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Authors: Rhonda Nelson

Tags: #Fiction, Romance

The Player

BOOK: The Player
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The Three Simple Hard and Fast
Rules of The Bachelors’ League:

* Never spend the entire night with
a woman

* Never share what’s on your plate

* Cut her loose after the third date

After eight years of service in the army
and one mission gone wrong, the friends
of this league are ready to try something
new. Termination of their contracts are
approved under one condition—each
officer owes his commanding officer a
favour, and when he calls it in, he expects
complete
unquestioned obedience.

“Nelson spins a page-turning delight
filled with Southern wit, sizzling sexual
tension and a wacky whodunit. The plot is
wonderfully original and peopled with a
host of eclectic characters.
A definite keeper!”

Romantic Times BOOKclub
on
The Future Widows’ Club

Dear Reader,

Welcome to my MEN OUT OF UNIFORM trilogy! There’s something inherently sexy about the cut of Dress Blues, something casually attractive about a set of BDU’s. There’s honour and courage and the idea of a greater good in every stitch, and those qualities are found in the men who wear them, as well. But if there’s anything sexier than a guy
in
uniform, it’s a guy
out
of one, and that’s what this series is all about.

Jamie Flanagan, Brian Payne and Guy McCann are heroes to die for. They’re die-hard bachelors. They’re bad boys. They’re Southern gentlemen. They’re former US Army Rangers. The only way they could be any better would be if they were dipped in chocolate…and since these are Mills & Boon
®
Blaze
®
stories, that’s always a distinct possibility. I hope you enjoy
The Player,
and be sure to check out
The Specialist
coming in October and
The Maverick,
which will be on sale in November. I’ve paired these guys with heroines who are strong enough to tangle with them, but soft enough to smooth out the rough edges. The result is a series of books that have been fun to write, and rewarding as well.

I love to hear from my readers, so be sure to pop by my website—www.readrhondanelson.com. I blog frequently about the bizarre happenings that make up my everyday life. Sample headings include “The Day My Dog Ate a Glue Stick” and “How I Felled a Possum with a Can of Fruit Cocktail.” (See? I told you it was bizarre.)

Happy reading!

Rhonda Nelson

RHONDA NELSON

A bestselling author and past RITA
®
Award nominee, Rhonda Nelson writes hot romantic comedy for the Mills & Boon
®
Blaze
®
line. In addition to a writing career, she has a husband, two adorable kids, a black Lab and a beautiful bichon frisé. She and her family make their chaotic but happy home in a small town in northern Alabama. She’s secretly always had a thing for men in uniform and wouldn’t object to seeing her husband in a set of BDU’s.

The Player

BY

Rhonda Nelson

www.millsandboon.co.uk

This book is humbly dedicated to all men and
women past and present who have served, and
are currently serving, in our armed forces, and to
their families who keep the home fires burning.

Prologue

Fort Benning, GA

“W
ITH ALL DUE RESPECT
, sir, that’s bullshit.”

Colonel Carl Garrett lifted his gaze from the report he’d been pretending to study and determinedly squashed the smile that tried to curl the disapproving line of his lips.

Best not to tip his hand.

Instead, he leveled a cool stare at the three men seated on the wrong side of his desk, most particularly at Guy McCann, who’d issued the comment. The other two, Majors Brian Payne and Jamie Flanagan, sat stony-faced but, predictably, had a better grasp on their tempers.

“Bullshit or not, Lt. Colonel, brawling off-base is an Article 15 and, as I’m sure you’re aware, puts a flag on your clearance papers.” He paused, purposely injected a little more piss and gravel into
his voice. “I’m not sure you’re seeing the gravity of the situation.”

Not a threat, per se, but a reminder. Hell, he knew perfectly well they understood what was going on. They hadn’t been handpicked for Project Chameleon—a special forces unit so secretive that there was absolutely no evidence of its existence in any military file, computer-generated or otherwise—because they were stupid. Garrett suppressed a grimace. In fact, they were too damned smart, which had made trying to get them to rethink leaving the Army with the usual methods—re-upping bonuses, flattery, better posts, etc…—useless.

Unfortunately guilt had a better grasp on them than any form of greed—feeling responsible for the death of a close friend would do that. Through no wrongdoing on their own part, Project Chameleon had lost one of its own during its last mission, and so far, no amount of lecturing and reviewing what had happened could ease their sense of guilt. They’d gone in as four and come out as three.

They’d failed.

Major Payne—a name he’d understandably taken considerable grief for over the years—released a weary breath. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Granted.”

“Rutland’s an asshole,” he said, his voice a barely controlled mixture of irritation and hope. “You know that.” He snorted. “Hell, everyone knows that.”

“The bastard needed his ass kicked a long time ago,” Flanagan chimed in, leaning forward in his seat.

All true, he knew. And he secretly applauded them. Still…“If Rutland needed an attitude adjustment, it was not up to the three of you to give it to him.”

“He mouthed off about Danny,” Flanagan said, as though that should explain everything.

And it did.

McCann swallowed and the other two grew quiet at the mention of their late friend’s name. Silence thick with the weight of grief and regret suddenly expanded in the room, causing a twinge of remorse to prick Garrett’s resolve.

Major Daniel Levinson had been a good man, a better soldier, and an original member of this unit’s college crew. Each of them had come out of the ROTC program at the University of Alabama. “Roll Tide” was a frequent cheer amid their set and Bear Bryant was revered with the sort of ex
aggerated regard worthy of a fallen saint. It wasn’t merely football—it was a religion.

Though their military careers had taken them on different paths over the years, they’d remained close. Closer than any band or so-called brotherhood of buddies Garrett had ever known. He’d always admired them for that. Truth be told, he’d envied them as well. The military was a boys’ club, its very nature a breeding ground for camaraderie and lasting friendships. But these Bama boys were different, had shared a special connection that made them more like family than friends.

When Project Chameleon had come along, it had been a no-brainer to reunite the four. They’d all been at the top of their field, each one of them successful in their own right. Each one of them different enough to offer unique qualities to the unit, making it one of the most balanced and effective special forces teams the Army had ever known.

Though he had a reputation for being a bit of a ladies’ man—a
player
in today’s slang, if Garrett remembered correctly—at a little over six and half feet, Flanagan not only had the brawn but also sported a genius-level IQ which made him the brain of the unit. Honestly, it had surprised him to
learn that Flanagan had thrown the first punch in this recent scuffle. Ordinarily he wasn’t quite so rash. Though they’d all taken Levinson’s death hard, Garrett suspected that Flanagan was having a harder time dealing with the loss than the other two at the moment.

Understandable, of course, given how Danny had died. Still…

With nerves of steel and an attention-to-detail which had landed him the nickname “The Specialist,” Major Brian Payne—who only went by his last name—didn’t do anything in half-baked, half-assed measures. He was a man you could count on to not only get the job done, but get it done
right.

Guy McCann was a bit of a smart-ass with an endearing penchant for being able to bend a rule just shy of the breaking point, but with good enough instincts that he always landed on his feet. And Levinson…Well, Levinson had been the best of all three, and what he’d lacked he’d made up for in heart.

On their own they’d been formidable defenders of Uncle Sam—together they’d been lethal.

Naturally when the powers-that-be had heard rumors of their intent to leave, he’d been given
strict instruction to prevent it. Garrett ran a finger over the flag attached to the topmost file. They’d inadvertently given him the power to do it, and yet, when it had come down to the nut-cutting, he’d been unable to follow through. Better to have them in his debt than have an unwilling unit too bent on leaving to be effective. Better a grateful man than a bitter soldier. If they were bound and determined to leave—and they were—then if he could wring one more mission, be it personal or professional, out of them, then he’d still be better off. Fortunately the brass above him had thought so as well.

“So what’s going to happen?” Guy asked. “How long is this going to hold us up?”

“That depends,” Garrett told them, leaning back in his chair.

Guy’s green gaze sharpened. “On what?”

“On whether or not you agree to my terms.”

The three of them stiffened and shared a guarded look. “
Your
terms?” Guy asked warily. A muscle ticked in his tense jaw.

At last…the heart of the matter, Garrett thought. “That’s right. You want out. We can do this one of two ways. The hard way…Or my way.”

Flanagan muttered a hot oath, leaned back and
shoved a hand through his dark brown hair. “I knew this was going to happen,” he said, shooting Guy a dark look. “We’re
so
screwed.”

“Sonofabitch,” Guy muttered angrily.

Payne swallowed what was most likely a similar statement, but managed to hold his temper. Just barely, judging by the vein throbbing in his forehead. “And what, exactly, would
your
way entail?” he asked.

“Nothing complicated,” Garrett told them smoothly. “You’ll just owe me.”

“Owe you?” Guy repeated, with equal amounts of surprise and trepidation.

Jamie frowned, his hazel eyes wary. “Owe you what?”

Garrett shrugged, but his tone belied the casual gesture. “A favor.” He cast them all a steely look in turn. “From each of you. When I call it in, I want no questions asked, no excuses. Just do it.”

Guy considered him with a measuring, probing look. “That calls for a lot of trust.”

“I’ve worked with you for the past four years, McCann. It’s either there or it isn’t. The choice is yours.”

A beat slid into five while the three of them shared another one of those unspoken looks of
communication. Garrett watched closely, but didn’t detect a single indication of yea or nay from any one of them. Yet Payne evidently got the message because it was he who ultimately spoke for the group. “One favor from each of us? That’s it?”

Garrett nodded, anticipation spiking.

Payne released an even breath. “Then we accept your terms, sir. We want out. If you can make that happen quickly, then a favor won’t be a problem.”

“Excellent,” Garrett told them, his lips curling into a belated smile. “Consider it done.”

The three stood, preparing to leave. Garrett found his feet as well and extended his hand to each of them, sealing their bargain with a handshake. An old-fashioned gesture, but one that was better than a contract with men like these. They were men of courage, dignity and honor. A rare breed in this day and age.

He let go a sigh, fully absorbing the fact that they would no longer be under his command and found himself quite startled to realize that he’d…miss them. He cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.”

“Likewise, sir,” Flanagan told him.

“An honor,” McCann added.

A man of few words, Payne merely shot him a look which aptly conveyed the same sentiment, then added, “Until later, sir.”

Garrett felt a grin tug at his lips. “Oh, don’t worry,” he told them. “I’ll be in touch.”

BOOK: The Player
8.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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