Ropes, passion, danger, diamonds . . . mission accomplished.
Command Force Alpha, Book 3
Digital Release: October 28, 2014
Digital ISBN: 978-1619218802
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Widower Nicholas “Nicky” Stafford, leader of Command Force Alpha, has known love, loss and high-stakes danger. Recent run-ins with a Russian conglomerate codenamed Firebird have been the most challenging of his career.
He trusts his professional judgment, but cannot trust his desires when a colleague insists the only way to trace Firebird’s dirty money is to pose as besotted lovers at a fetish conference. Nicky hasn’t touched shibari rope since his beloved wife’s death.
Astrid Holm has lost everything. Twice. Her father bankrupted her family, then she became notorious after blowing the whistle at a Fortune 500. With her career in ruins, she found herself sitting opposite steely-eyed Colonel Stafford…who made her CFA’s top accountant.
As they explore the conference’s dangerous delights, Nicky discovers that Astrid’s sweet eccentricities revitalize his soul. When bound by his skilled hands, Astrid finds the safety she craves. That safety is short-lived. Before passion can become love, they must evade traps more elaborate than the knots that bind them.
Warning: This book contains very intricate rope work that should not be attempted without proper training. Authors suggests you find your own angsty, secret-ops colonel to tie you in complicated poses and bang you silly.
He’d told her to wear comfortable clothes she could stretch in. She’d listened, but she hadn’t worn the T-shirt and yoga pants he’d had in mind. Atop a pair of leggings, she wore an ultra-thin, oversized shirt that draped over one nearly bare shoulder. He opted to focus on that, rather than the comfortable way she’d wrapped rope around her own wrist. “Your clothing is too loose. It’s going to be limiting in the ties I can do.”
“What, this thing?” She plucked at the shirt around her slim hips. “Oh no, I planned to take it off. I needed something to walk through the hotel in. I mean, they don’t want us to get arrested for exposure or anything. It was in the conference rules. So don’t be heading to the ice machine in your boxers.” She paused and blinked up at him? “Do you wear boxers? I don’t think I can picture you in briefs.”
“Don’t take the shirt off,” he said, skipping two-thirds of her rambling.
“Is that an order?” Her hands lifted to the hem of her shirt–one tiny lift, then back down again. She was teasing him.
He formed loose fists. She wasn’t a field operative, and she didn’t know the importance of obeying. She shouldn’t really even be here. The burning need to get Firebird’s moneyman, to crack the organization as a whole… It had led Nicky to sign off on this probably foolish idea. He wanted to know why he’d been shot a year ago, why agents had been sent to tail his daughter. Most of all, CFA as a whole wanted revenge for Firebird’s awful treatment of Laurence Madigan.
Nicky knew he could keep her safe. He knew it all the way down to his bones. But it also meant Nicky had to make allowances for Astrid and her lack of field training. “Not an order.”
“I’m glad.” She pulled it off and draped it over the back of her chair. “There. Much more mobility now.”
His mouth went dry at first. Then he was drowning in a rush of moisture–in a rush of want. She wore a pink bra that nearly matched the hemp she’d ordered. The cups were opaque and offered full coverage, closer to a bikini than most lingerie, but he knew what they contained. He knew what he wanted to do to her full, luscious globes. She looked so damn soft. She was lithe and strong too, but everything about her from her waist to her round shoulders to her tummy was smooth.
She smiled at him, completely unrepentant.
“It looks like you’ve got a willful one on your hands,” said a friendly voice from the other side of the table. He was a wiry guy with a faint hipster look in his unshaven scruff. His hand was extended. “I’m William.”
“Nice to meet you.” Nicky shook briefly. “I’m Ted Kirkpatrick,” he said, giving his cover name for the operation.
“And I’m April Pitt,” added Astrid, holding her own hand out. “We’re really happy to be here.”
William gave Nicky a quick look, but he folded his arms over his chest and remained impassive. “Glad we could get your rope selection in on time.”
There was a little more small talk, before William moved on to a different couple, set up at the other end of the table.
Astrid stepped closer to Nicky, close enough that he could smell her perfume over the scent of the ropes. Sharp and sweet mixed together until he thought he would lose his mind. “Why did he look at you and not shake my hand? I’m not normally snubbed, frankly. I don’t get it.”
“Because I’m your big, bad Dom.” Even saying the words in jest gave him an uncomfortable charge. It was a rush he hadn’t had in so damn long. Too bad it was under these circumstances. “In some circles of BDSM, it’s polite to check with the Dominant or top before speaking or making contact with the submissive. Apparently I didn’t give the impression I wanted him to touch you.”
“All very gallant and caveman of you, which is sweet and kinda hot. But the rest…” She wrinkled her nose and peeked around him to look at William. “Ew. I don’t like that. Liking you tying my wrists…that just was. But it didn’t make me not a person.”
He shook his head, catching her by the chin and directing her gaze upward. The green was strong in her eyes. He liked it. The color reminded him of the Pacific, where he knew she’d grown up. “Protocol games don’t make anyone give up their humanity. Some people live for it, just like any other kink.”
Astrid’s gaze searched his face, but for once she seemed to consciously withhold her stream of babble. The fact that William and Rose were calling the class to attention at the front of the room helped. “It just surprised me,” she said with simple intensity. “I’m sure it can be finessed well. I’m sorry if I offended you.”
He nodded. It was the only answer he could give.
The class began with a review of basic terms. Shibari literally meant tying. The more traditional term was kinbaku, which was taken to mean the art of rope bondage, including sexual and emotional energy. They wouldn’t be covering tsuri in workshops, which was a good thing because suspension ropes were too advanced for beginners, but demonstrations would be offered throughout the weekend.
Nicky knew it all. He might not have indulged for a long time, but the knowledge didn’t evaporate because he’d decided not to think about it anymore.
No one matched their target’s description–although Nicky wasn’t the only person in the world able to change his appearance. There was a wide range of women and men interested in a beginner rope course, however. A lesbian couple sat directly in front of Nicky and Astrid. To their right were a middle-aged man and woman with liberal white sprinkled in their hair. The rows ahead of them were filled as well, with everyone from twenty-somethings to a trio made of two women and one man.
Absolutely zero of them were as beautiful as Astrid next to him.
Not good. He wasn’t supposed to be noticing how gorgeous a woman was when he was on a covert mission with her. It said really bad things about his priorities.
She poked him in the side. “Psst. You’re not paying attention, are you?”
“I’m paying attention to what I need to,” he whispered in return.
“We have to look like we belong here. They just told us to start practicing. Are you even a little bit ready? I don’t want my hands turning blue. Or you to pinch my nerves. That’s what they were talking about.”
He lifted a single eyebrow as he gathered a thirty-foot length of rope. It moved like silk in his hands, soft and supple. “And I already talked to you about that in your office, remember? I know what I’m doing, Astrid.”
He placed Astrid’s hands together, palm to palm, and had her hold them in front of her body. He proceeded to loop rope around her shoulders. Down her arms. Across and back again. The knots were the best part. Every time Nicky cinched one tight, she jumped or gasped–always a reaction. It was a gradually unraveling inner tension. Easing. Taking.
Her eyes went hazy on the third loop, just below the tender joint of her elbow. That gorgeous Pacific green turned smokier, like fog across the water at dusk.
The ends of the rope slid through his fingers, then between her forearms. Back again. Her breath was slowing. She was breathing as deeply as possible. Her breasts rose and fell with every sharp inhalation. He touched her nowhere but her arms, guiding her and pulling. That was their only point of physical connection.
She was a mouse who’d run back and forth in front of a cat one too many times.
At least she’d stopped talking. When he finished off the tie, he tucked the ends out of sight so the design appeared as a never-ending piece of art. She still didn’t speak, although her eyes communicated with him on a primal level. He traced the lines over her shoulders and down her upper arms. Her hands were still together in a prayer position–appropriately described, because she appeared as comforted as someone at prayer.
“I tied it tightly enough that it’ll leave marks,” he said quietly. “Here. And probably here. The ones on your forearms will fade first, but these might bruise.”
Her throat worked over a swallow. “You should have warned me.”
“Would you have stopped me?”
Her reply came out on a whisper: “No.”