Taking the Heat

By: Sylvia Day

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS





My gratitude goes to Cynthia D’Alba, who critiqued this story for me in the midst of celebrating her first sale. Now that’s a friend!





And hugs to my dear friends Maya Banks and Karin Tabke. It’s an honor to share a book with you both. I’m ready for our next retreat, ladies!





Chapter 1

Two explosions rocked Deputy U.S. Marshal Brian Simmons on August 15 at 4:32 in the afternoon: the first was the sight of his perennial wet dream, Layla Creed; the second was the detonation of a launched grenade.

Brian heard the whistling of the approaching explosive a second before the projectile hit one of three Chevy Suburbans waiting to transport Layla from a safe house to the Baltimore/ Washington airport. Lunging forward, he tackled her to the ground, shielding her with his body with only seconds to spare.

The blast radiated from the point of impact, sending a surge of heat roiling over them. The shock wave jolted her slender body and he curled around her, clutching her tightly. The ringing in his ears was deafening, dulling the sound of Layla’s screams. But he felt them. Felt them vibrate against him.

Shrapnel rained down. Fire licked at the soles of his shoes. He scrambled to his feet, pulling her up and hauling her back into the apartment building. His ears felt as if they were stuffed with cotton, his focus narrowed by the instinctive need to get Layla to safety.

Layla.

Withdrawing his service weapon, Brian steered her with a firm grip on her elbow. They bypassed the elevator and slipped into the stairwell. He glanced up, momentarily considering the viability of returning to the room she’d occupied the night before. Then, he pulled her down toward the subterranean garage.

The safe house had been compromised. At least two deputies had lost their lives, one of whom was a friend he’d known for years. He wasn’t certain who he could trust, and with Layla in the crosshairs, he wasn’t taking any chances. Hard-driving possessiveness pushed him forward. She kept up; her fingers linked tightly with his as they thundered down the stairs.

They burst through the metal stairwell door into the garage. A forest green Honda was backing out of a parking spot to their left and Brian stepped behind it, withdrawing his badge and identification from his pocket.

He met the gaze of the female driver who gaped at him through her rearview mirror. “I need you to get out of the car, ma’am.”

A harried-looking brunette climbed out from behind the wheel, her widened eyes on his Glock. She held both hands up, her purse dangling from the bent crook of her elbow.

He holstered his weapon and handed her his business card. “Call that number and they’ll get you squared away.”

Grim-faced, Layla slid into the passenger seat without prompting.

Brian was pulling out of the garage when the wail of sirens announced the arrival of the local authorities and fire engines. He could see the black plume of smoke as he hit the freeway on-ramp.





Chapter 2

Layla gripped the edge of the Honda’s passenger-seat cushion and glanced at the man she hadn’t seen in the flesh in five long years. He looked different than he did in her dreams. Harder. Leaner. Still dangerous. A person would have to be nursing a death wish to face off with Brian Simmons.

Which hadn’t stopped her from giving him her virginity ...

“Are you hurt?” He glanced at her, cutting straight through her with his crystalline green eyes.

“No. Wh-what about—” She cleared her dry, aching throat. “Sam? The others?”

He shook his head.

Jesus. Her stomach knotted so tightly she thought she might be sick. Sam Palmer had become a friend over the last three years she’d spent in the Witness Security Program. Beyond his job, the inspector had become her lone tie to reality. His monthly phone calls to check up on her had become the only reminder that she was still Layla Creed underneath her assumed identity of Layla Cunningham.

She used to live a normal life. She used to live in the same town she’d been born in and have friends who knew her well enough to put up with her pining over the man sitting just inches away from her now. She’d lost it all that fateful weekend she partied in Tijuana, trying to prove to herself that she was truly over Brian Simmons.

Pulling a cell phone out of his pocket, Brian hit a speed-dial button.

“We’re hot,” he said without preamble to whoever answered the phone. “They hit the convoy with a fucking grenade launcher.”

In the midst of a nightmare, Brian’s low-pitched and faintly husky voice was soothingly familiar. She dreamed of that voice, remembered it groaning with pleasure and biting out raw, heated sexual words. He was a vocal lover and his openness made her shameless. She’d had no inhibitions with him, no reservations or hesitation. Nothing to shield her heart from a man who lived to be in the line of fire.

He could have died today, right in front of her. The biggest nightmare of all.

“No,” he went on. “I’ll have to get her out of town another way ... I can’t do that either. Someone leaked the safe house. I don’t know who to trust ... I can guarantee she had nothing to do with word getting out ... It’s Layla, Jim. Yeah, that Layla. Listen—I need a favor. Take everything you need out of the Bronco, toss what body armor and camping gear you can spare in the back, and head over to the gas station on Main and Seventh. Leave the keys in the ashtray and go for a walk ... Thanks, man. I owe you.”

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