Heart of Stone
(Military romance / erotic)
Novella – 17,500 words
Randall Stone is the stuff of heroes, a mercenary given a dishonorable discharge from the army he has served with his life. Refusal to obey orders in favor of saving a team member’s life put a premature end to Stone’s illustrious career. But, the government is still interested in using the skills they've taught Major Rand Stone, and he continues to work as a freelance trouble shooter with his hand-picked team.
A playboy who enjoys women and his freedom, Stone shocks everyone when he falls in love with an unlikely woman. When an old enemy surfaces from Stone’s past, taking the one thing Randall will not lose, a deadly hunt begins. Robin Bourne is declared dead, killed in a car crash while Stone was on a mission – but in his soul, he knows she’s alive, and the mission ahead of him now is intensely personal. Backed with his team, Stone relentlessly pursues the old friend who’s dared to go after him by taking the woman he loves...
Jennifer stopped at the door to Rand’s office, her stomach lurching with sickening intensity when she spotted what held his attention so completely. Sighing, she shook off the sense of loss and went into the shadowy room.
“How many times are you going to watch that?”
Rand’s eyes flashed with annoyance when he turned to look at her. For several moments, he made no other indication of having heard her. Then he turned, hit the pause button on the DVD player to mute the sound, and leaned back in his chair. He tossed the remote onto a pile of paperwork.
“I thought you were going to Paris,” he commented.
“I am. This is where you can reach me.”
The shrug he gave her in response was not reassuring. Genuinely concerned, she dropped the slip of paper on the nearest stack of work, then perched on the edge of his desk and looked closer at him.
“When was the last time you slept without dreaming about her, Rand?”
“The day we buried her. Since then, it’s been constant.”
“Let her go,” she whispered. “This isn’t what Robin would want for you. She loved you too much.”
“This proves she’s not dead.”
His certainty created a flicker of exasperation in her. “That doesn’t prove a damn thing, Rand. We haven’t been able to verify the disc’s dating. There were no fingerprints. No trace of anything that could tell us where it came from.” She paused. “It might not even be Robin.”
Even she heard the lack of conviction in her last words, and Rand laughed.
“You don’t believe for a minute that I can’t recognize any part of her, Jennifer,” he said, his voice quiet. “Her face might not be in the picture, but I know it’s her.”
Jennifer knew he was right. She just didn’t like what that correctness meant.
“He likes to touch, but not to inflict pain,” Rand mused, turning the recording on again.
The comment took Jennifer back to a mission she would have preferred not to remember. Rand had once served with a man named Jason MacIntyre. He was, like Randall, a highly trained soldier, and had once been as tied to Donald Brookman as Stone and their team were. MacIntyre had gone rogue a couple of years back, and when Brookman had given Rand the nasty assignment of bringing him in, the entire mission had proven a mistake. Mac had planned a detailed trap, and they’d fallen into it. Most of the team had been captured and used to bait Stone.
Rand had once owed the man his life. Despite the bad blood between them, Rand had shown Mac a mercy that would never have been accorded him had their situations been reversed. He made the difficult decision to let Mac disappear rather than let him face the wrath of both the government and the military. It had been one of the few times she’d ever see Donald Brookman genuinely furious with Stone, and it was not a pleasant memory. No more than the recollection of Mac’s slimy come-ons to her during her time as his prisoner. Her mind pulled forth the memory, almost against her will…
“…Some people like to do things to their captives… painful things… I like to touch… to inflict pleasure…” he murmured, leaning in to her.
Jennifer repressed her flinch and met his eyes with a cool composure that she’d spent years acquiring.
“Do you sleep with Stone?”
She smiled. This was pretty much the conversation she’d been expecting. She let the pause lengthen, chose her moment for effect. “You’re not prepared to believe me if I say yes or no, so why bother?”
“Because maybe I will believe you, if you give me the right answer, of course.”
“Of course. But there is no right answer.”
The words tumbled back into the forefront of Jennifer’s mind, freezing her blood in her veins as she considered what they might have overlooked in Robin’s case.
It took a moment for his concentration to refocus, and he straightened in his chair when he saw the intensity of her gaze.
“Do you know where Jason MacIntyre is?”
Startled, Rand shifted until his elbows were on the desktop, and he was looking directly at her.
“It’s possible…just possible, that he’s the one in this recording.”
“Why, Jenn?” Rand snapped at her. “What haven’t you told me before?”
“Something you said, about liking to touch,” she answered warily. “He used those words when he had us in his camp. He likes to touch, but not to inflict pain. He gets a kick out of humiliating women, and he does it by making his victim feel good then watching her twist herself into knots because it did feel good.” She paused. “I know because he did it to me, Rand.”
Rand shook his head, uncertain of precisely what he was attempting to deny. Part of him was rejecting the possibility that the woman he loved was in MacIntyre’s hands. Yet the more rational part of his mind sensed it could be true.
He reached for the phone, but the gesture was aborted when the man he intended to call walked into the office.
“I’m glad you’re still here, Jennifer,” Donald Brookman noted with a nod. “I’m afraid your plans for Paris are going to have to wait.”
Rand’s frown deepened, and after Brookman took a closer look at him, his gaze moved to the image frozen on the big screen television that was usually concealed behind a wall. He sighed.
“She’s dead, Rand,” he said quietly. “Let it go.”
“Let it go?” Rand repeated, voice icy with contained fury. “I will not ‘let it go,’ Brookman. She’s alive, and I intend to find her!”
“We’ve been through this already,” Donald began, only to be stopped by the sheer force of Stone’s anger when the younger man rose and glared at him.
“Whatever you came for is going to have to wait.”
Brookman looked to Jennifer, and he must have read something in her expression because he turned back to Rand and studied him intently. “What’s happened?”
“We may have a lead on what really happened to Robin,” Jennifer said, her voice soft, caution in her look and tone.
Rand didn’t so much as look at her; his eyes were still locked in silent combat with Brookman.
“Robin is dead,” Donald said.
Brookman’s decree was met with stony silence, and tension poured into the room, enshrouding the three people present.