job and her friends are the only thing holding her life together, and she won’t be ruined by one sultry night with this damaged and dangerously sexy man.
Read Chapter One
Rachel Hart battled with a gaggle of stunt harnesses beneath the blazing Los Angeles Indian summer sun until the muscles of her arms ached. Sweat trickled along the indentation of her spine and dampened the back of her new sundress.
“I should have known better than to wear something cute on location,” she complained into her Bluetooth headset, jerking against nylon, canvas…even freaking Kevlar until her back and shoulders ached. “This is a disgrace. I can’t believe you take such shitty care of the very equipment that saves your stupid asses.”
A few harnesses pulled free, and the momentum of her struggle knocked her off balance. She dropped the gear into the dirt at her feet, and stared down at the tangle, hands on hips, panting. “Who is responsible for this mess?”
“Keaton.” The blame came over her headset in two distinct voices—Duke’s and Troy’s.
“Just throw me under the bus, why don’t you?” Keaton said. “Assholes.”
Rachel turned from the equipment compartment beneath the Renegades’ on-site stunt trailer and squinted up the mountain face. Duke, Troy, and Keaton hung at different levels, their forms outlined by the creamy granite at their backs. Two cameramen hung nearby, one filming from a higher vantage point, the other filming from the lower, equipment mounted on their shoulders.
“This might take a while, and I’ve got a bunch of other stuff to do. Which is more important to you, this harness or your paychecks?”
“Paychecks,” all three men said at the same time.
“But Jax is on his way over to pick it up,” Troy added.
The owner of Renegades, Jax Chamberlin, had been performing another stunt across town that morning. “Now?” She turned back to the knot of straps and latches, and even the thought of fighting with them again made the aches in her body deepen. “I thought he’d be filming all day.”
“He nailed the fall on the first take,” Keaton said. “They wrapped early.”
Rachel growled, crouched, and wrestled one of the harnesses free, then gritted her teeth and untangled two more. “Little notice would be nice, guys.” She held up two harnesses, both of which seemed identical. “What does this thing look like?”
“It’s the Zero G,” Troy said.
“Full body,” Keaton added, “with side D rings.”
She blew out a breath, ruffling the strands of her hair that had fallen from the messy bun held together by pencils. “That’s a little like me asking you to get the crackle nail polish from my makeup drawer, which, at last count, contained seventy-two bottles.”
A chorus of groans filled her ears.
“It’s black,” Duke said.
“Oh.” She drew out the word, staring into the dregs of the trailer. Ninety percent of the harnesses were black. “That’s helpful, Duke.”
Inside the trailer, the phone rang. “Shit.” She dropped the rig and started around the front. “I have to get the phone.”
“Rachel—” Troy said, irritation in his voice.
“I’m waiting for Precision to call me back—” She turned the corner, her mind on the risk assessment consulting company that held the key to success for the last stunt in the Bond film, and found a UPS man blocking the stairs with a cart of boxes.
He looked up from his clipboard, his middle-aged face drawn with fatigue, sweat glistening across his forehead and turning the chest of his brown uniform shirt dark. “Delivery for Renegades. Where would you like it?”
“Um…delivery?” Her mind skipped through the orders she’d recently placed, but had no idea what could be in these boxes or where they should go. She squeezed between the boxes and the arm rail to get up the steps. “Let me just get this…”
She jogged up the stairs, her toes squeezing in the tips of boots designed for style, not activity, another fashion mistake for a stunt site. At her desk, she leaned across, reaching for the phone. Her pen holder tipped over, and pens, pencils, a letter opener, and scissors spilled across the surface and onto the floor. “Renegades,” she answered and got a dial tone in her ear. “Dammit.” She slammed the phone down and hit her paperclip holder. The top flew, spewing multicolored clips everywhere.
“We could use the Matrix if you can’t find the Zero G,” Keaton was saying in her ear.
“Or the Yates,” Duke added. “It might be easier to find. It’s orange.”
“We can’t use an orange harness on this shoot, dumb shit.” Troy’s voice came over the connection. “That’s not exactly something you can hide from the camera.”
“Ma’am,” the UPS man called up the stairs. “I’m sorry, but this delivery took me way outside my normal route, and I’m really behind. Can I drop these somewhere for you, or do you want me to just leave them here? They’re kind of heavy.”
The ring of her cell phone chimed from her purse on the floor. “Oh my God,” she murmured. “Kill me now.”
“Excuse me?” the UPS man asked.
“That’s a little drastic,” Keaton said. “It’s just a harness.”
Rachel pulled the Bluetooth from her ear and dropped it on the desk, satisfied with the chorus of pained curses that drifted from the device. She turned to the UPS man and said, “Leave them there. I’ve got lots of big, strong guys to move them for me.”
Stepping behind her desk, she pulled her cell from her purse. The display read: MOM. Rachel closed her eyes in dread and lowered into her chair. “Criminy.” She pressed Receive. “Hey, Mom.”
“Honey, why aren’t you answering your phone? I’ve been trying to call you all day.”
Rachel closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. Outside, boxes thudded on the ground, kicking up dust, which wafted into the trailer and stung Rachel’s eyes. “Busy day.” One that felt like it would never end. “What’s up?”
“I was hoping you could come home this weekend. Your dad and I miss you.”
Rachel sighed. “Not this weekend, I’m sorry. Work is really crazy right now. I’ll try to get away as soon as things quiet down.”
“But Nickie will be here.” Her mother’s voice rose with hope, but Rachel’s shoulders lowered with dread. “I know she wants to see you.”
Rachel had to force herself not to ask if Dante was coming with her. “No she doesn’t. You want her to see me.”
“She does. She asked me to call you and see if you’d come home.”
Bitter betrayal welled in Rachel’s belly and rose to tighten her chest. She picked up the fan on the floor at her feet and held it in front of her neck. “Then why didn’t she call me herself?”
“You don’t answer her calls.”
God, she didn’t have the patience for this. “If I don’t answer her calls, what makes either of you think I’ll drive three hours to see her?” She set the fan on her blotter. “I’ve got to go, Mom. I’m in the middle of a hundred things—”
“Rachel,” her mother pleaded. “She wants to talk.”
“Good for her. She can talk all she wants, just not to me, because I don’t want to hear her. And I sure as hell don’t want to see her.”
“Honey, it’s been six months—”
“So what does that mean? That I should be over it? That I should just forget? Go on like nothing ever happened?”
“No, of course not. But she’s reaching out—”
“Look.” Rachel cut her mother off with a stern tone, then took a deep breath. “I know this is hard on you and Dad.” She pressed her fingers against closed eyes. “I wish Nicole had made different choices. Wish she’d put someone else’s feelings before her own for once. But she didn’t. She never has. And honestly, I don’t think she’s even capable.”
A familiar impasse settled between her and her mother, and silence filled the line. Rachel’s heart felt heavy, which only stirred a deeper anger toward her gorgeous, selfish younger sister.
“I’m sorry, Mom, but this time, I’m not willing to just forgive and forget.” She stood and looked at the mess she’d made of her desk. “I’ll call you later. Love you.”
Rachel disconnected and squeezed her cell until her palm stung, which kept her from hurling the phone across the trailer.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs. “Got the harness?”
Jax filled the doorway in all his six-foot-two, muscle-bound, ex-movie-star glory. The edges of his dark hair stuck to his sweaty, dirt-streaked face. His jeans were covered in dust, his T-shirt ripped at the hem.
“I’m still sorting them out.” She moved around her desk again. “The guys just told me you needed it, and Keaton is a damn slob with the harnesses. Wait till you see that nightmare.”
“I can hear you…” drifted over the Bluetooth.
She reached for the thumb-size device, said, “Not anymore,” and powered the receiver off.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Jax said, grinning. “I’ll tackle the harness mess if you make a pickup run to the airport.”
Rachel slumped and leaned her ass against her desk. She glanced at the clock on the wall behind Jax. “LAX at rush hour on a Friday.” She crossed her arms. “You really hate me, don’t you?”
“Sorry, honey. It’s Ryker. The airline has changed his flight three times, and he just called to let me know he’s coming in today instead of tomorrow morning. This shoot is going to run late tonight, so I got him a room at the Crowne. All you have to do is drop him off.”
Ryker. His name brought fluttering memories of the flirty, snarky conversation they’d had over the phone a little over a week ago. If she had to battle the 405 parking lot, she couldn’t think of a more interesting pickup. She been wondering if he was as sexy as his voice, but…
“If he’s just going to the Crowne, why am I picking him up? Why can’t he just catch the shuttle like everyone else? It runs between the Crowne and the airport every fifteen minutes.”
“I need you to bring him the bridge plans so he can look them over tonight. We’re closing in on a real time crunch here. “Have you heard from Townsend today?”
Rachel winced internally as she rounded the desk, picked up her purse, fished out her keys, and lifted the strap over her shoulder. She didn’t know what she’d do if the contracting blaster wasn’t able to fit this bridge explosion into his schedule.
“Not yet, but he usually calls late, after he gets off the jobsite.” She picked up a roll of plans from a shelf near the door. “You know I’m going to be a mad woman by the time I get to the airport, right?”
His mouth curved into the cute grin that drove his girlfriend, Lexi, crazy. “More than usual?”
She pushed off the desk with a smirk, and started toward the door.
“Ryker’s coming in on American. Terminal four.”
“How will I know him?”
Jax shrugged. “I’ve never met him. I’ll ask Troy and let you know.”
“If he suggests I stand at baggage claim with a sign that reads ‘Ryker,’ slap him for me. And have Troy send me the guy’s flight information too, please.”
God, she was so not looking forward to the stop-and-go, the cutting in, the blaring horns…
At the door, she paused an poked Jax’s rigid shoulder with her index finger. “You. Owe. Me. Big-time.”