Book 8 in the Silver Valley PD Series
When she is targeted by a vicious mobster, a past love is her only hope
When a Russian gangster targets Coral Staufer, she is desperate for help. Coral stumbles across an undercover agent none other than the man she loved and lost, Trevor Stone. Trevor will risk anything to stop her from becoming a mob casualty…even risk his career to protect Coral. But when their past love reignites, their entire mission—and very lives—are at stake.
Heat Level: Boat Rocker
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Coral expected to have nightmares and insomnia about the previous six hours, but instead a warm bath had relaxed her and she dropped into a deep, restorative slumber. She had vague memories of Trevor waking her every two hours, but she’d gone right back to sleep each time. Now she woke to the smell of her favorite food.
She blinked, at first thinking she was back in California, still with Trevor, and then as sleep fled, she thought she was still in the camper, but this bed was far more comfortable, the sheets finer than any she’d purchased as a single woman.
The safe house.
The events of the past evening rushed back in, along with her trepidation at keeping the lockbox’s location and very existence from the LEA team. From Trevor.
A knock at the door sounded before she had a chance to get out of bed.
“Can I come in?” Trevor’s bright morning voice. He’d always been better at sunrise than she, ready to start the day.
“Uh, sure?” She pushed herself into a sitting position, the clean, thick cotton T-shirt she’d found in the bathroom linen closet enough cover for her braless breasts.
Trevor stuck his head in, and the scent of his soap along with the bacon streamed in full force. His hair was damp, and she couldn’t stop her mind from wandering to the memories of so many early mornings with him, fresh out of the shower, and ending up back in bed and then the shower together after they’d made love.
Let. It. Go.
“Good morning. Breakfast is served when you’re ready. Your favorite.” He gave her a dazzling smile and she clutched the bedsheets, needing something to anchor her.
“You didn’t need to do that. What time is it?”
He nodded toward her nightstand. “The time’s always projected up onto the overhead from the unit on your table.”
She looked up, and sure enough, there was 0735 lit up against the cream-colored ceiling.
“Wow. It feels so much later. I really crashed. Thanks for only waking me enough to make sure I was alive.” She couldn’t help the grin that tugged at her swollen eye.
“You needed it. Take your time, and when you’re up, help yourself in the kitchen.”
“I will. Thanks.”
Trevor shut the door behind him, and she stared at the oak panel. Even on their best days, he’d never been one to wake her up or let her know breakfast was ready. He’d done other things for her, for sure, but to take pleasure in making her a meal? Completely out of character for the Trevor she’d known. Maybe he had word on when she could return home, or…
Trevor was definitely up to something.
She hurried through her routine, splashing water on her face and brushing her teeth with the new toothbrush. Whoever Trevor worked for didn’t spare any expense when it came to the comfort of their agents. Or the stray civilian witness, like her.
After she donned a pair of loose-fitting shorts from the pile of unisex clothing, she took a long look at herself. The eye wasn’t so bad, if she ignored the glorious streaks of purple and red. The swelling was down, almost gone—a miracle of the ice pack, as promised by Trevor. She’d pulled her hair back into a loose bun at the base of her neck, the only way she could manage it right now. The long, straight locks would hang too limply otherwise, and she knew the tug of a ponytail would aggravate her sore temple.
Why did she care what she looked like? If anyone but Trevor was in the kitchen, she wouldn’t give it a second thought, not after what she’d been through.
But it was Trevor, and like a compulsion she couldn’t control, she wanted to put her best foot forward with him. Always.
Lying about the lockbox wasn’t your best self.
Wishing for once that she didn’t have an overactive conscience, she walked into the kitchen in bare feet, stopping short of going up to the counter. Trevor filled the space in front of the oven, expertly flipping pancakes off a griddle while sipping a mug of coffee. He must have sensed her nearness as he looked over his shoulder and gave her another wide grin.
Yup, he was definitely up to something. She didn’t think it was a surprise trip to the zoo or beach, though, as it’d sometimes been when they’d been a couple. More like he wanted something from her. Something she wasn’t willing to give up. Like when he’d told her that their plan for life after the Marine Corps wasn’t going to be as they’d discussed. Trevor had made homemade butternut risotto, her favorite, and a peanut butter swirl cheesecake to appease her before he revealed he wasn’t taking a calm, safe civilian job as an intelligence analyst in Fort Meade, Maryland, less than two hours from Silver Valley. She could still see the charm in his eyes turn to steely determination at her protests. It had been the loneliest place for her in their marriage, knowing Trevor wasn’t willing to do what was best for both of them.
She wasn’t the same woman he’d hurt, though. Having survived the butternut risotto meal, she’d get through the bacon breakfast.
“Hey, Coral. Ready for some of my buttermilk pancakes? There’s some local maple syrup on the table. We get all of our foodstuffs locally—a lot of it comes from an Amish farm up the road, in fact.”
She walked over to the coffeepot. The hit of fresh caffeine was worth the risk of getting too close to Trevor. He’d left a tiny pitcher of cream next to it, along with one large bluestone pottery mug. Exactly how she liked her morning coffee—with full-fat cream, no sugar.
“This is amazing.” After she swirled the ivory liquid into the hot brew, she went to the table, where he’d set two places. “Does it matter where I sit?”
She sat and enjoyed her first few sips of coffee. The strong brew fortified her, reminded her that the simple things not only mattered but were essential to her.
“Any news from your colleagues on if I can go back yet?” Why waste time tiptoeing around what she wanted? Trevor knew her well enough to understand she wasn’t going to let up on returning home until he relented.
“About that.” He placed a huge pile of pancakes next to her plate and took the seat opposite hers. “Claudia’s okayed your return earlier than I thought she would. But only because the two men I was with are in custody, and that buys some time before Markova can send more out.” His body language was casual, detached, except for his gaze, which he kept fixed on her. She steeled herself to reveal nothing, as much as she could with the purple haze mark that was her shiner.
His expression reflected her frustration. “You know there’s a but. Of course you do.” He placed his forearms on the table, looked her directly in the eye. “In order for you to return to your property, I have to stay with you. And you go back knowing that with zero notice you may end up back here, or another place we deem safe from ROC.”
“I’ll take whatever time I can have back home.” She paused. “I don’t like having a bodyguard.” Especially not Trevor. They didn’t need more time together, especially in her small camper.
“There’s no way we’re going to risk leaving you unprotected if any more of Markova’s thugs come out there. And I’m not working as your bodyguard—I’ll be out there undercover, observing the comings and goings on your property. I’m not thrilled about you being back there, but I respect your urgency and sense of responsibility. And fair warning—I’m basically there to catch the ROC when they come back. Because we have no reason to believe they won’t. I know you, Coral. You’re going to do whatever you can to get back to your property. I get it. But you’re not doing it solo.
Coral’s stomach zinged with apprehension. Undercover ops weren’t her career of choice. She hadn’t been able to stay married to an agent, and being this close to a live op was frightening. And the thought of more thugs showing up and assaulting her…
Get home before you worry about that again.
Trevor made perfect sense, and he was right—she wanted to be on-site to oversee the many moving parts going on from the barn and farm home reconstruction to her catering teams. And then there were the tent people, who put the event venues up the night before and removed them right after, weather dependent. And the decorators and serving staff weren’t going to do their work without direction from her.
She’d taken the barn and a permanent place to run her business for granted.
“But you being so visible, isn’t that a problem? If ROC sends anyone else out, they’re going to see you. Aren’t you worried about being recognized?” Or maybe he wanted to entice them. The thought of being the cheese for lethal, criminal rats wasn’t a place she wanted to take her thoughts, either.
He shook his head. “I’m not concerned about it. The jerks I was with last night have been arrested, and they’ll be busy being interrogated for the next few days. They won’t be allowed to speak to Markova. No one else in the area, in ROC, knows me. I was operating on the West Coast and in the Asian theater exclusively before I, ah, found out about this case.”
“You mean before you found out that my barn had exploded.” She slathered butter on five silver-dollar-size pancakes. He’d remembered she preferred several smaller pancakes to plate size. Shoving his unwanted attention to detail aside, she watched him as she savored the hot treats.
“No. Yes. Kind of. I heard about the barn from my brother, who as you know still lives here.”
“I heard your folks retired to Arizona.” His parents had suffered the loss of their teenage son, Trevor’s brother, before she’d ever met them, but the pain of his death had undeniably changed them. She was glad to hear that they’d decided to try to make a happier life for themselves.
“Yes, about the time you came back to Silver Valley.” He didn’t say, When we got divorced.
“Okay, so you heard about my barn and house event. That was back in January. What made you wait six months to reach out to me? Why are you here now?” Not that she’d expected to hear from him, but she wanted him to tell her why he’d not even sent a text, an email.
She despised the part of herself that still cared. Really, how many divorced couples did she know of who stayed in touch?
“When reports started coming out—intel reports, not public news—that Markova was operating her business from her jail cell, I knew it would be a great opportunity to dip my feet into East Coast ROC ops. It’s always good to expand my area of expertise as an agent.”
“You’re lying, Trevor. You had to know she was sending her people out to my property.”
“Actually, I didn’t know that, not at first. I came back to Silver Valley to help with the overall takedown. Act in my usual undercover capacity, infiltrate local drug and crime rings. It’s all hands on deck here. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.”
“No, you don’t. We’ve lost more than one high school classmate to ROC heroin, along with much younger victims. And the sex trafficking is unreal. They caught several groups of women being smuggled in from Ukraine a few months back. But it’s bigger than all of this, isn’t it?”
Trevor was being candid, the overt play to win her over dropped. “Yes, it’s a mess. We’re making progress, we always do, but we need a huge break.”
“So tell me why you’re allowing me to go back this early. Really.” She sipped the coffee and almost moaned in delight. Except that might make Trevor think she wanted more from him than hotcakes and fresh java. Which her traitorous body did, in fact.
Don’t do this to yourself.
“I have to find whatever Markova’s hidden on your property before she gets her hands on it again. It’ll appear more natural if you’re back there.” His candid expression hit her like a brick to the stomach.
“Ah, there it is.” She enjoyed flourishing her fork at him as if she’d stabbed and gutted prey, caught it in the act of sneaking into her pantry. “I’m enjoying this delicious meal, trust me, but you didn’t have to go to so much trouble to get me to do what you want. And you don’t have to stay with me, either. Come and search all you want during the day, all day. I’ll be fine at night. I’m sure SVPD is going to have additional patrols going up and down my road. I can always stay with my folks temporarily, as much as it’s a pain in the neck.”
“Like hell.” Low and lethal, it was the voice he’d used only once before with her. When he’d told her there was no chance of reconciliation because they’d let their relationship fray to the breaking point and he didn’t have the time between missions to work on it.
And it still hurt, that tone—it went right to her solar plexus and made the fluffy pancakes feel like a ball of raw dough in her gut.
“You want two things, from what I’m hearing. First, you have to find whatever it is you were looking for last night. Second, you’re basically using me as bait to get the bad guy.”
“I’d never use a civilian as bait.” He appeared conflicted, though. “I’d be there to protect you, yes. Look, I’m on the same page as you, believe me. I don’t want to put us through anything we don’t have to. It’s hard being with one another after we’ve been on our own this long. But your safety is nonnegotiable.” Charming Trevor was back, his eyes on her. “And that of your family, too. SVPD will beef up patrols in their area. We take nothing for granted.”
Her body reacted instinctively to his easygoing, sexy-as-hell manner, and she stood. It was one thing to still have the hots for her ex but another to let her hormones lead her astray when she felt so vulnerable. Staying at the table with him was too close, too risky.
“Cut to the chase, Trevor. You’re plying me with everything you know I like to eat, and you’re using your best manners, for the most part. What is it?” Her voice shook with her want, and she turned to head out of the room, to go anywhere else. Tears threatened again, but they weren’t from her wound or other injury.
It hurt how much she still wanted him.
He reached over and grasped her wrist, tugged her hand from her hip as he rose to his feet and hauled her against him. It wasn’t a one-way interaction, though. The second the heat of his fingers touched her skin, she leaned in, needing the shock of his hard body and his blatant arousal. Her body ached for him, and whether it was because she was exhausted from last night or the nearness of her ex or a bit of both, it didn’t matter.
“Coral.” He reached behind her head, held her. “Do you feel it, too? I’ve never stopped wanting you.” He nuzzled her throat, kissed her jaw, her cheekbone, avoiding her huge bruise. “I don’t ever want to hurt you again.”
She responded by wrapping both hands around his neck and pulling his head down, placing her lips on his. The feel of his erection against her midsection had lit her desire, but the touch of his lips, the lips she knew intimately, took her want to five alarms.
“Your eye.” He spoke against her lips, his mouth’s movements making liquid heat pool deliciously between her legs. She had to have this man again, had craved his touch since she’d heard his voice last night. It wasn’t something she’d ever get rid of, her desire for Trevor. So why fight it?