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He’ll do anything to protect her.
Blackhawk Security search and rescue operative Max Logan’s assignment to protect a witness quickly becomes a race against the clock when he saves Emma Chastaine from an attack. Determined to keep her safe until she’s able to testify against her former boss, he struggles to stay on assignment as Emma proves she’s more than capable of protecting herself. And sexy as hell. But the gravitational pull between him and this witness just might be enough for Max to consider risking it all.
Discovering her boss wants her dead is enough to keep Emma Chastaine on the edge of caution. But now that she’s become the target of a hitman, the only one standing between her and certain death is the seriously attractive search and rescue operative determined to make her trust again. As passion begins to break down the barriers she’s set between them, a new kind of tempting danger closes in, the kind that will either make or break her.
“You should’ve kept running, Emma.”
Fear raced through Emma Chastaine’s system as the man straddling her chest pressed the knife into her throat. She didn’t want to die. Shaking her head slightly, she forced herself to see through the shadows, past the black ski mask, to pick up on the slight inflections in her attacker’s voice. In vain. Her heart pounded too loud behind her ears, her breath strangled as it sawed in and out of her chest. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. There was only pain, the slight pinch at the base of her neck where the blade cut into her, the pressure building in her lungs. A tear streamed from the corner of her right eye into her hairline.
“Now, beg.” He leaned into her, a hint of salt and cigarettes surrounding her. The man who’d broken into her small rental cottage on the beach lifted the blade, scooping the tears from her face onto the flat surface. “Beg for me to let you go. Beg for your life.”
This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t real. She’d only done her job. Her heart threatened to explode straight out of her chest.
Something slipped down her neck—blood?—and she fought to control the outburst of sobs clawing up her throat. She’d only done her job, and now they wanted her dead. But she wasn’t going to beg. Wasn’t going to give her killer the satisfaction. Shutting her eyes tight, Emma curled her fingers into fists. Her dad had taught her how to defend herself. She’d spent a huge chunk of her childhood on the mat with him before he’d left. She just had to calm down. Had to remember. Her attacker had pinned her arms beneath his knees and sat on her chest, but her legs were free. “No.”
The word growled from between her lips.
His dark eyes widened, the knife faltering in his hand for the briefest of seconds.
Emma didn’t wait for another chance. Hiking her knees into his back, she locked her ankles around his neck and thrust as hard as she could. Her momentum slammed him back into the floor and hauled her upward. Every cell in her body caught fire as he swiped the blade across her arm. A surprised gasp escaped her a split second before he landed a hard right fist to her jaw. She’d forgotten to secure his arm when he hit the hardwood. Blood filled her mouth, threaded through her fingers from the injury on her arm. She clawed toward the kitchen, toward something—anything—she could use as a weapon. There. The plate she’d dropped when he’d come at her from behind while she’d been making herself dinner. Shattered pieces of ceramic coated in marinara sauce. They were just out of reach.
“No one has gotten away from me, Emma.” He locked his hand around one of her ankles and pulled her back. “You won’t be any different.”
Yes, she would. Her fingernails caught in the hardwood floor grooves, one ripping free, but it was nothing compared to the pain in her arm, the throbbing in her face. Twisting around, Emma kicked high, landing a blow to her attacker’s sternum. He dropped his hold. She pushed to her feet and ran for the cottage’s back door. Through the kitchen, past the small dining table. She twisted the deadbolt, reaching for the chain. But she wasn’t fast enough.
He ripped her back by her long hair, but Emma caught herself before he had a chance to thrust her head into the door. She wasn’t going to die. Not here. Not now. She wouldn’t be another one of her boss’s victims.
“You’re going to want to get your hands off of her.” The sound of a bullet being chambered barely registered through the pounding in her head. His voice. Low, dangerous. Warning coiled low in her stomach as her pulse slowed. “Right the hell now.”
Wrenching her around, her attacker maneuvered her into his chest and placed the tip of the blade at her throat again. Using her as a shield. Or a hostage. A brush of salted humid breeze swept through the cottage, clearing the smell of cigarettes from her lungs. “By the time you’ve pulled the trigger, I’ll have slit her throat.”
“Go ahead, take that chance.” A thick beard and tussled hair only added to the depth in the darkest green eyes she’d ever seen.
Muscled, with veins determined to escape from beneath his skin, the man aiming a gun at her assailant took a single step forward. “I dare you. Because either way, you’re getting a bullet to the head for putting your hands on my client.”
Her attacker fanned his gloved grip over the blade’s handle. One second. Two. “Are you really willing to risk her life?”
Emma didn’t dare blink, didn’t dare move. She’d been forced to leave Columbia, South Carolina, finally found safety here in Charleston the past few months. She’d changed her name, gotten a job as an accountant for a small art gallery in town. But it’d all been for nothing. The danger had followed her. Air rushed from her lungs as realization hit. It would always follow her. As long as her boss dodged federal charges, she’d never be safe.
“I’ll give you to the count of three to drop your weapon,” her mysterious rescuer said. “One. Two.”
This was her life to protect. Hers and no one else’s. She’d worked hard for it, and not even Carter Hudson could take that from her. No matter how many goonies he sent after her. Emma thrust her elbow deep into the bundle of nerves of her attacker’s solar plexus. His rough exhale hit the back of her neck as she slammed her heel onto the top of his foot before she shoved him back. Her attacker crashed through the window pane of her door, his weight hauling his feet off the floor, and landed onto the small cement porch. She fought to control her breathing, blinked as a wave of dizziness crept in, and in the next moment, he was gone.
Moonlight gleamed off the blade he’d dropped on the floor.
“Are you all right?” Out of the corner of her eye, the man with the gun moved in.
Emma lunged for the knife, wrapping her fingers around the handle, and lifted it up. “Don’t. Don’t come any closer.”
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