HERO Force Series, Volume 2
He owes her two people.
She's only taking back one.
All of the HERO Force books can be read as standalone stories.
Jessa McConnell conspires to get pregnant by Jax Andersson, commander of HERO Force and the man she holds responsible for the death of her husband and unborn child. She assumes a new identity to make sure her secret isn't discovered, but ends up fighting for her life when she inherits a book intended for the other woman.
Jax Andersson ran his finger around the top of his old-fashioned glass of whiskey, ignoring the raucous laughter of a group down the bar and letting the world slip out of focus.
He’d seen enough for today.
“Another?” asked the bartender, and Jax nodded once. He sat up straighter and tossed the rest of his drink back, pushing the glass toward the bartender.
“You visiting someone in town?” he asked Jax.
An image flashed in his mind, Jessa’s tortured face as she reached to slam the door behind him, and his stomach heaved. “No.” He picked up his drink and turned his attention to the TV, letting his eyes close too long between blinks. The whiskey was doing its magic.
The bartender began wiping the bar but stopped and turned his head when the bell over the door jingled. “Evening. How’re you doing tonight?” he asked.
“Good, thank you.”
Jax couldn’t have helped the whip of his neck if he’d tried. There she was, standing in front of the door, coolly assessing his stare, and his balls clenched tightly.
God, she’s gorgeous.
Long black hair to her waist, straight as an arrow. Wide-set eyes so brown they were nearly black. Amber skin that seemed to glow from within, her Cherokee heritage shining through time. He could have drawn her picture, he’d imagined her face so often.
She slowly began moving toward the bar. To the bartender, she said, “I’ll take a glass of Cabernet, please.” She sat down beside Jax and turned to him with a polite smile. “Hi, Jax.”
Her arm was brushing his, the lightest touch setting his skin on fire. The alcohol that had been a blessing just moments before was now an eraser, firmly rubbing out the line between how he should treat the widow of his friend and his pronounced attraction to this woman. His eyes were homing in on hers in an animalistic way that screamed, I want you.
He ripped his gaze away and sucked in a deep breath. He didn’t want to be around her right now, hadn’t planned on any company. He’d been wound tight when he checked in at the hotel across the street and come here hours earlier after leaving her house, and he would have sworn the whiskey had long since made him numb.
Except that numbness was being replaced by something else far more dangerous — an urgent need for sensation.
“Hey,” he said, searching her face for some kind of explanation. Hours before, she’d slammed the door in his face and sent him away after he’d driven all night to tell her the news he’d waited years to deliver.
We killed the man who murdered your husband.
It should have given her closure. Relief. Happiness. But instead she’d gotten angry.
What had possessed her to come looking for him? He spoke deliberately, wanting to sound more sober than he was. “Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again so soon.”
The bartender brought her wine and she fiddled with the stem. “I calmed down.”
His eyes roamed over her face, as tangible as a touch. Just to look at this woman gave him more pleasure than almost anything he could do with another, the closeness of her body beside him warming him like the heat from a fire.
She sighed. “I knew I owed you an apology for the way I acted earlier. I didn’t want that to be the last thing I ever said to you.”
The finality of her words made his jaw clench. While it had been two years since he’d last seen her face, she’d been in his life on some level or another for far longer than that, and he wasn’t prepared to let her go.
What do you expect, now that Ralph’s dead?
When her husband was alive, he and Ralph worked together on HERO Force, the Hands-on Engagement and Recognizance Operations team. The group of former Navy SEALs and alphabet agency frontmen was a tight-knit group, and as Ralph’s wife, Jessa had held a place in it from the beginning.
Long enough for Jax to know her well and realize what a lucky bastard Ralph was to have her. Hell, maybe he was even a little jealous.
Then Ralph was gone, and Jax was left with a desire for Jessa he had no right to act upon. Sitting next to her right then, the smell of her perfume light on the thick barroom air, he was covered in her, steeped in her presence and beginning to drown.
Who would have thought he had it in him?
He wasn’t sober enough to have an appropriate conversation with Jessa. He wasn’t drunk enough, either, because her stare was making its way down his chest and back up to his eyes, and he didn’t know what to do with that beyond throwing her on the bar and showing her what that stare was doing to him.
He took a sip of his whiskey, the alcohol burning its way down his throat with a welcome flame.
She put her hand on his forearm. “Say something, Jax. You’re always so quiet.”
Pleasure shot through him at the contact. His eyes dipped to her neck and the straps of her small silver tank top glistening in the dim light of the bar. She was dripping in sex appeal. Soaked in it as if she’d deliberately bathed in its waters tonight.
A thousand comments came to mind, not one of them casual enough to cross his lips. His voice was hoarse. “What do you want me to say?”
“Tell me how things are going. We haven’t talked in so long.”
Pain flashed in her eyes. “No. You.”
I am HERO Force.
He reached for his drink. What else was there? He’d started HERO Force. Lived it every day, showered with it, lifted weights and fired guns with it. He’d hand selected the others and chosen the jobs they took on. If HERO Force was off-limits as a conversation topic, he was damn near out of options beyond I want to see you naked. He slipped into his comfortable mask of nonchalance and shrugged. “I’m good.”
He shifted in his seat. He was already sporting wood from sitting so close to her, his mind running free of its reins from the alcohol he’d consumed. This was Jessa his arm was brushing up against, Jessa who was staring so intently at him, Jessa who was like a siren screaming for his attention.
And she had it. She’d always had it.
“Are you seeing anyone?” she asked.
He nearly spit out his whiskey and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “No.”
She smirked and bumped against him. “You don’t take women out to dinner and a movie? Invite them to spend the night?”
The physical contact and the intimacy of the question made adrenaline burst into his bloodstream. “Sure.”
“Well, that’s seeing someone.” She grinned.
He stared into her eyes, needing her to understand.
Her smile fell.
“I don’t see them at all,” he said. It was the closest he’d come to crossing the line, as close as he’d allow himself to go without an invitation. He watched her reaction intently, like a poker player searching for a tell.
She took a sip of her drink, the glass trembling in her hand. Her face flushed, the high color making her amber skin glow.
“Let’s talk about you,” he said. “Are you seeing anyone?”
“No dinners, no movies, no sleepovers?” He might have been copying her question, but his tone of voice was dripping with every implication he wanted to voice.
She lifted her head and stared at the bar, her rib cage rising and falling with each breath. “No.”
Jesus, she hasn’t been with anyone since Ralph.
Blood rushed to his cock. He shifted on his barstool. It was too much, all of it. This woman. Her outfit. The little touches and bumps of her body into his. And she hadn’t had sex with anyone in years.
She must be starving for the connection sex could bring, the physical release. She’d been grieving her husband, of course. But a woman like that would have every opportunity for love, and she’d taken none of them.
She’s a mother. She’s busy, not sitting around wishing for a man.
“The baby must take up a lot of your time,” he said, wondering again if she’d had a boy or a girl. He opened his mouth to ask, but she held up her hand.
“I don’t want to talk about the baby. I came here to get away from all that.”
“Why else did you come here, Jessa?”
The air between them was thick. His hand clenched his glass on the bar, and he forced his grip to relax before it shattered. She looked nervous now. Her eyes dropped to her wineglass and she was clearly considering her answer.
“I was tired of packing,” she said. “A little sad thinking about leaving the place I’ve lived for years. I figured a drink would be nice.”
That was a lie. He’d been trained to tell. She’d been packing, all right, but something else had sent her in search of him, and he wanted — needed — to know what it was.
“You knew I would be here,” he said.
Her fingers tightened on her wineglass. “I’m lonely, Jax.”
He felt like he’d been sucker-punched, her words like some sort of attack on his restraint.
She turned toward him fully, resting her hand on his forearm again, the sensation traveling up his arm and down lower, lighting up his senses.
“It’s been so hard,” she said. “I’ve been by myself for so long, and then today you were there and…I thought maybe…”
The pulse in his groin was throbbing now.
She licked her lips. “Maybe we could be together.”
She wanted to spend the night with him.
No. He must have misunderstood. She was looking for conversation, a friend to catch up on old times with, nothing more, and he worked to reign in his enthusiasm. She stared at him, waiting for a reaction, but he had no idea what to say.
She blew out air and pushed her wine away. “I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have come.” She stood up and his hand shot out, grabbing her forearm tightly.
“Wait.” Beneath his grip, she was warm and soft and too much of what he wanted. He held on tightly, his thumb stroking her tentatively. “I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”
She pulled her arm away. “Never mind.”
“Jessa, if you’re saying you need someone to talk to, I’ll be here for you. And if you need a shoulder to cry on, you’re always welcome to use mine.”
She didn’t look up.
“But that’s not what you’re asking me for, is it?”
She squeezed her eyes shut, and he touched her chin to tip her face up. “Open your eyes.”
A beat passed before she complied, her eyes open to his, the truth shining in their glassy depths. She was asking him to make love to her.
He took a quick breath in. “Let’s get out of here.”
Jessa walked down the hotel hallway with Jax, the smell of whiskey trailing behind him like exhaust. She felt disconnected from her body, as if it were someone else who’d asked him to take her here, someone else who was going to have sex with him and hold his seed inside her tightly with a wish and a prayer.
Please let me get pregnant tonight.
She couldn’t believe she was going through with this.
She’d been so angry when he showed up at her safe little house this morning and threw the most horrible event of her past on the floor like a hunter dropping a bloody carcass. And he thought she’d be happy! After all this time, he finally killed the bastard who’d murdered Ralph, as if that scum of the earth hadn’t deserved to die long before her beloved husband.
So she’d slammed the door after he left and sunk to the floor, a puddle of emotion and grief. Hugging herself, she thought of how much that man had taken from her. The love of her sweet Ralph. The joy she’d always experienced in her husband’s presence. She didn’t smile anymore, didn’t laugh—not the way she did then.
Worst of all, he’d taken away her child, her identity as a pregnant woman waiting with a happy heart to become a mother.
He’d taken away love. He’d left only darkness.
Her skin grew chilled as time passed, the room getting darker. Then an idea appeared in her mind like a single, welcoming light after a cold, dark night.
Jax can give me a baby.
It was horrible, really, for even in that moment she had no intention of allowing him to be a father. And while she never would have condoned keeping a baby’s paternity a secret, she had no moral qualms about keeping a baby from Jax Andersson.
He owed her two people. She’d only be taking back one.
But you’ll have to sleep with him.
Since Ralph, the idea of sex with anyone else held no appeal. Where she’d once been a very sensual being, now she was dead inside, all dried up like mud in a desert.
It would be hard enough to have sex, but with Jax? She had so much anger tied up in her head with that man, would she even be able to do it?
It’s not like I’ll enjoy it.
He was an odd man, mechanical and emotionally stiff. She’d heard him called the Tin Man, and laughed because the description was so perfectly coined. He was hardly one to inspire feeling or emotion, which was perfect, as she surely didn’t want either one.
But oh, how she wanted to be a mother.
Jax opened the hotel room door, the sound of the deadbolt sliding home slamming her back to the present. She was standing in the overly bright hallway, about to sleep with a man she hated.
Fear had her taking a step back, but Jax guided her in front of him with his hand on her back. She fought the urge to wriggle away from his touch.
You want a baby, don’t you? And who better to give you one than the man who killed the last one?
She felt a visceral ache in her lower abdomen as she did whenever she thought of her miscarriage, coming just a day and a half after she learned of Ralph’s death. There was no doubt in her mind it was her grief that had ended her baby’s life, sending her precious little boy straight to heaven to be with his father, and bypassing Jessa entirely.
It was Jax who sent Ralph on that mission. Jax who had the intel that told him it wasn’t safe, Jax who stayed behind while her husband paid the price for the other man’s bad decision.
The room smelled stale and the air conditioner was blasting cold air. She felt exposed in her spaghetti-strap top.
Not as exposed as you’re about to be.
She began to panic. She wished she could sit down.
He turned to her, and she could feel the heat coming off him, the electric heat that threatened to overtake her. Even in the dim light he was so much larger than she was, his body taller and wider at the shoulders, his quiet, hulking personality hiding a strength she’d always found intimidating.
Plus the man didn’t talk. It was painful to get him to engage in any kind of conversation, so she’d worried over how she was going to get him up here.
She needn’t have bothered.
He took a step toward her and she jumped a little, the cold and her nerves jangling up inside her. Then his massive hands were on her upper arms, nearly reaching all the way around to meet at the other side, warmer than she wanted them to be.
She was standing ramrod straight, fear holding her still. This was Jax, the man who’d been the sole focus of her hatred for two solid years, and she was going to have sex with him? What the hell had she been thinking? She shimmied her shoulders, wiggling away from his hands, and he let her go.
“This was a bad idea,” she said. Tears were beginning to collect in the backs of her eyes, and she made a conscious effort to keep them there. “I don’t know what I was thinking coming here.”
She thought of the child she so wanted to carry. I’m sorry, baby. I can’t do this, not even for you.
She shook her head. “No, it’s not okay.” Maybe she should have had more alcohol. She hadn’t even finished one glass. She walked backwards toward the door.
“You blame me for Ralph’s death.”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
He walked toward her. “You blame me for his death, and you can’t be with me because you think you’d be betraying your husband.”
“I need to go.”
“But you can feel how much I want you, how desperate I am to touch you, and you need to be wanted like that again, touched by hands that long to stroke your skin, feel the weight of a man on top of you, holding you down.”
Her chin came up slowly, his words resonating inside her, vibrating down into her secret places and making her come alive. She did want those things. She needed to feel like a desirable woman, needed to be with a man.
But this man?
“You need to feel like a woman again, even if it’s just for one night.” He closed the distance between them. “I can do that for you, Jessa. I want to do that for you.” He took her hand, the thick, strong fingers welcoming and warm.
It had been so long…COLLAPSE