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Authors: Suzanne Brockmann

Love with the Proper Stranger

BOOK: Love with the Proper Stranger
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His name wasn’t Jonathan Mills, and he wasn’t vacationing on the idyllic island. FBI agent John Miller was on the trail of a notorious female serial killer, and he couldn’t blow his cover to anyone. Not even the beguiling Mariah Carver, who had unwittingly entangled herself in a web of deadly deceit.

John couldn’t deny that sweet, sensual Mariah was the woman he had been waiting for. Nor could he act on the passion that tormented them both. The daring lawman was poised to wed another woman: the ruthless Black Widow, who married—then murdered—her victims….

LOVE WITH THE
PROPER STRANGER

SUZANNE
BROCKMANN

For Mary Gray, Kirsten McDonough, Sylvia Micalone and all of the other wonderful Workcamp volunteers who have allowed me to help raise a hammer and build houses alongside them, even if only in spirit.

Dear Reader,

What do an FBI agent hot on the trail of a black widow serial killer and a man who writes romance novels under a female pseudonym have in common?

Both are driven, determined, intelligent and passionate—and falling in love makes them truly unstoppable.

HQN has reissued two of my older stories—and two of my favorite romance novels—in this collection.

Originally published in 1998,
Love with the Proper Stranger
not only features hero John Miller, a legendary yet troubled FBI agent, but also focuses on John’s reluctant friendship with Daniel Tonaka, his much younger, fearless new partner who is completely unstoppable himself! (Shades of Max Bhagat and Jules Cassidy!)

And
Letters to Kelly
is my mother’s favorite of my books. In it you’ll meet one of my all-time favorite romance heroes, T. Jackson Winchester the Second, a young writer who falls in love with Kelly, the sixteen-year-old sister of his college roommate. He does the right thing by keeping his distance until she’s older. But fate intervenes and he’s thrown into a Central American prison on trumped up charges, and when he finally gets free she’s already married to another man.
Letters to Kelly
takes place years later, and is the story of what happens when the made-for-each-other couple gets a second chance to connect.

I’m always thrilled when HQN combines two of my books in a special collection like this one.

Happy reading!

Love,

Suz

Praise for the novels of
New York Times
and
USA TODAY
bestselling author Suzanne Brockmann

“Zingy dialogue, a great sense of drama, and a pair of lovers who generate enough steam heat to power a whole city.”
—RT Book Reviews
on
Hero Under Cover

“Brockmann deftly delivers another testosterone-drenched, adrenaline-fueled tale of danger and desire that brilliantly combines superbly crafted, realistically complex characters with white-knuckle plotting.”
—Booklist
on
Force of Nature

“Readers will be on the edge of their seats.”
—Library Journal
on
Breaking Point

“Another excellently paced, action-filled read. Brockmann delivers yet again!”
—RT Book Reviews
on
Into the Storm

“Funny, sexy, suspenseful, and superb.”

Booklist
on
Hot Target

“Sizzling with military intrigue and sexual tension, with characters so vivid they leap right off the page,
Gone Too Far
is a bold, brassy read with a momentum that just doesn’t quit.”

New York Times
bestselling author Tess Gerritsen

“An unusual and compelling romance.”

Affaire de Coeur
on
No Ordinary Man

“Sensational sizzle, powerful emotion and sheer fun.”

RT Book Reviews
on
Body Language

Contents

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

PROLOGUE

S
HE LACED HIS COFFEE
with opium.

He wasn’t supposed to drink coffee this late at night. The doctor had told him not to. But she knew how much it pleased him to cheat the doctor’s rules just a little every now and then.

He smiled as she brought it to him, smiled again as he took a sip. He liked it sweet.

The opium wouldn’t kill him. It was part of the ritual, part of the game. She’d given him enough to confuse him, enough to slow his wits, to keep him docile and in control as she prepared for her checkmate.

She kissed the top of his balding head and he smiled again, breathing a deep sigh of contentment—the king, relaxing after a hard day at the office, secure in his castle alongside his beautiful queen.

Tonight, this king would die.

* * *

T
ONY WAS BREATHING HARD
. John Miller could hear him clearly over the wire, his voice raspy and loud in the radio headset. Tony was breathing hard and Miller knew he was scared.

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m FBI,” Tony said, giving up his cover. Miller knew without a doubt that his partner and best friend was in serious, serious trouble. “And if you’re as smart as your reputation says you
are, Domino, then you’ll order these goons to lay down their weapons and surrender to me.”

Domino laughed. “I’ve got twenty men surrounding you, and you think I’m going to
surrender…
?”

“I’ve got more than twenty men on backup,” Tony lied, as Miller keyed his radio.

“Where the
hell
is that backup?” Miller’s usually unshakable control was nearing a breaking point. He’d been ordered to sit tight and wait here outside the warehouse until the choppers arrived in a show of force, but he couldn’t wait any longer. He
wouldn’t
wait.

“Jesus, John, didn’t you get the word?” came Fred’s scratchy voice over the radio. “The choppers have been rerouted—there’s been an assassination attempt on the governor. It’s code red, priority. You’re on your own.”

No choppers. No backup. Just Tony inside the warehouse, about to be executed by Alfonse Domino, and John Miller here, outside.

It was the one scenario Miller hadn’t considered. It was the one scenario he wasn’t ready for.

Miller grabbed the assault rifle from the floor of the van and ran toward the warehouse. He needed a miracle, but he didn’t waste time praying. He knew full well that he—and Tony—didn’t have a prayer.

* * *

“I
QUIT
.”

The board of directors looked at her in stunned silence.

Marie Carver gazed back at the expressions of shock on the familiar faces and knew that those two little words she’d uttered had granted her freedom. It was that easy. That simple. She quit.

“I’ve made arrangements for my replacement,” she
told them, careful not to let her giddy laughter escape. She quit. Tomorrow she would
not
walk through the front doors and take the elevator up to her executive office on the penthouse floor. Tomorrow she would be in another place. Another city, another state. Maybe even another country. She passed around the hiring reports her secretary had typed up and bound neatly with cheery yellow covers. “I’ve done all the preliminary interviews and narrowed the candidates down to three—any one of which I myself would have utmost faith in as the new president of Carver Software.”

All twelve members of the board starting talking at once.

Marie held up her hand. “Should you decide to hire an outside candidate,” she said, “you would, of course, require my approval as the major stockholder of this company. But I think you’ll be impressed with the choices I’ve given you here.” She rapped the yellow-covered report with her knuckles. “I ask that you hold all of your questions until after you’ve read this. If any concerns remain unanswered, you can reach me at home until six o’clock this evening. After that, I’ll remain in touch with my secretary, whom I’ve promoted to Executive Assistant.” She smiled. “I appreciate your understanding, and will see you all at the next annual shareholders meeting.”

She gathered up her briefcase and walked quickly out of the room.

* * *

T
HE OPIUM WAS
working.

His pupils had retracted almost to a pinpoint and he was drooling slightly, blinking sleepily as he watched her dance.

This was the part she liked. This was where she showed him what he would never again have the chance to experience, to violate.

True, this one had been gentle. His soft, old hands had never struck her. He’d been careful not to hurt her. He’d given her expensive presents, fancy gifts. But the act itself would always be an act of violence, always despicable, always requiring punishment.

Capital punishment.

Her dress fell in a pool of silk at her feet, and she deftly stepped out of it. His eyes were glazed, but not enough to hide his hunger at the sight of her. He stretched one hand out toward her, but he didn’t have the strength to reach her.

And still she danced, to the rhythm of the blood pounding through her veins, to the anticipation of the moment when he would gaze into her eyes and know without a doubt that he was a dead man.

* * *

F
REEDOM
.

It hit Marie like the coolness of the air that swept through the open door at the end of the hall. It felt fresh and clean, like that very spring breeze, bringing hope and life and renewal. Through that open door she could see her car, sitting out in the parking lot, ready for her escape.

“Mariah.”

There was only one person on that board of directors who could slow her departure. Susan Kane. Aunt Susan. Marie turned, but kept moving, backward, down the hall.

Susan followed, her long, batik-patterned dress moving in the breeze, disapproval in her slate-blue eyes.
“Mariah,” she said again, calling Marie by her childhood nickname. “Obviously you’ve been planning this for some time.”

Marie shook her head. “Only two weeks.”

“I wish you had told me.”

Marie stopped walking then, meeting the older woman’s sternly unwavering gaze. “I couldn’t,” she said. “I didn’t tell most of my own staff until this morning.”

“Why?”

“The company doesn’t need me anymore,” Marie said. “It’s been three years since the last layoffs. We’ve turned it around, Sue. Profits continue to rise—we’re thriving. You know the numbers as well as I do.”

“So take a vacation. Take a leave of absence. Sit back on your laurels and relax for a while.”

Marie smiled ruefully. “That’s part of my problem,” she said. “I can’t relax.”

Susan’s face softened, concern in her eyes. “Is your stomach still bothering you?”

“Among other things.” Like, for instance, the fact that Marie was thirty-two years old and since her divorce four years ago, she had no life outside of the office. Like, the fact that she still worked long overtime hours to increase profits, to expand, to hire more people, even though the failing computer software company that her father’s sudden fatal heart attack had thrust into her lap had long ago become a Fortune 500 business. Like, the fact that each morning she found herself walking into the new, fancy office building into which the company had recently moved, and she wondered, what exactly was the point? What purpose did she serve by being here, by stressing herself out enough
to develop stomach ulcers over the mundane, day-to-day operation of this business?

One day she was going to wake up, and she was going to be sixty years old and still walking into that building, still going home much too late to that sad excuse for a condo, still living out of boxes that she
still
hadn’t managed to unpack.

BOOK: Love with the Proper Stranger
4.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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