Romance Novel Giveaways - Freebies and Giveaways of All Things Romance Romance Novel Giveaways: Search and Destroy by Julie Rowe 💕 Book Tour & Gift Card Giveaway 💕 (Romantic Suspense)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Search and Destroy by Julie Rowe 💕 Book Tour & Gift Card Giveaway 💕 (Romantic Suspense)

Dr. Carmen Rodrigues, CDC’s Outbreak Task Force director, is on the hunt for a killer–– an airborne virus spreading from Florida across the States, gaining traction with each passing moment. Although she’ll never forget her one night with sexy bodyguard John Dozer in Afghanistan, his protective nature is one distraction she doesn’t need right now.

Ex-Army Intelligence officer John Dozer will put his life on the line for beautiful, independent Carmen. Every. Time. Even when she pushes him away. And now, with her struggling to contain an outbreak likely triggered by domestic bio-terrorists, maybe even insiders at the CDC, she needs him more than ever. He lost her once. He’ll never let that happen again.

She took in a deep breath. “We need to talk.”
“Your role with the CDC, and whatever it was you were doing in Afghanistan after...”
She wanted him gone. He could tell by the closed off expression on her face and the slightly lifted set of her chin. She expected him to fight her. Was waiting for it. Braced for it.
It set off an emotional bomb deep in his chest and woke the pissed off protector inside him. The one who wanted to grab hold of her, kiss her until she looked at him with the world in her eyes again. He would not let anyone hurt her, not even himself.
Some of it must have shown on his face, because she backed up a couple of steps.
If she got any whiter, she was going to faint.
He slid closer to her and said with all the softness he could muster, “You look like you just took a gut-shot. So, I’m going to ask this again. What happened?”
“Two men from the Justice Department met me at the airport last night. They wanted me to go with them to give them a statement about the incident in Afghanistan.” She put air quotes around the word incident. “They were very unfriendly when I said no.”
“They’re supposed to be assholes, that’s part of what they do—put the fear of God into people.” He sidled another step closer, within reaching distance. “A lot of sh…stuff happened that day.”
They’d survived more than one attempt to kill them that day.
He’d fallen in love with her that day.
And the next day…she’d run from him.
The memory combined with the ache of healing bones in his chest, creating a caustic mix of concrete plugging up his lungs.
The struggle to breathe made him stop and think past the pain, past the panic.
Wait a second… It had been nine years. They’d given all the reports, statements, and evidence right after the incident. Why the fuck would anyone need anything from either of them now?
Something about what she said sank in.
“They wanted you to go with them?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
“Yes.” Her gaze was angry, confused, and…sad.
His stomach dropped in a sickening rush and the world spun in place for a long second. “Why didn’t you?”
“I couldn’t. The Drill Sergeant was picking me up for an emergency meeting with the CDC director, who wanted a report on my briefings in Washington. DS told the two agents exactly how they could go fuck themselves. They tried to intimidate him physically, but, well, you can imagine how that went.”
“He raised his voice?”
“He ripped them apart so badly security came to see what all the fuss was about. The two men left after promising things would get tougher for me.”
The dizziness retreated.
He was going to kiss that old man when he saw him next.
“I need to make a call.” He grabbed his phone and punched in the numbers to a buddy of his in the Justice Department. A minute later, he had his answer.
“No one from the Justice Department was sent to interview you or bring you in.” He saw his own hand shaking. Someone had tried to take her. In a public place. In front of any number of witnesses.
Who the fuck could be that brazen?
“What?” she stared at him, her brows furrowed.
“Someone tried to take you.” There was a snarl in his voice he couldn’t suppress. “Someone almost got you.”
When he caught up with that someone, he was going to rip the fucker’s guts out.


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Special Forces soldier and medic Walter River would give anything to snatch more than a few seconds of down time to see if he can rattle the no-nonsense and incredibly hot Dr. Lloyd he's protecting, but dodging explosions, snipers, and student radicals who've unleashed a lethal bio-engineered microorganism have made that almost impossible. Maybe he'll get a chance—if he can figure out how to keep them both alive.

CDC microbiologist Ava Lloyd races to find a cure for a bio-terrorism organism sweeping El Paso. The few stolen moments with her very hunky bodyguard River have been explosive, but no matter how alluring he is, she can't afford to get distracted. The clock is ticking, people are dying by the hundreds, and once this crisis is solved, they'll both be off on their next assignment, thousands of miles apart.
This book is INTENSE.

I LOVED IT. "Romantic Suspense" is sort of a "meh, take it or leave it" genre for me, but THIS book balanced out the "romance" and "suspense" PERFECTLY. It's incredibly well-written with an engaging plot that I absolutely could not get enough of!

Right from the beginning, River tuned in to Ava and they seemed to form a connection and sort of symbiotic relationship that held my attention. They each ended up helping each other in several different ways, and I loved reading how their relationship evolved.

River may be one of my favorite heroes. He is my idealized "military hero," comprised of total badass and a dash of "boy next door" charm. The protectiveness that he felt for Ava was truly endearing, right from the start.

I admired Ava because she kept having these new and downright crazy situations thrown at her but, with River's help, she met these challenges head-on and persevered. Ava was no shrinking violet, but I liked that she relied on River at times.

This was just a spectacular story full of gripping, edge-of-your-seat moments that had me eagerly turning the pages from beginning to end. I will DEFINITELY read more romantic suspense books by Julie!

(I received a copy of this book in consideration of an honest review)

He looked like he came straight out of her naughtiest fantasies

Someone scratched a death threat in the paint of CDC nurse Kini Kerek’s rental car. She’s in Utah researching Hantavirus, but damaging rumors about the CDC have left residents suspicious and uncooperative. Thank goodness for hot, sexy, former soldier Smoke, a man of few words, who’s assigned to protect and help her navigate the isolated desert town as she races to identify a deadly virus before more people die.

Memories from the combat zone leave ex-Special Forces soldier Lyle Smoke in a constant state of battle readiness, and he finds no solace, even after returning home to Small Blind. When he meets Kini Kerek, he discovers his heart isn’t entirely dead. But, that might not last long, because this outbreak is no mistake, and he’ll need to use all his survival skills gleaned from the military and his Native American upbringing to keep him and the beautiful, but secretive, Kini alive.
Chapter One

At one o’clock in the morning, the I-15 through the Utah desert gave the impression it had been abandoned for years. Lyle Smoke drove his jeep through the desolate moonlight, not another car in sight. Not even the slow, slumberous roll of tumbleweeds. Not even wildlife approaching the pavement looking for roadkill.

Nobody to listen.

Nobody to issue orders.

Nobody to guard his back.

Eight years in the Army—breathing, eating, shitting that life. Gone.

He wasn’t Sgt. Smoke, the soldier who could track ghosts, capture boogey-men, and keep his battle-brothers safe. He was Smoke, just smoke. Nothing and nobody and not here.

The quiet highway should have been soothing.

It wasn’t.

A good soldier didn’t trust the quiet. Smoke hated it.

He used to love it.

He’d spent summers on the reservation with the desert as his backyard. He’d rode horses and dirt-bikes through it, camped for days at a time, and hunted to feed himself. He’d learned to navigate by the stars and knew the location of every water source.

But, those simple, quiet, satisfying days were long gone.

Now his days were nightmares of memories. Memories of pain and blood.

All that shit should have stayed in the fucking Afghan sandbox. Too bad his brain hadn’t figured that out yet.

He passed the silver shrouded shadow of Jack Rabbit Rock on the right. The last time he’d been in this part of the desert, he’d taken Liam there. His son had sat in front of him in the saddle, his small body warm and trusting as he looked everywhere at once and pointed at everything.

“Papa,” he’d said, his voice high with excitement. He pointed at something new and announced, “Papa.”


Smoke clenched the steering wheel, gritted his teeth, and tried to shove the reminder that his son would never have a life out of his head.

He sucked in deep breaths and focused on the facts. The truth. Maybe if he recited reality often enough, he’d accept it.

The last time he’d been home had been for Liam and Lacey’s funerals.

Liam and Lacey were dead. His son and the mother of his son were dead.

There. He’d thought it. Didn’t make it any truer to him than five minutes ago.

He’d sworn to stay away until he’d accepted what had happened. Yet, here he was, not twenty miles from the epicenter of his pain. Here he was, ready to kill someone, but no enemies to gut in his mother’s kitchen.

Reaching to rewrite the past was stupid, dangerous, and insane. Didn’t stop him from reaching for it in his head, anyway. The past was a ghost not even he could track. Still…the desert held other memories for him. Memories of happier times.

He’d say hello tomorrow morning, kiss his mom, nod at his father, then pack his shit and go hunting for a week. Or three. Maybe that would cure him of his increasing need to choke the life out of something with his bare hands.

He drove through his hometown of Small Blind, Utah, to his parents’ ranch-style house. He left his vehicle on the street and went around toward the backdoor. A car was parked at the back of the driveway. Rental plates? Someone visiting?

Then he saw the dent in the driver’s side door. A monster-truck sized dent. The kind of dent you can only get if you’ve been T-boned by something big and mean and pissed off. Some of the scratches in the paint looked like letters.

Fuck off & die FBI.

What a fuckup. Not an FBI vehicle. Not an accident. Not dealing with smart assholes.

He took a look inside. The airbag on the driver’s side was smeared with something dark. Blood. The driver would have a couple of black eyes. And a hospital bill.

What was a bloodied and bent car doing in his parents’ driveway?

Stop stalling, pussy.

He opened the back door, stepped inside, and memories raked pain across his battered, bruised, and broken heart.

After the first stab of sharp steel, images of Liam became a dull, dishwater ache, settling into his chest as if they were moving in for the duration of his deployment.

No, he was home, not in a combat zone.

Fuck, was he ever going to catch up to reality?

He took a step, and when no improvised explosive devices—physical, emotional, or otherwise—went off, he took another step. His room was only twelve more steps away. Twelve teeny, tiny triggers that could blow him up from the inside out.

The darkness helped by shrouding everything in shadows. His room, his stuff, his bed were right where he left them. Okay, good. He could breathe a little easier now.

Smoke set his duffle on the floor and stripped. He kept his boxers on in case his mom walked in, but it was hot enough in the room that he didn’t want any part of the pile of blankets on the other side of the bed.

He should have called first. His mother was going to give him hell for not giving her time to make the damn bed. He slid onto the mattress.

As he considered the ceiling, Smoke put his hands under his head. His pencil drawings of the constellations were still up there, faded and farther away than ever. He’d wanted to feel like Michelangelo, transform his ceiling the way he planned to transform his life. Transform the world.

Now, he was adrift between the stars unable to see a way to live past his week-old discharge.


Fuck, it was hot.

Smoke rose out of sleep at the pace of a snail.

Who the fuck was touching him?

His body knew when something hinky was happening, and it roused him the second some asshole thought he could put shaving cream on his face or snuggle up and take incriminating photos. He sure as hell should have woken up the second anyone put their hand on Smoke’s chest.

A second away from dumping the soon-to-be-interrogated dude on the floor, his brain registered two things. One, the size of that hand. Small, dainty even. Two, the lavender with a bite of citrus scent.

It made him horny.

He glanced down. There was a woman in bed with him.

Christmas? Months away. Birthday? Months away. Hallucination? Months too soon.

He scrutinized the woman. The blanket had slipped off her as far as the top of her butt, leaving her back bare.

No top.


Christ, she was laying partway over his chest with nothing covering her but skin and him.


His body tightened, hardened, and wasn’t that a kick in the nads, because this was a no-go situation front to back.

He couldn’t just shove her off of him. Despite the fact that he’d gone to sleep alone, this little gal was no threat to him. He’d have to slide out from under her carefully, so he didn’t wake her, and sneak out of the room.

Waking her would be…awkward. She’d scream, and he’d be hard pressed to explain what the fuck he was doing in the same bed with her. The screaming he could have put up with, it was the explaining he wanted to avoid at all costs.

Decision made, he eased out from under her a couple of inches.

She sighed and shifted her body, ending up with more of her covering him than before.

Well, shit.

Now he knew she had big breasts. Both of them were pressed against his lower rib cage, a soft, sweet weight parts of him really wanted to get to know better.

His cock was all kinds of interested, but given the lack of room in his boxer style briefs, she’d probably freak out if she opened her eyes. Her face was turned in the direction of his primary weapon.

He tried to ease out from under her again, but this time, she woke up.

Her head rose a couple of inches above his chest then stopped. She froze, her body tensing.

Here it comes, the screaming, the yelling, the accusations. A special kind of hell for a man who didn’t like explaining anything to anyone.

Not breathing, he waited for the uproar to begin.

She turned her head slowly, like she had all the time in the world and complete power over the mostly naked man under her.

Her gaze met his and she tilted her head to one side, a tiny furrow etched between her brows. Not angry or afraid, no, she wore the same stoic mask some of his team wore before going into an active combat zone. Prepared to engage with the enemy.

He could see danger in her dark brown eyes and full, curved mouth. It was her hair, a tumbled rush of dark, curling waves over her shoulder that made him want to thread his hand into its mass and tug her to him.

She was fucking gorgeous.

Someone needed to shoot him. Now.


She lifted her head anther fraction and the shadows fled from her face enough for him to see the bruises. All around each of her eyes, turning her pupils into dark targets.

She’d been in that car, the one with dent. The one that had a death threat scratched into the paint.

Sleep hadn’t quite let go of her yet, and he really didn’t want to scare her, so he should say something to put her at ease. Reassure her somehow.

“Who did it?”

She blinked, surprise replacing the determination on her face.

What the fuck had just come out of his mouth? And why had he said it so it sounded like a threat?

“Who did…what?” she asked.

Her voice was breathy, soft, and sexy. His cock went from interested to lifetime commitment in a heartbeat.

“Who hit your car and hurt you?”

“I don’t know.” Her gaze went unfocused. “It all happened so fast. I don’t remember seeing another car. I don’t remember the crash. I do remember one of the sheriff’s deputies asking me about what happened, but…”

He stared at those bruises, bruises that looked wrong on her skin. “Car, van, ice-cream truck, give me something.”


Why? Why wasn’t she angry? Why wasn’t she scared? “Because whoever did this to you”—he lifted one hand and traced the bruise circles with one cautious finger—“I’m going to find the fucker and kill him.”

Calm curiosity was chased off her face by a cold, rigid rage that rivaled his own.

“Not for me, you’re not.” She began wiggling away from him.

Everything that made him a soldier rebelled at the idea of this injured, vulnerable woman leaving his home, his room, his bed. He locked his hands in place. This was a battle he had to fight with words. Not his weapons of choice.

“And if they hit you with something bigger next time?” he asked.

She slid away a bit more. “It was just random kids. Graffiti.”

“Followed up by attempted murder.”

She rolled her eyes then winced. Yeah, those bruises looked like they went all the way down to the bone. “Do what you want. Your house, your bed, but don’t use me to rationalize your violence.” She paused. “You are Lyle Smoke, right?”

“Smoke,” he said, watching in fascination as she managed to slither out of bed without flashing him once.

“Isn’t that your last name?”

He shrugged. “Yeah.”

She got to her feet, the blanket now around her like she was a Roman goddess.

He realized she’d asked him something. “What?”

One eyebrow rose and she smiled.


She shook her head. “I said it’s okay. I can take care of myself.”

The words fell from her mouth like lead weights, dark, heavy, and cold.

She headed for the door.

“Alone is a dangerous place to be.”

She paused, looked over her shoulder at him. Her eyes were wide for a second.

She didn’t answer, just stared at him with those somber, bruised eyes. Then she turned away, picked something off the floor, and left the room.

She took all the fucking air with her.

He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t remember how to breathe.

The bathroom door closed. He stood next to his bed, sucking in air like it was laced with cocaine and he needed a hit.

Holy shit.

Holy, holy shit.

Who was she?

Why was she here?

He needed intel on this woman and he needed it now.

Chapter Two

Kini stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror then poked her cheek with one finger. What just happened couldn’t have been real. Could it?

Had she really fallen asleep alone, only to wake up draped over the body of the hottest man she’d ever seen? A six foot-something tall, muscled, hung, man with Caribbean blue eyes.

She’d been ready to knee him in the nuts until he offered to kill whoever crashed into her car yesterday. All it had taken was a glimpse of her bruises.

So much violence in his eyes, on his face. It almost took her back to the scariest moments of her childhood. When her father had been in a rage he could do anything, hurt anyone. Could and did. Safety was a mirage most people believed in without thought. She’d learned the truth much too young.

Her father never had control over his anger. Smoke looked as if he had too much. He should have inspired terror, but he’d looked so damn serious and sincere, all she’d felt was regret because he was too late.

Two decades too late.

He’d demanded to know who hurt her.

The first words out of his mouth weren’t a slick hello or hey baby, come here often? No, he offered to kill for her instead. In a deep baritone that sent shivers of pleasure slipping up her spine.

Who did that? Offer to start a war for a woman he’d just met.

It was stupid to believe heroes existed. Depending on another person to save you was setting yourself up for disappointment, and she knew better than that.

She’d known then he was Susan and Jim’s son, the soldier who hadn’t been home in a long time. They’d told her he’d been in the Army for eight years. Her dad had only been in for four and had come out of it a broken, angry, violent man. Eight years… God, she couldn’t imagine the shit he’d seen and done and couldn’t forget.

Her reflection stared back at her, sadness framed in her downturned mouth and dull gaze.

That wouldn’t do at all. The whole world thought she was endlessly cheerful and had few worries. Time to put her game face back on. The one with a mega-watt smile that made anyone who looked at her believe she was young, a little foolish, and completely harmless.

Kini dropped the blanket and stepped into the shower, struggling to push Smoke out of her mind. His skin had been warm under her hands, his muscles firm and his scent, cedar and sand, had made her want to lick at his skin to taste the spice of him. He was a temptation she didn’t need.

Smoke was hot, but she’d gotten as close to him as she was ever going to get. Besides, she was only going to be in the area another week, then it was back to Atlanta to write up her report. After that, it was off to her next assignment in another state.

She dressed in the clothes she’d nabbed on her way out of the bathroom, a pair of dark blue jeans and a Public Health T-shirt that identified her without making her look like she’d just walked out of a hospital.

Her current assignment was to collect patient histories and blood samples from at least two hundred local people from the rural areas of Utah. Most especially, from those of Native American descent.

She’d been here a couple of weeks already, and things were going slower than she liked.

Kini braided her wet hair then left the bathroom, hoping to grab a coffee and go.

Jim and Susan were in the dining room off the kitchen with Smoke. No one looked happy.

“Morning,” she said with a bright smile before anyone else could say anything. “I’m late, so I’m just going to grab some coffee before I go.” She matched actions to words, heading toward the coffee pot and filling her travel mug with liquid energy.

“I’m not sure when I’ll be back tonight,” she continued in the same upbeat tone. “Don’t hold dinner for me.” The issue of sleeping arrangements occurred to her.

“Um, should I sleep on the couch tonight?” She glanced up and found Jim and Susan glaring at their son.

Smoke was staring at her, but he finally met his parents’ gazes before meeting hers again and saying slowly, “No.”

That was all he said. No explanation, no additional information. Must be a regional trait. She had yet to meet a talkative resident in the whole state.

“Okay.” She saluted him with her cup and was about to turn and head for the front door, but there was a flash of movement behind her and male hands slid over her hips, pulling her backward into a body larger than hers.

Adrenaline shot through her system, dumping all the confusion, frustration, and irritation she was trying to supress straight into her bloodstream. She didn’t freeze, didn’t think, didn’t hesitate, pushing back into the man behind her, surprising him and forcing him back a step, then she turned to face him and brought her knee up as hard as she could into his groin.

He went down on a groan, first to his knees then fell onto his side.

The next second, Smoke was there, between her assailant and her, blocking the man’s access to her.

“Nathan,” Susan demanded of the man on the floor. “What did you do?”

Smoke glanced at the groaning Nathan then turned to her. “Okay?”

She focused on his face, surprised by the lack of violence there. Irritation, yes. Violence, no. “Um…yes.”

Smoke looked at her hands, and his gaze stayed there. She glanced down to see what he was looking at. Her hands were shaking. Hard.

Damn it. Kini took in a deep breath then let it out slowly. She repeated that for a couple of seconds, enough time for her to pull out of the violent, vicious emotional soup her brain was floating in.

She looked at Nathan and cleared her throat. “Who’s he?”

“My nephew,” Susan said, putting her hands on her hips. “Nate, what on Earth possessed you to grab Kini like that?”

“I thought Smoke brought a girlfriend home,” he answered through clenched teeth. He squinted at her. “Did you have to knee me so hard? I may never father children.”

She shook her head. What had he been thinking? “You shouldn’t sneak up and grab women like that.”

“Idiot,” Smoke said to his cousin. “Touch her again, and I’ll rip your arms off.”

Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at Smoke like he had three heads.

Smoke turned to Kini, gave her a visual once-over, but didn’t seem too satisfied, given the frown on his face. “Your coffee?”

She glanced at her empty hands then the floor. Her travel mug was halfway across the room, the contents of her cup sprayed all over the place.

“Oh crap, I’m so sorry.” She darted toward the sink and grabbed the dish cloth then hurried over to begin mopping up the spill.

Smoke put out a hand to stop her. “Idiot is going to clean this, not you.”

“Excuse me?” She was grateful for his support, but not letting her clean up a mess she’d made wasn’t his decision to make.

“Nate scared you.” Smoke’s voice, a deep rumble, did something to her insides. Something she didn’t want to dwell on. “Nate can clean it up.”

A glance at the idiot told her something different. “Nate doesn’t look like he’s going to be up to too much hard labor for a while, and this floor needs to be cleaned now.”

The big man frowned at her. “Then let me hel—”

“It’s fine,” she said, cutting him off and going around him. Susan tossed her a roll of paper towels while Jim guided Nathan into another room; he complained about the pain the whole way. Despite her giving Smoke a narrow-eye’d glance, he grabbed a wet cloth and wiped away more than half of the mess.

As soon as the floor was finished, she grabbed her work bag and left the house.

She’d find coffee, sanity, and security later.


Watching her drive away unsettled Smoke’s stomach. He didn’t like it. Not one bit.

“Son,” his father said behind him.

Smoke turned. His dad had his arms across his chest and the time for business expression on his face—the one he wore when he had to give anyone bad news.

“Where did you sleep last night?”

“My bed.”

“Kini was in your bed.” His dad said every word like they weighed a thousand pounds each.

“Yeah,” Smoke shrugged. “But until this morning, I thought I was alone.”

“So…” His father’s voice trailed off, but Smoke could read the rest of the sentence on his father’s face. So…did you sexually assault our guest?

Why was this even a question? It was an insult to Smoke and Kini.

He crossed his arms over his own chest and asked, in a tone that was a weapon he used sparingly, “So, what?”

Whoa, why the hell was he going there with his father? It was a question his father should ask. He opened his mouth to apologize, but got interrupted.

“You slept with her?” Nate asked from behind him, his tone incredulous, as if Smoke had slept with a tank full of piranha.

“Didn’t know she was there until I woke up,” Smoke said. Again.

Nate grinned. “You’ve got balls, man.”

“Better than yours, idiot.” His cousin looked like he’d recovered enough for another ass-kicking.

“Hey, I just wanted in on that action. She’s got a great ass.”

Smoke headed for him, faster than his cousin expected because he glanced up, paled, then backpedaled right into a wall.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” the idiot said, putting his palms up.

Smoke shoved his cousin’s hands away and stuck a finger in his face. “What did I say?

Nate swallowed. “That if I touched her, you’d rip my arms off.”

Smoke smiled, showing his teeth.

“Come on, dude, that’s just creepy.”

“Leave her alone.” The words came out of Smoke’s mouth like he’d chewed them up and spit them out.

“I will,” Nate promised in a whiny voice that made Smoke’s teeth ache. “I will.”

Smoke examined his cousin, and decided that while Nate was an idiot, he wasn’t suicidal.

“Smoke?” his dad asked. Not one question, but several all in one word.

“Nothing,” he answered. “I…she…” He shrugged, lifting his hands in surrender. “Nothing.”

His father grunted and went into the kitchen. The sound of the back door closing came from around the corner.

Nate hightailed it out of there, so Smoke went back into the kitchen to find his mother sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee, reading something off the tablet in her hand.

“What happened to the newspaper?” he asked, nodding at the tablet.

“It went digital,” she said, waving the device. She put it down and patted Smoke’s cheek. “Times are changing, son. Try to keep up.”


He got up, poured a coffee for himself, and sat back down. To stare at his mother.

She glanced at him then put the tablet down. “What?”


The corners of his mother’s mouth tilted up. “We offered her a place to stay while she’s in the area. She’s doing a CDC health study of the local population.”

Smoke grunted. He’d gotten a call from his Army buddy River not more than a day and a half after he’d been officially discharged, offering him a job with the CDC. Some kind of investigation team.

Did the CDC do a lot of public health research or education?

“Unfortunately, some folks have refused to even talk to her. They think she’s part of some government cover-up or something equally ridiculous.”

That kind of talk could be dangerous—most folks in this part of the country didn’t like the government sticking its nose into their business.

“What’s Kini’s full name?” Smoke asked.

“Kini Kerek.”

At his arched eyebrow, his mother smiled. “Her mother was Hawaiian.”


His mother cocked her head. “Yes, that’s how Kini put it.”

Smoke nodded then kissed his mom on the cheek. “I’m going to make a call.”

She reached out and took his face in her hands, holding him in place. “It’s good to have you home.” Though no tears were visible, her voice dripped them.

“It is good,” he said quietly, covering her hands with his. “But…”

“But, what?”

It was a lot harder to say out loud than he anticipated. “I’m not….”

He didn’t finish the sentence, he couldn’t. It would be admitting defeat, and he wasn’t going there. Not ever.

“Of course you’re not,” she said so matter-of-factly it startled him. “Eight years in the Army, the deaths of your son and his mother, and your injuries last year would damage anyone’s…okay meter.” She pulled her hands away then hugged him. “I’d be worried if you tried to lie and say you were fine.”

He squeezed her tight and whispered into her hair, “Can’t fool you.” She smelled of everything good in the world, coffee, bacon, and home.

She held him for another second or two then released him and dusted her hands as if she’d finished a particularly difficult task. “Do you have any plans for the next few weeks?”

“Camping and hunting in the desert.”

“Your grandfather was out there a couple of weeks ago,” she told him. “He said there were more people around, strangers, than usual.”

“I can cope. Stay out of sight.”

She snorted. “You learned how to do that when you were five years old.” She crossed her arms and scowled at him. “The Army just put a polish on it.”

“Yes, ma’am.” God, he’d missed her.

He strode down the hall and into his bedroom, closing the door so his call wouldn’t be interrupted. Not that he thought his parents would, but Nate was dumb enough to try to keep talking to him. Hopefully the idiot had left the house for a while.

The man answered on the second ring. “River.”

“I’ll take the job.”

“Smoke?” River didn’t wait for confirmation. “Awesome, man. I think you’ll like work.”

“Tell me about Kini Kerek.”

“Yeah, Kini is in your neck of the woods.” River didn’t sound surprised at all. “Hang on while I bring up her file.”

Smoke could hear the soft click of keyboard strokes, then River said, “She’s a nurse and a member of the Outbreak Task Force doing a study that’s two-fold. First, she’s collecting DNA samples and patient histories in order to track the incidence of diabetes and heart disease in the Native American population in Utah. The second part of it is attempting to track the incidence of infection and the development of antibodies in the same population for the hantavirus.”

That was a lot of information to collect. “Why?”

“The CDC is considering developing a vaccine for the virus. They need to know a lot more about it first though. Most important: are people acquiring an immunity to it without developing the rapid onset pneumonia it can cause. Thirty-eight percent of cases die, so it’s a damned dangerous infection.” And now for the important question. “Does the public know what she’s doing?”

“They know about the first, but not the second.”

“Are you sure?”

The pause on the other end of the phone was a long one. “What have you heard?”

“She’s running into a sudden and solid lack of cooperation from the locals. Someone key’d her car with death threats and she was T-boned yesterday. Right now, she looks like a very pissed off raccoon.”

“That’s not good.”

River had always been a master at understatement.

“Put me on the payroll.”

“You mean right now? Are you sure?” There was no missing the concern in River’s voice. “You just got home. Have you even seen your parents yet?”

“I saw them. They’re good.”

“Smoke, man, I appreciate the dedication, but you and I both know you need some down time.”

“Something isn’t right with her.”

River didn’t respond right away. Smoke had always liked that about the other man—he thought before he said shit. “What do you mean?”

“She’s in trouble. I don’t know what it is yet, but she looks…hunted.” He knew the expression on a human being’s face when they knew a bigger, nastier predator was after them. He’d been the predator more than once.

“Her background checks were okay. Nothing popped up.”

“Trouble,” Smoke repeated, then asked, “Payroll?” Okay, it was more of a demand.

“Give me an hour or so to get it done. If you think you might have to run interference for her, I’d better get you your credentials pronto.”

“Send them to my folks’ address.”

“Will do.” River said then paused before continuing. “You’re not in the Army anymore, and we’re not cops or FBI agents, so don’t kill anyone. Okay?”

What the fuck?

“It’s Tuesday,” Smoke told him with complete seriousness. “I don’t like killing people indiscriminately on Tuesdays.”

“No?” The smart-ass sounded surprised.

“No. I save random killing for Fridays and Saturdays.”

“What about Sundays?” River asked, curiosity making his voice rise.

“Sundays, I just slap people around for the fun of it.”

“That seems a bit harsh. What do you do on Mondays?”

“I punch smart-asses in the mouth.”

“See you Monday then,” River said cheerfully then hung up.

“Julie Rowe blends the perfect cocktail of action & romance.” — Brenda Novak, NYT bestselling author on Icebound

CDC nurse Joy Oshiro is stressed to the breaking point. College students are dying and no one knows why. And her new partner Dr. Gunner Anderson is frustratingly annoying—and sexy, but mainly just plain annoying—and proving difficult to avoid. He spent three years with Doctors Without Borders, and disillusioned is just the tip of his issues.

They’ll need to learn to trust each other if they have a chance at figuring out who is behind the attacks. She makes him laugh, makes him forget—for a little while. But each new clue keeps them one step behind the terrorists, with buildings and evidence being destroyed just as they near.

Now they’re in a race against time to not only find a cure, but also to avoid becoming the next targets themselves.

Each book in the Outbreak Task Force series is STANDALONE
Chapter One
February 1, 8:00 a.m.

Fired. He was going to get fucking fired.
Dr. Gunner Anderson stood in the open doorway of his shared office, a cup of coffee in one hand, a growl clawing its way out of his throat.
His desk faced the door and was the first thing to come into view. It held the same mess of papers, folders, and sticky notes covering the scuffed surface as when he left. The same four-sided rectangular shape and banal beige as a million other desks government employees rode.
It was the second desk, perpendicular to his, that caught his attention. Clean, free of paper and everything else—its excessive neatness made it stand out and shout for attention.
Gunner continued to stare at it for a moment, dread’s cold fists pummeling his stomach and diaphragm.
His work partner, Raymond, a man in his late-twenties who still lived with his parents, had cleared out his stuff. Or had he just tidied things finally? The guy was disorganized, stacking files, reports, and notes all over the place. It drove Gunner nuts. There was no excuse for being unable to find information on your desk because it was a pigsty.
He strode to the stripped work space, searching for signs of life.
He was out of luck. Everything was gone, right down to the paperclips and stapler. Raymond, a microbiologist with a hand-washing fetish, had abandoned ship. Son of a bitch. That little twerp had left him with over a dozen open cases to properly investigate, classify, and offer recommendations on.
Fingers itching to strangle the shit, Gunner took a swig of his coffee and contemplated what he was going to say to his boss, Dr. Carmen Rodrigues.
She’d given him fair warning when the partner before Raymond had bailed on him, telling him to stop acting like a jerk and get along with his coworkers. Or else.
She hadn’t specified the or else.
Worst case scenario was he’d get fired, which did, in fact, bother him.
Sometime during the last couple of years, he’d discovered he liked investigating hotspots of disease. He liked untangling the threads of an outbreak to find its source. He liked seeing normal return to places and people who’d been devastated by disease or disaster.
Disease always followed disaster.
A few months ago, he’d been assigned to work as part of the Outbreak Task Force, whose members were the boots on the ground who implemented medical assistance. He liked that most of all. It was exhausting, difficult work, but that just made success more rewarding.
What he didn’t like was having to break in another new partner.
Someone cleared their throat behind him.
Gunner turned to find DS, as he preferred to be called, standing in the doorway. He was a retired Army drill sergeant who took his new job of settling in new employees very seriously.
“Got a new partner for you, Gunner,” the grizzled older man said. His brush cut looked fresh and precise, his jaw clean shaven, and his clothes pressed, making him look like he was wearing a uniform, even though he wasn’t.
“I’m not fired?” Gunner asked, genuinely surprised.
DS smiled, and it wasn’t altogether friendly. “Rodrigues thought about it but decided to give you one last kick at the can.”
DS looked way too happy about the situation. That didn’t bode well. “So, is this person my worst nightmare?”
“Of course not.” The DS’s smile definitely had an edge to it. “I’ll bring her up as soon as she’s finished boxing her stuff for the move in here and other crap. Should be in about an hour.”
DS turned to leave, but stopped and glanced over his shoulder at Gunner, the smile nowhere in evidence. “Ray wasn’t a good fit for you. Too…young.”
Too inexperienced, but DS didn’t have to elaborate.
Gunner had lived through three years of hell and horror. It had changed him, made him less patient and less tolerant of politics, power plays, and polite niceties.
Who had time for that shit when people all around you were dying?
“How do you know this one is different?” Gunner asked.
The smile returned. “Her eight years as an Army nurse, for one thing. And if that doesn’t convince you, she did a stint as a combat medic, too. She isn’t going to be scared of
a little bit of snark.”
His pulse picked up speed. There was only one person working for the CDC in Atlanta that fit those parameters.
“And if we don’t get along?”
“I’d start looking for a new job.”
The older man walked away.
Gunner sat down behind his desk. Joy Ashiro… He’d stayed away from her for several very good reasons.
Petite and curvy with dark hair and eyes, she added something energetic and fresh to a room when she walked in. But it was her smile and laugh that grabbed him by the balls. They did something to his insides—lessened the pain, the regrets, the wounds on his soul. Made him feel…human again.
When she’d shown up on Thanksgiving with food for whoever was working, complete with pumpkin pie, he’d almost asked her to stay and eat with him. Keeping his mouth shut hadn’t been easy, but his gut told him that if he spent time with her, his physical attraction to her would grow beyond his ability to control.
If he allowed himself to feel anything, the dam inside his soul would burst, and the weight of his dead would suffocate him in sorrow. He wasn’t ready for that burden.
Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Still, every time Joy glanced at him with all that passion in her gaze, he wanted to find out if maybe, maybe he could exist outside of the prison of his memories, outside of work, without self-destructing.
That scared the shit out of him.
His cell phone dinged with a text.
It was from Dr. Rodrigues.
My office. Now. Great. She was going to read the riot act to him, including all the ways she was going to fire his ass if he couldn’t get along with his new partner. Blah, blah, blah.
He walked into her office then had to wait while she ended a phone call.
Carmen Rodrigues stared at him after she put her phone down, her gray hair cut in a feminine style that make her look younger than the color of her hair said she was.
“Raymond is going to need therapy.”
“Raymond needs some field experience to toughen him up,” Gunner countered. “I don’t have the time or inclination to hand-hold anyone.”
“I was hoping you’d act as his mentor.”
Gunner shrugged. “Maybe in five years or so. When he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and swear once in a while.”
Rodrigues shook her head. “This is the last time, Gunner. If you can’t work with Joy, I’ll have to cut you lose.”
“Joy Ashiro?” Say no, please say no.
“Yes.” Rodrigues fixed him with a stern stare. “Figure out your shit, Gunner. I don’t want to lose you.”
Gunner managed to keep his mouth shut and just nodded. Did she think he wasn’t trying to get his head on straight? He’d done all the things you were supposed to do. Psychiatric assessment, regular counseling, and an alphabet of medications. He knew damn well he suffered from PTSD and depression, but the attitude of most of the mental health professionals he’d encountered had gone in one of two directions. Either they smiled, patted him on the head, and promised him that with enough time, he’d be able to function normally in society again—gee, thanks for making him feel like he was a charity case. Or they offered even more medications, enough to knock an elephant on its ass, without asking the right questions about what he’d experienced. They simply didn’t have a frame of reference to understand what he’d been through.
What he was still going through.
He hadn’t been able to control his environment even on the most basic level in Syria. Now, a tidy, organized apartment and office was a key coping strategy for him.
Expecting his partner to keep their goddamn desk clean wasn’t too much to ask for, was it?
“I’m not chasing people off on purpose,” he said. “It’s like I’ve lost all my filters, and no matter how hard I look, I’m not finding them.”
Rodrigues considered him for a moment. “Maybe you’ll get along then, because Joy doesn’t have any filters either.
Shoo.” She turned her attention back to her computer screen, a not-so-subtle message for him to leave.
Gunner left her office and returned to his own as frustration built up against the internal fence he’d constructed to keep his emotions corralled.
Now what the fuck was he going to do?
Work. If he focused hard enough on work, it would keep him from acting like an even bigger jackass than he was afraid he could be.
He sat down and began wading through the most recent lab reports from American hospitals and clinics of reportable diseases and infections. Everything from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections to weird viruses some newbie resident thought was brand new.
A lot of the reports were nothing unusual, but you never
knew when something interesting or dangerous might pop up.
A brisk knock at the door, followed by someone entering, brought his attention back to the here and now.
DS walked in with Gunner’s personal kryptonite right behind him. Adrenaline kissed his bloodstream, and he had to force himself to maintain his relaxed posture. She was small, with short dark brown hair and brown eyes. Her scrub top and jeans told him she was ready to work and wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty.
Better start this off on the right foot.
Professional, he could do professional.
Gunner got up and went around his desk to shake her hand. “Gunner.” He took her hand, and a tendril of her scent, autumn leaves and pumpkin pie, set off a chain reaction inside him. It fed him energy and adrenaline. He savored it, noting she was at least a foot shorter than his six foot two height, and her curves were even more lethal than he remembered. Her grip was firm, confident, and she had a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. He paused, her hand warm in his. He loved freckles. Why hadn’t he noticed them before? He could have stood there for a long time, soaking in her warmth and savoring the bite of attraction nibbling on every nerve in his body.
She gently pulled her hand away. “Joy,” she said, and her voice was a pleasant alto. She tilted her head to one side and looked at him with a half smile. “Huh. You don’t seem as carnivorous as the rumor mill describes you.”
A shoot first, ask questions later person. It shouldn’t have been appealing, but a part of him that had been sleeping for a long time cracked open an eye to evaluate this new and interesting creature in his lair.
“We’ve run into each other a few times before,” he said, trying out a smile. Hey, look at that, his face didn’t even crack. “But we weren’t introduced. Besides”—he shrugged and glanced at the empty desk—“I just ate.”
She cleared her throat and looked at him sidelong. “Still full or suffering from indigestion?”
Was she laughing at him? He glanced at DS and found the older man smiling widely.
Yup, laughing.
Gunner looked at his new partner again. “Full.” She had a sense of humor—bonus.
His cock took notice.
Fuck, that’s all he needed. She was his new work partner, nothing more, nothing less.
“I’ll leave you two to get better acquainted,” DS said.
“I’ll be back at lunch.” He left the room, leaving the door open.
Gunner focused on Joy. If he didn’t get his body under control, she was going to see just how happy he was to have her working with him. He moved to sit behind his desk. Not a retreat. Nope, no sir. “I know I’m supposed to be polite and refrain from using bad language, whatever that means, but I was wondering if you’d like to…uh, skip the bullshit?”
She met his gaze with one that briefly showed surprise before it morphed into a delighted smile. “Please.”
Where to start? “What do you know about me?”
“We went through the CDC’s outbreak investigation training at the same time, but never interacted together directly. I’m the third person assigned to be your partner in the last six months. Your previous partners have described you as: irritable, short-tempered, and impatient.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice to whisper loudly, “Those were the nice words.”
He snorted, almost laughed. “What were the not-nice words?”
She grinned and started unpacking as she said, “I quote, from your first partner: he’s an asshole. Your second one said, he has all the diplomatic skills of a starving velociraptor.”
Colorful, but obviously she didn’t find the not-nice words intimidating. “Most people would hesitate to work with someone like that.”
“I’m not most people.”
“So, you’ve worked with a few asshole dinosaurs before?”
“The Army is full of them.” She met his gaze, and her smile had gained a sharp edge. “Whatever I receive, I can dish out.”
His gut said she wasn’t boasting. “DS said you were in combat rescue. How long did you do that?”
“One deployment, about eight months.” She considered him. “I heard you spent some time in Syria.”
“Doctors Without Borders, yeah. Three years.”
She paused, the smile falling off her face. “That’s a long time. Did you move around?”
“Some. Most of the time I was in Aleppo, but I also spent time in Damascus and Homs.”
She stared at him, a frown on her face. “Some serious shit went down in all of those places.”
“Shit is a good way to describe it.” But completely inadequate. More like total death and destruction.
“So, what was the deal with you and your previous partners?” she asked in a carefully cheerful tone.
Phony feelings he could do without. “Are you trying to manage me?”
“That’s what getting along with people is. Figuring out how to manage them.” She gave him a duh look. “You’re smart enough to know that, so I ask again, what was the deal?”
She hadn’t known him five minutes, and already she wanted to take him apart.
She glanced at him and started to laugh. “Did they take one look at your awesome grumpy face and start babbling?”
“No,” he said, but even he could hear the irritation in his voice.
“I bet they shut right up.” She laughed again. “I talked to Raymond for a couple of minutes this morning.”
“And what did he have to say?”
She rolled her eyes. “What a whiner. I’m not surprised you didn’t get along. I think he wants to work with a mother figure.”
“I don’t have the hips for it.” That wasn’t the only reason.
What could he say that wouldn’t scare her off? Wait, did he want to keep her?
With her experience, she might be a good fit.
His mind went to places it should never go with a coworker.
He cleared his throat. “I do swear a lot,” Gunner confessed. “It’s made some people here uncomfortable.”
“Fucking A,” she said with a grin that now appeared completely genuine and way too energetic.
Oh boy. “Are you always this happy?”
“Nah, I’m usually much happier.”
“Happy people give me a rash.” Gunner rubbed his face with both hands. “Maybe I should just kill myself now.”
“Where would the fun be in that?”
He pulled his hands away from his face to find her smiling, but it was quieter, less silly.
“I don’t care if you’re bitchy,” she said, the humor not quite leaving her face. “As long as you do your job. You back me up when I need it, and I’ll do the same for you.”
“Sounds reasonable,” he said.
All traces of comedy fled from her face as she said in a tone so hard and sharp it could flay the skin off his bones,
“But if you try to fuck me up or fuck me over, I will bury you.” Her gaze was clear and direct. “Do you get me?”
Joy Ashiro, trauma nurse, had a scary side to her, and damn if he didn’t find that both admirable and attractive as all hell.
It was Gunner’s turn to grin. “That is the best deal I’ve heard in years.”

Chapter Two
February 14, 2:30 p.m.

Joy paused outside her office door and kicked it with one foot in lieu of knocking, both hands busy holding up a precariously piled high pillar of coffee cups, pumpkin muffins, and a container of her killer pumpkin cream cheese icing for the muffins.
Gunner had a soft spot for pumpkin-flavored treats.
She’d found that out a few months ago when she’d popped in with food for whoever was on duty over Thanksgiving weekend.
He hadn’t been overly friendly, but the sight of the pumpkin pie amongst the containers of food had turned him into Mr. Cooperation.
He’d kept looking at the pie like it was going to spontaneously combust at any moment and cheat him of his opportunity to consume it. Did he look at a woman he wanted with the same laser-intense focus?
She’d gotten hot just thinking about it.
Gunner wasn’t classically handsome, but his broad shoulders, fit physique, and direct blue gaze heated her blood, turning it molten. She wanted to touch him, to see if skin to skin contact raised her temperature even more. Or if it was her imagination creating something out of nothing.
She’d been leery of this assignment to work with him, especially after she’d heard a multitude of asshole behavior horror stories from his past partners. So far, he’d been occasionally grumpy, but she’d discovered he simply needed time to inhale a couple of cups of coffee before he was ready to talk to anyone. That, and a neat and organized work space.
Last week, she’d brought in another pie to eat with lunch and shared it with him. He’d been positively giddy the entire afternoon.
DS even asked what wonder drug she’d put in his coffee.
Like she was going to hand over her secret weapon because he asked so politely. Hah.
The office door opened.
Gunner already had his mouth open, probably to bark, “What?”, but as soon as he took her and her burdens in, he stepped out of the way and grabbed the tray of coffee she had precariously balanced on the top of the food containers.
She managed to make it to her desk with dropping any of her precious cargo.
He followed her, staring at the food. “Is that what I think it is?”
“As long as you think it’s pumpkin muffins with pumpkin cream cheese icing,” she replied.
He stilled and closed his eyes. “You figured me out.”
“What are you so worried about?” Joy shrugged.
“Everyone has a weakness.” She lowered her voice to a stage whisper. “Mine is dark chocolate, by the way.”
He opened his eyes and attempted to pin her with a stare. “Who knows?”
“About your passionate penchant for pumpkin? No one.” She smiled. “Yet.”
His eyebrows crowded low over his eyes.
She sighed and shook her head. “I still don’t think you’re scary.”
He glanced away then took a step closer to the food and examined the muffins. “You baked these yourself?” he asked, suspicion coating every letter.
“I picked them up at that TV show cupcake store, but the icing is all my own creation,” she replied then watched him relax way too much at her answer. “Hey, the only thing
I’ve burnt was my toast last week.”
“You set off the fire alarm,” he drawled. “And completely fried the toaster.” He paused. “The ceiling in the lunch room has to be repainted.”
“If you don’t stop complaining, I’m going to eat all the icing.” It was not an idle threat. She’d only brought one small container of her incredible cream cheese icing. She’d planned to share it, but if he was going to act like a jackass, he was going to eat his muffin naked.
The mental image of Gunner of eating with no clothes on, and licking his fingers clean, only made her hungry for things other than food. Like a peek at his outstanding ass or shredded abs. She’d seen him shirtless a few times at the gym they both went to. Delicious.
No. Bad Joy, very bad.
Sometimes, though, it was good to be bad.
“I’m not complaining.” He took a muffin and a coffee.
“I’m stating a fact.” He spread some icing over his muffin.
“Why the pastries?” he asked, his gaze taking in her face with narrowed eyes.
Hah. What he really meant was, is this charity or pity? Because if it is, fuck off. She’d never met anyone so suspicious of kindness in her life.
“You didn’t eat any lunch, and I was afraid you’d starve without someone dropping you an aid package.”
His expression turned bland. “If you’re this desperate to get a job with the Red Cross, have no fear. I’ll write you a recommendation, and you don’t even need to feed me.”
Cheeky bastard. “I’m trying to keep your blood sugar within normal limits. Eating crap out of the vending machines isn’t healthy.”
He made a show of looking at his plate full of muffin-y goodness. “I doubt this is going to spare me from diabetes, and I’m absolutely certain it isn’t going to do my arteries any good.”
She rolled her eyes. “You really make it hard for a person to like you.”
“I don’t want anyone to like me,” he said almost cheerfully, taking his muffin back to his desk and sitting down. “I just want to do my job and go home.”
What a load of bullshit.
If she said that out loud he’d stop listening. “Too bad you have to talk to actual human beings in order to do your job.”
“Yes.” He gave her a sad face. “It’s a struggle, but I persevere, adapt, and overcome.”
“I think the adage is improvise, adapt, and overcome, and you stole that from the Marines.”
“Pfft. You say potato, I say tomato.”
She winced. “Um, that’s not how that one goes, either.”
He didn’t reply, choosing to eat his muffin instead, but there at the corner of his mouth, was that a smile? Yes, the corners of his eyes were slightly wrinkled.
The jerk was smiling.
She pointed a finger at him. “You have a sense of humor.”
That wiped the happy right off his face. “I do not.”
“You sneaky son of a bitch,” she breathed. It was underhanded, camouflaged, and buried under a mountain of snark, but he definitely had a sense of humor.
They stared at each other like two gunfighters at a fastdraw showdown.
“Who are you going to tell?” he asked, breaking the silence.
“No one,” she said without hesitation. “If they can’t figure it out for themselves, too fucking bad.”
His gaze turned speculative. “You ever play good cop, bad cop?”
“No, but I’d be curious to try good nurse, bad doctor.”
His eyebrows went up.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, not…that.”
Not that she wouldn’t mind doing a little of that with Gunner, the man was hot, but anything more than fantasizing in her head would be stupid in the extreme.
He flashed her a smile. The first genuine, real smile she’d seen on his face, and a concern that had paced restlessly in the back of her head stopped moving and went to sleep.
“As long as I get to be the bad one most of the time… deal.”
“How is that fair?” He wore his stubborn face. “Okay, fine. When you’re done, can we talk about your open cases? I’ve gone through them all, and there are a few things of note.”
He finished his muffin, dusted off his hands, and pulled out a dog-eared notebook. “Shoot.”
“The Free America From Oppression assholes are mentioned in nearly half of your notes,” she said, having made notes as she read through each case. “They can’t actually be involved in all of these, can they?”
“Only if they’re paying union rates.” Gunner sounded as irritated as she felt. “I doubt it, but with bioterrorism scares on the rise, that particular organization is at the top of everyone’s mind. Plus, I think they sometimes take credit for shit they didn’t do.”
“That’s awfully juvenile.”
“It’s stupid and disgusting.” He shrugged to say, what can you expect? He was trying hard to appear casual, but the muscles along one side of his face were tense enough to stand out.
It really bothered him. More than he was saying.
“We’ll get them,” she told him with quiet confidence.
“They’re going to fuck up, and we’ll catch them.”
“Someone else will take their place.”
“Then we’ll catch them, too.” She gave him an arch expression. “We don’t give up.”
He glanced at her, and for a moment he looked exhausted, tired to the bone. Then, he took another bite of his muffin and said, “Who do you think we are, the postal service?”
“We’re better than them. We’re the quiet, unseen superheroes who save the day without anyone knowing we were even there.”
“You put something weird in the icing, didn’t you?”
She didn’t bother dignifying that remark with an answer.

Full-time author, freelance writer and workshop facilitator, Julie Rowe’s debut novel, Icebound, was released by Carina Press on Nov 14, 2011. Ten novels and eight anthologies have followed. Her most recent titles are the MEN OF ACTION boxed set and VIRAL JUSTICE book #3 of the Biological Response Team series. Julie’s articles and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines, such as Romantic Times Magazine, Today's Parent magazine and Canadian Living. Julie facilitates business writing and communication workshops at Keyano College in her home city, and has presented writing workshops at conferences in the United States and Canada. She’s also a strong supporter of life long learning and moderates a free announcement loop for the promotion of online classes, workshops and webinars


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