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Special Ops BodyguardSpecial Ops Bodyguard

Finalist in the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Awards for Bets Harlequin Romantic Suspense of 2011!

"I have a mission—and you're not it."

Is it the honey-blond hair? The blue eyes? Gage Prescott can't put his finger on it, but something about the Maple Cove waitress is both sexy and innocent. Not that it matters. The battle-scarred ex-Army Ranger has come to this Montana town as bodyguard to Senator Kelley, not to let a pretty face distract him.

Kate Rogers has her own mission. If, while on assignment, the handsome Gage can assist with her sister's abusive husband, she'll accept that gratefully. But will their growing passion interfere when their duties involve life and death?


SPECIAL OPS BODYGUARD (4) by Beth Cornelison: Waitress Kate  Rogers meets former Army Ranger Gage Prescott when he becomes a  regular at her diner while providing protection for scandal-ridden Senator Hank Kelley, who is in hiding at his son's ranch after receiving threats against his safety. The bodyguard job is complicated by the abduction of the senator's daughter. Fearing further scandal, the senator refuses to notify the FBI. Cornelison's latest book in the Kelley Family series is fast  paced and well plotted. Kate and Gage are intriguing characters." -- Roseann Marlett, RT BookClub


Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

If experience had taught Gage Prescott anything, it was that looks could be deceiving. An isolated and empty road in Afghanistan could be hiding IEDs and well-camouflaged Taliban fighters. Even on a quiet evening, an ambush and the slaughter of your team could happen in blinding seconds. Likewise, Maple Cove, a sleepy Montana town nestled at the foot of the Absaroka Mountains in the shadow of Mount Cowen, might not be the safe escape his client was looking for. The U.S. Senator from California, Henry "Hank" Kelley, had retreated to his son Cole's ranch just outside the idyllic-looking small town after riling his enemies and having numerous mistresses come forward alleging affairs. Hank Kelley's life was in shambles, and the senator feared for it--which was why his son Dylan had hired Gage and another bodyguard to protect his father. While Bart Holden, Hank's other bodyguard, had the night shift guarding the senator, Gage had taken the opportunity to do a little reconnaissance. He parked the ancient pickup truck he'd borrowed from the ranch hands and sent an all encompassing glance around the main street of Maple Cove. He half expected to see a whistling man and his son strolling down the street with fishing poles, a la Mayberry.

A yellow moon rose above the jagged mountains and cast an eerie glow over the red maple trees lining the main street. In the dim evening light, the fall foliage took on a blood-red cast, and images of gore and the cacophony of gunfire and agonized screams prodded his memory. His heart thundering and a fine sheen of sweat rising above his lip, Gage squeezed the steering wheel and shook off the haunting sights and sounds. This quiet hamlet was a far cry from the barren and dangerous landscape where he'd last worked, but the chill in the October evening air burrowed into Gage's bones and warned him all might not be as calm and safe as it seemed.

Slamming the truck door behind him, Gage headed down the sidewalk, getting a feel for the town. As he passed a small diner, the aroma of fresh baked bread and savory beef wafted out to the street, and his stomach rumbled. Deciding Ira's Diner was a good place to start meeting the town's citizens and scoping out potential hazards for the senator, Gage stepped inside.

When the bell over the door announced his arrival, a blond waitress behind the counter looked up from the register's cash drawer and shot him a smile filled with sunshine. "Hello there," the honey haired vision said, her lilting voice as bright as her smile. "Make yourself at home. I'll be right over to get your order."

Gage arched an eyebrow, intrigued by the beautiful waitress. He wasn't sure what sort of women he'd expected to find in the small town, but this perky blonde certainly hadn't been on his radar. He chose a stool at the lunch counter and picked up the sticky menu to peruse the diner's offerings.

"Howdy, stranger. What brings you to our humble town?" The blonde slid a glass of ice water in front of him and used a rag to wipe the counter.

Gage glanced up from the menu, and his breath caught in his lungs. The waitress's wheat colored hair was streaked with gold and framed eyes as clear and blue as the Montana sky. For a moment, he could only stare, his body humming with a purely male interest he hadn't experienced in more months than he could count.

"Sir? Everything all right?" Her question nudged him from his daze, and he frowned, embarrassed to have been caught gawking. "Yeah, fine.  I'll, uh--have the roast beef and potatoes.  Coffee.  Black."

He handed the menu back to her, and she grinned. "Good choice. The beef around here is the best you've ever had.  Guaranteed."  She scribbled his order on a pad, then hung the sheet on the order wheel for the kitchen.  "One of the advantages of living in ranching country.  Prime beef." He tipped his head in acknowledgment but kept his expression neutral. "What are the advantages if you're a vegetarian?" She sputtered a laugh, and the twinkle of amusement in her gaze made his pulse dance a little two-step. "Then I guess you'd have to find your pleasure in the scenic beauty and the friendly people of our fine state."

 "I agree the scenery?" he paused meaningfully and lifted one eyebrow "There is more beautiful than I'd expected."

Her eyes narrowed, but her lopsided grin kept her expression light. "Why, sir, are you flirting with me?"

Gage pressed his lips in a hard line just short of a scowl. "I don't flirt, ma'am. If I were interested in you, I'd let you know. No games."

She rocked back on her heels, and her smile faded. "Oh, I’m sorry." She seemed inordinately rattled by his gruff response.  An endearing pink tint filled her ivory cheeks, and she caught her plump bottom lip with her teeth. She was sexy innocence personified, and he felt like a first-class heel for his curt reply. Flapping a hand toward the other end of the counter, she took a step back. "I'll just-get your coffee."

Gage gritted his teeth as she hurried away, leaving the scent of vanilla and cinnamon in her wake. He savored the sweet aroma and kicked himself for driving her away.  What was wrong with him? Just because he was on assignment and had no business entertaining any ideas of female company didn't mean he couldn't be friendly.  Or at least civil. People didn't generally use the term friendly in regards to him. He didn't do warm and fuzzy. Two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Rangers had hardened him, jaded him. His last mission had scarred him. Both physically and mentally. He found it hard to be hearts and flowers when his best friends' blood was on his hands, and the dying moans of his Rangers team echoed in his nightmares.

Still, his lousy past wasn't her fault, and he might need an ally in town, a resource for information about the people and politics in Maple Cove. Perhaps a better tactical move would be to enlist her help rather than keep the tempting treat at arms' length.

She set a steaming mug in front of him but offered no smile this time. "Coffee.  Black."

"Thanks," he grunted, and before he could form a question about the residents of the town, she'd spun away and returned to the far end of the counter. Sighing, Gage turned his stool so he could lean back against the counter on his elbows and take in the rest of the diner. The buttery-yellow walls and high ceiling lent the otherwise dark decor a feminine touch, much the way his perky waitress had shone her light on his grim mood tonight. He angled a side glance toward her and caught her furtive glance in his direction. Jerking her gaze away, she ducked her head, blushing to her roots, and gave the counter a harder wipe. Gage's cheek twitched in an almost grin. She so blatantly wore her heart on her sleeve, he wanted to laugh. Her openness and lack of pretense was refreshing. Looks could be deceiving. He groaned internally. Always staying guarded, wary and suspicious grew tiresome, but in Gage's world, relaxing your defenses or showing your deeper self meant leaving yourself open to attack.  Weak. Vulnerable.  

Near the diner's door, an elderly gentleman scraped the last bite of pie from his plate while reading a Bozeman newspaper. "Delicious as always, Kate!" he called to the blonde, who responded with a wide grin.

A few tables away, a young couple with a whiny baby packed up their belongings and called a good night to the cook through the open kitchen door. Across the room, another waitress, also an attractive blonde, though not in the same league as Miss Sunshine, wiped tables, then sent him a curious look as she carried a tray of dirty dishes from the dining room.

"Order up, Kate," the cook called as he slapped a plate up on the shelf under the order wheel.

Miss Sunshine scurried over, flashed the cook a bright smile, and called, "Thanks, Pete." She gathered a set of silverware and a napkin before she carried Gage's dinner to him. "Can I get you anything else?"

She added a quick smile, though the light didn't reach her eyes.  You hurt her. He shook his head, and as she turned to leave, he said, "Business."

She faced him, a curious crease in her brow. "Pardon?"

"You asked me earlier what brought me to town. I'm here on business.  On assignment."

Her expression warmed, clearly taking his answer as the apology he intended. Following his cue, she leaned her hip against the counter, and her smile lit with the sunshine with which she'd first greeted him. "What kind of assignment? Are you a reporter?"

He cut himself a bite of the beef and shook his head.  "Security specialist."

She blinked at him. "Which means what?"

"I'm protecting a client."

Her eyebrows shot up, and her cornflower eyes widened. "As in a bodyguard? Who for?" She leaned closer, lowering her voice to a titillated hush. "Is there a movie star in town?"

He shoved the meat in his mouth. "No. Not a movie star." The tender beef and perfect seasoning of his dinner registered as he chewed, and he couldn't suppress the groan of pure satisfaction.

His waitress's grin turned smug.  "Told you it was the best you'd ever have. And wait until you try my apple pie. I just took it out of the oven before you walked in here. I'll cut you a fat slice if you'd like."

Gage stabbed another bite. "Maybe."

"Wait a minute." She sent him a speculative look. "Cole Kelley's dad is a U.S. Senator." She tucked a handful of silky, honey blond hair behind her ear and canted toward him. "So?...is it Senator Kelley? Is that who you're protecting?"

 

July 2011
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
ISBN 978-0-373-27738-4

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