Authors: Cat Johnson
Red Hot & Blue, Book 1
A distracted soldier is a dead solder. That’s special operative Trey Williams’ motto. The last thing he needs in his life is a girlfriend. Problem is, the woman who’s been recruited to pose as his wife on a special assignment is proving to be exactly the kind of distraction he can’t afford.
Years ago, Carly McAfee turned her back not only on her military career, but the men who come with it. So why did she say yes to a mission that puts her in intimate contact with Trey, under 24/7 surveillance by both bad guys and good? One slip, and they’re both dead. It’s not long, though, before her body betrays her, followed closely by her heart.
With a terrorist arms deal going down and missing teammate’s life on the line, Carly and Trey must throw caution to the wind in the scorching-hot performance of their lives—and try not to lose their hearts and minds in the process.
This book has been previously published and has been revised and expanded from its original release.
Warning: Contains bad men with big guns and video cameras, and an unmarried couple who need to get naked and get busy acting very married to save both their country and their lives.
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Copyright © 2010 by Cat Johnson
Edited by Heidi Moore
Cover by Amanda Kelsey
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: April 2010
Dedicated to men and women in uniform, and their families, around the world. In addition, a huge thanks goes to Sean, whose real-life training provided the details for the opening scene.
Any mistakes made or liberties taken with the facts are purely my own.
He waited, crouching in the reeds. An RPG launcher pressed into his shoulder as he watched for the enemy from his hiding place along the road.
His persistence finally paid off. He heard the US force moving toward him. Training gave him the patience to hold until they were dead ahead.
He grinned at that thought since for all intents and purposes they would soon be dead.
Zeroing in on his target, he sighted and then fired. The rocket-propelled grenade cut through the air with a trail of smoke and its unmistakable sound. The soldiers heard it coming, but it was too late. That tended to be the problem with RPGs. By the time you heard them coming you were as good as gone.
The explosion caused the soldiers on foot to fall where they stood. The vehicles behind the ground pounders stopped, the passengers scurrying out. He smiled as he watched their panic.
Nothing felt as good as a successful mission. He hadn’t totally destroyed the force, but he’d done quite a bit of damage with just the one RPG. Enough to teach them a lesson and hadn’t that been his goal to begin with? Though right now, it was time to get moving.
He cupped his hands around his mouth. “
!” God is great
That little bit of shouted Arabic had the soldiers scrambling faster than even the incoming RPG had.
Sorry he couldn’t stick around to watch the aftermath, he took off running as a spray of gunfire peppered the area where he’d been. Amid the noise, he heard the scattered orders and curses behind him as the soldiers tried to get their fallen men to cover.
He sped to the next previously selected point of attack, then launched another rocket, this time at one of the trucks. The soldiers would think there were more attackers hiding than there actually were because of the multiple assaults in rapid succession from different locations.
That done, he took off for cover farther away. He wouldn’t strike again just yet. Let them think the danger had passed, then he and his team would hit with an improvised explosive device when it was least expected. A nice IED would shake things up. He was getting bored with the old Russian RPG launcher anyway. Improvised explosive devices were much more fun and, when you knew what you were doing, child’s play to set up. His team probably had a few in place already.
After reaching a point a safe distance from the strike zone, he hit the ground behind an outcropping of rock. Enjoying a rare, brief moment of leisure, he pulled a bottle of water out of his pack and took a long swallow. He wiped a dribble from his beard with the back of one hand just as footsteps to his right drew his attention.
“Pigeon Two approaching Songbird from the north.” The voice came through his earpiece just before his teammate hit the ground next to him, looking as dirty and sweaty as he felt. “Hey, Trey. Nice explosions.”
“Thanks, Jack.” His throat dry, Trey took another swig.
“Bull and I set up the IEDs.” Jack pulled out his own bottle and took a swallow. It had been a long, hot day for everyone, and it wasn’t over yet.
“A pretty obvious primary in the middle of the road with a secondary one better hidden on the side path just off the main route in case they try to drive around the first one.”
Scratching an itch the newly grown beard caused, Trey nodded. “They’ll see the first one right away.”
“Exactly, and they’ll most likely try to avoid it by driving on the path where they’ll hit the second one.”
“Or they could move backward and fire upon the primary to disarm it.”
“Yup, and they’ll back up over the third one we put behind them. Bull’s got it hidden so well I’m not sure I’d find it if I hadn’t been with him when he set it up. Once they’ve backed up to decide what to do about the one in front of them, Bull will detonate. Then
.” Jack grinned like a kid on Christmas morning.
Trey laughed. “You’re evil.”
“Hey, why not enjoy ourselves?” Jack shook his head. “I’m kinda sorry this exercise is over after today. I love OPFOR training.”
“Hell, who doesn’t love it?”
An explosion sounded in the distance and Jack laughed. “Those guys who just got blown up by Bull’s IED, that’s who.”
“Bull sets up a nice explosion, even his fake ones.” Trey admired the skill. He could set up a decent IED himself, but Bull was a master craftsman at it.
“I am gonna laugh my ass off watching their reaction on the video tape during the after-action review tonight. This is easier than shooting beer cans off a fence post. A helluva lot more fun too.” Jack chuckled.
“It’s definitely better playing the bad guys than the good guys in these exercises.” Trey knew well it may be fun, but opposition-force training was crucial. It could save the lives of the troops deploying to regions where the bad guys were actually out to kill them.
Portraying the enemy in these exercises was definitely one of the better parts of his job, except for the damn itchy beard the team had to grow so they’d look more like terrorists and less like members of Task Force Zeta.
“Shit, this thing itches.” Trey dug his fingernails through the newly grown hair to get to the skin causing him torture. No amount of scratching seemed to help. It must have been all the sweating he’d done that day combined with the dust and dirt. Thank God, he could shave soon. The sooner the better.
Jack touched his own face. “I don’t know why yours is bothering you so much. Mine’s just fine. I kinda like the facial hair. Chicks love it.”
“Chicks?” Trey frowned. “What chicks? We’ve been in the field for nearly a week with no one but the team and that unit of soldiers we just blew up.”
“I stopped shaving a week before this exercise started and I caught that cute bartender giving me the eye before we left. She liked it, all right. I could tell. I’m planning on swinging by the bar the minute we’re done here.” Jack glanced down at his dirt-covered camouflage. “Maybe I’ll hit the showers and change first.”
Trey raised an eyebrow. “Good idea, but wait. Are you saying that’s two weeks’ worth of growth on your face?”
Jack barely had stubble covering his chin. Trey on the other hand felt like he was approaching mountain-man length.
“What? It’s filling in.” Jack stroked the peach fuzz on his upper lip.
Laughing, Trey nodded. “Yup. I can almost see it now.”
“Hey, my hair’s a lighter color than yours. It takes longer to show up.”
“Your brother’s beard showed up just fine before he left for Kosovo.”
“Jimmy’s older than me.” Jack scowled.
Smothering a laugh, Trey nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. Those couple of years make a big difference.”
Eyes narrowed, Jack shoved the water bottle back into his pack. “I’m going to check on the IED status with Bull.”
“Okay.” Trey controlled his smile until he was alone again. Jack was so easy to rile it almost didn’t seem fair teasing him.
The sound of another explosion filled the air and Jack’s beard, or lack thereof, was blown clear out of Trey’s mind. He shook his head. Those soldiers had a lot to learn before they deployed, and his team was just the one to teach it to them, even if they had to learn the hard way.
God, he loved his job.
“Vodka tonic, gin and tonic, diet cola, regular cola and a bottle of beer.” The bleached-blonde cocktail waitress snapped her gum and read off her scribbled list.
Trey leaned his forearms against the bar rail. Happy to be clean-shaven again and out of the dusty, ripe cammies from the previous day’s final exercise, he was more than content to simply sit and watch the bartender work.
After picking up two glasses in each hand, she packed them with ice and then lined them up in front of her on the bar. She poured the liquor with her left hand while operating the soda gun with her right. Not even glancing at the bottles in the speed rack, she just grabbed, poured and then returned them to their proper places.
Leaning on the bar next to him, an also-beard-free Jack watched her too while shaking his head. “Ooo wee, how can someone look so hot and act so cold?”
“She’s just busy.” Trey kept his voice low.
Jack laughed. “Oh, believe me, she can get cold as ice. Just ask her out a few times and you’ll see.”
Trey had seen each and every time Jack had asked this woman out and gotten a no in response.
“Hey there, darlin’. Coupla longnecks over here when you get a chance.” Jack raised his voice and called out to her.
Trey frowned. “Jeez, Jack. Give her a second. She’s got her hands full.”
Without even glancing their way, the bartender lined a cocktail tray with the drinks, calling them off for the gum-snapping blonde as she did so. “Vodka tonic has two straws, gin and tonic one straw, diet’s got a lemon and regular doesn’t.”
She turned her back to the two of them, reached down into a fridge against the wall behind the bar and came up with three longneck beer bottles in one hand.
Trey had to admit, the view was pretty nice from there with her bending over in those tight jeans. No wonder she sold so much bottled beer. Pretty much every guy on the base came in when they were stateside and ninety-nine percent of them ordered the bottled beer strictly for the view.
With an economy of motion he had to appreciate, she popped the tops off the bottles using the bar-mounted opener, letting the caps plunk one by one into the garbage pail positioned perfectly underneath to catch them.
She placed one bottle in the center of the drinks on the cocktail tray. “And there’s the beer.”
Finished with the waitress, she slapped two cocktail napkins down in front of them and plopped the remaining two beers in her hand on top of them. “And there are your beers,
Trey had to smile at the verbal slap aimed directly at Jack until she turned to him next. “And I can do more than one thing at a time, but thanks for your concern.”
Just when you thought she wasn’t listening… Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jack enjoying his discomfort now.
Trey shrugged. “Looked more like seven things at once to me.” He raised his bottle in a mock toast to her and drank.
“Hey, darlin’. Why don’t you give in and go out with me? Give up all this cat and mouse. Games are fun and all, but I know we could have a lot more fun together.”
Would Jack ever stop trying? His resilience never ceased to amaze Trey.
“Okay. I’ll go out with you.” She walked over to them and leaned right up against the bar, her well-rounded breasts pushing the boundaries of the neckline of her tight T-shirt. “On one condition.”
Trey had never seen Jack so flustered before in all the time he’d known him. Jack had been asking this woman out for years now and this was as close as he’d ever come to an actual yes.
Jack swallowed hard and finally wrestled his eyes up from her chest. “W-what’s that, darlin’?”
“What’s my name?” She slapped each palm flat on the bar and waited for the answer.
Jack’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. Trey paused a moment himself. She had a point. They’d been coming here a good two years now and she’d served them most times, but he’d be damned if he knew her name.
She smiled and shook her head. “Didn’t think so.” She walked away as the waitress returned to give her the cash for the drinks. Trey watched her glance at them in the reflection of the mirror behind the bar as she opened the register and made change.
“Why didn’t you remember her name?” Jack backhanded Trey’s leg. “Dang it. I was as happy as a puppy with two peters when she said she’d go out with me. I nearly shit my pants. Then she comes up with some stupid question. I didn’t think there’d be a test first.”
As Jack scowled, Trey shook his head. “It wasn’t a stupid question. She’s right. We should know after all this time. Besides the team, we probably spend more hours here with her than with anyone else in our lives and we don’t even know her name.”
Jack frowned and broke his gaze away from watching the nameless bartender. Staring right at Trey now, Jack cocked his head to one side. “What is all this tonight? First it’s ‘Don’t bother her, she’s busy’. Now it’s ‘She’s right, we should know her name’. You better not be snooping around her. Teammates don’t steal each other’s women. It’s in the code.”
Trey rolled his eyes and let out a short laugh. “First of all, I’m not snooping around, as you put it. Second, if she’s your woman, learn her damn name.”
Jack banged his bottle onto the bar. “I will.” He glanced around until his attention landed on the waitress. “Baby cakes, sashay your sweet self on over here.”
The willing waitress arrived immediately after his summons in a cloud of perfume mixed with grape gum. She had on so much makeup her eyelashes stuck together when she tried to bat them at Jack. “Hey, boys. I don’t get to hang with you two usually. You’re always sitting at the bar instead of at my tables. What can I do for you?”
Jack fielded that question while Trey took another swig of beer. He noticed that while he and Jack had been arguing the bartender had left briefly. She returned now with a rack of clean stemmed glasses. Hoisting the unwieldy item onto the bar with a clang, she started to hang the glasses one by one upside-down above the bar.
Glancing at Jack as he flirted with the waitress, she raised a brow. “Moved on already, has he? I’m heartbroken.”
Trey laughed. He considered telling her Jack was sweet talking the waitress in an attempt to find out her name. Instead, without even knowing why he did it, he extended his arm to her. “I’m Trey Williams.”
She looked down at his offered hand and then back to his face. After a moment, she wiped her fingers on a bar rag and took his in a firm, strong grasp. “Carly McAfee.”
He smiled and repeated it. “Carly.”
“Yeah, short for Charlene. Thank God my parents realized I wasn’t a Charlene pretty early on and gave me the nickname.”
“What’s wrong with the name Charlene?”
She glanced at the miniskirt-wearing waitress still talking with Jack. “I’d have to look like
to pull off a name like Charlene.” She shook her head. “No, I’m definitely a Carly.”
Trey took in her straight brown hair pulled into a ponytail to fully expose a pretty, fresh face. If she wore makeup at all, it didn’t scream to be noticed. Her girl-next-door looks sat just fine with him. The centerfold-worthy, shapely jean-clad hips, small waist and even shapelier T-shirt-covered breasts didn’t hurt either.
She was a strange cocktail of simplicity mixed with attitude, shaken with killer good looks. More importantly, he could tell there was a brain in that pretty head of hers.
Jack, leaning forward, interrupted Trey’s reverie regarding Carly’s assets. “Hey, darlin’. I want another chance at this date. Come over here and ask me your question again.”
She rolled her eyes and walked to stand in front Jack. “I’ll give you one more chance, but the question has changed.”
“Lay it on me, sweet cheeks.” Jack grinned wide.
Looking overly confident, Jack leaned back on the barstool and waited for the question. He must have gleaned quite a bit of information from his discussion with the waitress.
Carly covered her eyes with one hand. “What color are my eyes?”
Jack, who never used bad language in mixed company, silently mouthed a vile curse before venturing an obviously blind guess. “Uh, brown?”
“Wrong.” She turned, opened the beer cooler and began checking her stock of cold bottles.
Scowling, Jack cursed again quietly. “Watch my beer, will ya’? I’ve gotta go take a leak.”
Trey nodded and Jack disappeared into the bathroom.
Eyes still on Carly’s back, he whispered, “They’re green.”
She spun, those beautiful jade-colored eyes open wide and staring straight at him.
Damn, she had good ears. He’d have to remember that in the future.
Their gazes collided and his heart clenched. He reminded himself it was Jack who had a crush on this girl, not him. All of his friend’s going on and on about her must have rubbed off. What he felt wasn’t real. It couldn’t be, because Trey had no room in his life for a girlfriend right now. A distracted soldier was a dead soldier. He didn’t want a girlfriend, nor did he need one. Not now and definitely not Carly, the one girl Jack was obsessed with.
So why did he suddenly feel like if he didn’t get far away from her soon, he’d forget his own rule and want a girlfriend? Want her.
Trey took a swig of beer and swallowed hard. He then lent all of his concentration to peeling the label off the bottle in an attempt to avoid getting pulled further into those eyes of hers.
He was thankful when Jack returned and broke the spell.
Jack sat, frowning. “What’s up with you now? You look like a hog living with a family who’s got a hankering for bacon.”
As miserably conflicted as he felt at the moment, Trey couldn’t help but laugh. Jack’s Southern farmisms always managed to lighten the mood. It didn’t matter whether the two of them were on a mission or on a barstool.
Good old Jack. In spite of the fact he didn’t know her name or the color of her eyes, Jack really did like Carly, or actually believed he did anyway. Sure, Trey could be attracted to her as far as appreciating her good looks. He was a man after all. It was only natural for a guy to notice a cute woman who also supplied him with all the beer he could drink.
It was no wonder Jack thought he had the hots for her. Trey glanced at Jack now and watched him watching Carly as she moved behind the bar serving customers.
“You didn’t answer me.” Jack broke his gaze away from Carly’s butt as she stood at the cash register and turned back to him. He must really be interested in what was bothering Trey to make that supreme sacrifice.
What the hell was he supposed to tell him? He’d gotten semi-hard just from looking into the eyes of the woman his best friend wanted?
Trey shook his head. “Nothing’s up. Just gets to me when there’s no real action for a while. Training is one thing, but it’s been too quiet otherwise.”
He was good at lying. He’d been taught the fine art of deception well by Uncle Sam.
“Jeez, Trey. Don’t say things like that. You’ll curse us both and we’ll get called in for some big op that’ll take us away for six months to some godforsaken place halfway around the world. Just when I’m making some progress with this one.” He tilted his head in Carly’s direction.
“You call that progress, do you?” Trey laughed.
“Hey, it’s the most I’ve gotten out of her in years. I’m one step closer to breaking down the fence to her corral. I can feel it.”
Trey smiled as Jack’s euphemism brought to mind farmers’ daughters and rolling in the hay. There was nothing like some good old farm imagery to put naughty thoughts into an already horny boy’s head. But thoughts of sex and farms would have to wait because just then both his and Jack’s pagers went off simultaneously.
“Buckets of bull crap. You did this, you know, with all your talk about how quiet it was.” Jack gave him a very nasty look and threw a ten-dollar bill on the bar. “I should make you pay for this round since you’re the one who cursed us.”
Carly came to their side of the bar to clear away the bottles. “Leaving so soon, boys?” Her sweet sincerity was not sounding all that sincere.
“Don’t you worry, darlin’—I mean Carly. I’ll be back.” Jack winked at her.
“I have no doubt.” Then she dropped the sarcastic attitude and sobered. “Home safe, guys.”
Trey knew she was well aware they weren’t heading home, but most likely out on an assignment. There were guys she served who never made it home from their ops. He nodded an acknowledgment for her concern. “Thanks.”
On the base he and Jack strolled into the meeting room and found the rest of the team already assembled. He was happy they’d only had time for one beer each, because judging by the look on the commander’s face something was up and it wasn’t good.
“Sit down.” The commander gestured to the two chairs still empty at the long table. He looked directly at Jack. “I’ve gotten a new SITREP. We’ve lost touch with Jimmy.”
At the news revealed in the latest situation report, Trey glanced quickly at Jack as his own stomach sank. Jimmy Gordon was not just Jack’s older brother. He was his father figure, his hero and the reason he’d joined both the military and this team.
Jack shook his head with obvious disbelief or maybe just outright denial. “He’s deep undercover, sir. He can’t be phoning home everyday to ask what’s for dinner.”