Title: Above Protection (Imperfect Heroes #1)
Author: C.J. Pinard
Release Date: March 30, 2016
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He's bearded, angry, highly trained, and has a job to do.
She's the damsel in distress who's smarter than she looks, and doesn't want anyone's help.
Could it be they both need something neither will admit to? Fate fueled by the laws of attraction may just decide for them.
I didn’t ask for this. I was just doing my job, and they have the nerve to put me on a Witness Protection detail? This is crap. I’ll do my assignment, then go back to my job and what I love – kicking ass and taking names. I hadn’t spent 6 years in the Marine Corps to be put on babysitting duty once I’d joined the FBI. The witness they assigned me to, Rayanne, is an annoying, brainless blonde with a sassy mouth and a body that belongs on a website you have to pay to access. Not that I noticed or anything.
I can look after myself. I don’t need anyone’s help, and the government is being ridiculous for putting me in the Witness Protection Program. I'll testify against my former bosses and then go back to my life as a single girl in the big city. I love my career as a paralegal, and once this Neanderthal they’d assigned to babysit me is out of my life, I'll go back to it. I just wish he wasn’t so easy on the eyes. The beard, hard body, and that voice. Why couldn’t they have sent me someone ugly – and nice? Because Duke is neither of those things.
ABOVE PROTECTION is book 1 in the Imperfect Heroes Series. For readers 18+.
From the corner of my eye, I watched Duke leave the kitchen. After I’d put the meat and sauce into a skillet and stirred it, I added the spices. The water began to boil, so I opened the box and pulled out a handful of stiff spaghetti. I broke it over the sink into thirds, then dumped it into the boiling water, adding a few shakes of salt.
I glanced once again at the doorway to the kitchen and saw Duke was long gone. Biting my lip, I reached up into the cabinet and moved the remaining spices aside. I grinned as my fingers wrapped around the bottle of Jim Beam. Chancing a glance once again at the kitchen entryway, I looked back down at the bottle. I slowly twisted off the metal lid and carefully brought the bottle up to my nose and inhaled – which was quickly followed up by a cough.
Whew, that’s potent stuff! Shouldn’t take more than a shot or two to relax me. This guy, this cabin, this whole entire bizarre situation had me on edge. I just needed a little something to take that edge off.
I searched the cabinets but did not find any shot glasses. I poured a small measure into a beveled green glass that looked like it belonged in the 70s. I stared at the amber liquid for a long time before working up the nerve to take a sip.
A sip! my subconscious teased me. Just shoot it, you wuss.
Lifting my shoulder in a shrug, I tossed back the glass, wincing as the bourbon burned its way down my throat, warming my belly. I slammed the glass on the counter and had to ball up my fist to keep from letting out a whoop at the wonderful burn.
The sizzle of the skillet captured my attention, and I stirred the sauce mixture again, turning down the heat as it was beginning to splatter on the outdated yellow gas cooktop – and me.
The whole damn kitchen was outdated. It looked like my grandmother’s growing up. Yellow and brown linoleum floors, sparkly yellow and silver countertops, mustard-colored appliances. I giggled at the absurdity of this kitchen, hell, this whole cabin, and then hiccupped. Slapping a hand over my mouth, I shook my head at my silliness. Yet, I really wanted another shot of that bourbon.
Just one more.
“Just one more,” I said out loud.
Glancing again toward the kitchen entryway and seeing no Duke, I poured another small amount and quickly shot it back, enjoying the burn.
Smiling, I looked at the boiling noodles, realizing I hadn’t set a timer and now had no idea how long they’d been in the water for. The sauce was most certainly done.
Cheese! I need cheese. I always make cheesy spaghetti. I get compliments on my cheesy spaghetti!
Opening the fridge door, I stared for a good, long minute, trying to remember why I’d opened the fridge. Then I spotted the bag of already-grated cheese.
“Well, thank the lawrd for pre-grated cheese,” I said, okay I think I slurred, in the most exaggerated Southern accent ever. I already had a slight one, or so I’d been told, but now I just flat-out sounded like my grand-mama from Mobile, Alabama. Bless her heart.
I set the cheese on the counter and poured more bourbon into the ugly-ass green glass. Was this glass or plastic? I tapped my fingernail against it. Glass. I think. Cool. I grinned.
I slammed the liquid back and quickly placed the glass in the sink. No more. I need to stop.
The water continued to boil. Since I was already practically in her kitchen, I remembered Granny’s advice about spaghetti. So with a shrug, I used the spoon to carefully remove a noodle. I inspected it close up, then, with all my might, I chucked it against the wall behind the stove. It did stick, and I smiled in victory. My pasta was good and cooked.
I turned off the burners to both. As I was about to begin to look for a colander to drain the pasta, a voice made me jump.
“What are you doing?”
Blinking in surprise, I cocked my head to the side and smiled. “Cooking.”
“Why are you throwing pasta?” Duke asked, standing at the entryway to the kitchen looking way too delicious.
“Um?” What was I gonna say? Wait, what was the question?
Fuuuuck it. I’ll just ignore him. I picked up the wooden spoon and stirred the sauce. Wait, what was I doing? I need to drain the pasta. Did this kitchen even have a colander?
I didn’t know, so I just stirred the sauce some more. Suddenly, a warm hand gripped my arm, then spun me around. I was met with stormy blue eyes.
I giggled. “Hi, Cowboy.”
He narrowed those beautiful eyes at me. The dark lashes framing them were just too much. “I asked you a question.”
Furrowing my eyebrows, I said, “What was the question?”
I noticed the wooden spoon was still in my hand and was dripping sauce all over the floor. As if in slow motion, I looked at the drips, then the spoon, and without thinking, I brought it up to my mouth. My tongue snaked out and licked the sauce, from the base to the tip of the spoon while I stared unblinking at Duke, waiting for him to tell me what his question had been.
“Holy fuck,” I heard him whisper, his eyes now fixated on my mouth.
I was suddenly acutely aware of how his hard chest was almost pressed against mine. While one hand still held the spoon, the other reached up. My fingertips grazed his rock-hard pec under his T-shirt. My eyes flicked back up to his.
Before I could register what was happening, his mouth crashed down onto mine, his right arm snaking around my waist and then down to my ass, grabbing it with his strong hands, pushing my body into his.
Duke was kissing me. What the hell? He’s not supposed to kiss me! He’s a jerk. I don’t like him. I bit his lip – hard. He pulled himself away from me, his thumb grazing his bottom lip.
“You bit me!” he said, incredulous.
“You kissed me!” I replied, as if I had to remind him.
He stared at me dumbfounded for a few seconds, then said, “You were licking… you were ignoring me when I asked… you were giggling… oh, my God. What the hell is that?”
He reached around me and picked up my bottle of bourbon, holding it up. “Where did you get this, Blondie?”
I shrugged and giggled.
“My spaghetti’s burning,” was all I said.
Turning my back on him once again I began to rummage through the cabinets for something to drain the pasta in. I grinned as I located a colander and placed it in the sink. Before I could pick up the heavy pot of water and noodles, Duke spun me around and pinned me against the countertop. This time, he pressed his hard body into mine, while shoving the booze bottle into my face.
“Where. Did. You. Get. This?” he asked.
Jerking a thumb behind me at the cabinet in which I was now pressed against, I said with a grin, “In there. You want some?”
It didn’t go unnoticed by me that he was pressing a very hard member of his body against my belly. I kinda liked it though, and began to wonder what he was working with under those jeans.
He sighed and pushed off of me, scrubbing a hand over his beard and storming out of the kitchen with my bottle of contraband in his hand.
I'm a California girl living in land-locked Colorado. Lover of red wine, wearer of fabulous shoes, and a die-hard Niner fan, I'm also an editor at heart. I've written over a dozen books and short stories that contain both contemporary/new adult and paranormal romance that are a little bit badass, a little heart-wrenching, and sorta funny (to me, anyway). Almost all my books usually contain law enforcement or military undertones, since strong, brave, alpha men and women are my weaknesses. When I'm not writing, I can be found working at a very strange day job, which may or may not have some mild influences on my gripping stories - so strange, in fact, I think I'll write a book about it one day.
I'm also a proud member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA).