Guardian Agent (Second, Expanded Edition)

Jasmine Tekla might be just a geek at heart, but she would do anything for her family—even turn into a kick-ass heroine and go up against the Navy SEAL tasked with bringing in her AWOL brother.

Her brother is NOT a rogue soldier and a murderer! If only Jasmin could convince the stubborn SEAL to believe her. Except, she's melted from the smoldering heat in his eyes, distracted by his sexy voice and rock hard body, and undermined by the crush she's had on him for the past ten years.

Gabe Cannon—a man on a mission and the type of guy who gets the job done—is determined not to fall for Jasmine's dubious story. Or the blazing attraction that crackles between them and makes it difficult to remember just why he shouldn't trust her. But with every secret he discovers, a darker truth is revealed. And soon they're fighting for their lives together.

"Action packed and breathtakingly romantic!" Susan Mallery NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author

"A fast-paced, heart-pounding romantic suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat." Ms Romantic Reads

"The action is nonstop, the pace relentless, and I could not put this down." Goodreads

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Chapter One

Dark waters lapped the long-abandoned palace's foundation, eager to claim the forgotten building on one of Venice's rarely used canals. In the distance, tourists still partied on at two o'clock in the February morning, drunk on love, youth, and full-bodied Italian wine.

Over the faint beat of music, Gabe Cannon could hear the eager, predatory water somewhere below him, licking to taste what it wanted to devour. He couldn't hear, however, the nine other men in the forgotten palace with him. His new commando team spread out like ghosts floating through the night.

He cocked his ear as he stood silently on the stairs, but not to listen for his teammates. He hoped to hear their target. He listened for the man they hunted.

Grab him. Hand him over to the US government. Cash the check. A straightforward job for Gabe's first op with XO-ST, a private security company, Xtreme Ops Shadow Teams.

'Target on the roof,' the team leader's voice whispered through Gabe's earpiece.

Gabe hurried up the crumbling stairs, unburdened by the usual heavy commando equipment. Since tonight he gripped a handgun, a SIG P226, he didn't have to be careful not to bang the stock of his M15 rifle into the peeling frescos behind him.

Centuries ago, the palace had been painted within an inch of its life. The ceiling rivaled the Sistine Chapel. All around on the walls, mythical epic battles raged between good and evil.

That good stood no closer to winning now than when ancient Romans had recorded those myths thousands of years ago would have disheartened another man. Gabe Cannon was still a SEAL, however, even if he'd left the navy 'once a SEAL, always a SEAL' and SEALs didn't do disheartened.

'East wing cleared.' The information came through his earpiece.

He hauled ass toward the warped wooden door at the top of the stairs, ready to capture the rogue SEAL who needed to be brought in before he caused more damage. Jake Tekla had killed two civilians and a naval officer so far, but the list of his casualties was going to end tonight.

Gabe and Tekla hadn't been on the same SEAL Team, had known each other from only a single joint op five years back. Tekla had gone AWOL nine months ago. What the hell happened to him?

Gabe passed another fresco of an ancient battlefield massacre, swords dripping with blood. His gaze hesitated on the openmouthed agony of the dying.

War.

War had happened to Tekla. War could change a person, could even twist a man's mind. Still, in Gabe's book, nothing excused betraying the US Navy.

'Backstairs cleared,' Alvarez, one of his teammates, whispered over the radio.

Gabe reached the top of the stairs and hurried down the hallway, looking for the servants' quarters, the most likely location for the entrance to the attic. Most of the doors stood open, warped by moisture and time. When he spotted one that revealed a narrow set of stairs 'no frescos here' he hurried up.

Another door stood at the top of the stairs, this one closed. He twisted the rusty knob, pushed through gun first, and scanned the attic in what little light a few missing roof tiles provided. He had excellent night vision, could see everything but the farthest corners.

No movement.

He stood still, held his breath, and listened. Not the smallest whisper of a sound disturbed the silence. The attic smelled of moldy wood and felt empty. The short hairs at the back of Gabe's neck didn't rise in warning.

He eased his weight onto the floorboards with care as he moved forward. The structural integrity of the building was pretty questionable. The stairs had held up, but that didn't mean he could trust the floor up here.

Static hissed in his earpiece. Then, Brent Foley, the team leader, was saying, 'Kill order authorized. Repeat, authorized to shoot on sight.'

And for the first time on this op, true unease skittered up Gabe's spine.

They were in Europe 'in freaking Venice, packed with civilians' not in some Iraqi death trap of a desert. The target wasn't an active shooter'no imminent danger. Jake Tekla was outnumbered ten to one.

The original order had been for capture. Capture made a lot more sense. Gabe's team could gain potentially crucial intel from Tekla during interrogation. Usable intelligence trumped a quick kill, every time.

What if Tekla hadn't worked alone? What if he'd pulled the trigger but someone else had issued the order? He could have killed the two civilians for any reason: self-defense, accident, personal revenge, whatever. But the naval officer he'd shot brought uncomfortable possibilities to the case.

Did the killings have something to do with the navy? Was Tekla a traitor?

Why not apprehend the man and ask at least the most obvious questions?

Although, considering that Tekla was a SEAL, confession was probably a pipe dream. Could be why Brent Foley, the commando team's leader, had changed his mind about the takedown and turned capture into elimination.

And yet 'the target was a US citizen, military' which used to mean something. Capture him, interrogate him'whether he said anything or not'but at least put him in front of a military tribunal.

Sanctioned kills were usually reserved for enemy combatants.

Obviously, the private security industry worked differently than Gabe's previous employer, the US Navy. Paid differently too'as in way better, and if Gabe wanted to keep the job, he had to get used to the new MO and roll with it.

First op. Don't fuck up.

'I want everyone in position on the roof,' the team leader said over the radio.

Gabe headed for the maintenance ladder in the shadows to his left and climbed. He checked the metal trapdoor above his head'the last obstacle in his way.

He focused on the two large hinges that held the door in place. Judging by the condition of the rest of the palace, the hinges were probably rusted from the salty moisture of the sea breezes. When pushed open, they'd creak loudly enough to wake the dead. Or at least loudly enough to alert Tekla that he had company.

Gabe rubbed some greasy camo paint off his face with the tip of his fingers, then reached up to lube the hinges, but his fingers slipped. The hinges were already well-oiled.

His hand paused in the air.

The roof had to be a planned escape route for Tekla. He had taken care of the door.

What else did he set up?

The dead last target Gabe ever wanted to go up against was another SEAL. Capture would be damn difficult'maybe the kill order was right. But Gabe didn't like the thought any more now than he had earlier.

He ran a probing finger around the door.

Rigged or not?

No wires' which didn't necessarily mean anything. A small motion-activated bomb could sit on top of the door, plenty enough to evaporate his head if he carelessly set off the charge.

Sweat beaded on his brows as he gently tapped over the door's entire surface with a single knuckle, moving in regular rows, following an imaginary grid, listening.

The sound never changed; nothing to indicate that a block of C4 was attached to the other side. He pushed the door up with his left hand, kept his gun in his right, and kept his head down as the door silently swung open.

He held his breath as he stuck his head out of the hole. When he wasn't greeted with a flying bullet, he exhaled.

They'd get Tekla tonight. The man was slipping.

Except'SEALs don't slip.

But then why not fully protect the door at his back? He'd gone rogue. So why the restraint? Why worry about the body count now?

Those questions set off a number of alarms in Gabe's mind.

The moon bathed the roof in light. He looked carefully for any movement. Caught none. Nobody in sight.

Plywood patches formed a psychedelic pattern over most of the area around him, an unexpected break. Not having to sneak around on crumbling Mediterranean roof tiles would make his job much easier. He could move without being heard from a mile away.

He left the safety of the attic and stayed in a crouch as he rushed to the deep shadow of a brick chimney stack, the nearest cover, less than twenty feet away.

No shots rang out.

Maybe Tekla wasn't on the roof after all.

Gabe held still, let one minute tick by, then another, saw no movement, heard no suspicious sounds. He didn't allow himself to relax. He scanned the area again, picking out spots he could use for cover as he moved forward.

His earpiece crackled. 'Coming up. Hold your fire.'

He caught a silent, nearly invisible shadow at the trapdoor'Troy Hill, another mercenary who'd started out in the SEAL Teams.

Troy was built like a SEAL, and when he left the shadows, he moved like a SEAL, decisively, dominating his environment. He was the best fighter on the team, the one Gabe would prefer at his back should the night turn nasty.

Except, where the hell had Troy been for the past fifteen minutes? Gabe had been last into the building but first on the roof. Where was the rest of the team?

Were they testing Gabe because he was the new guy? Now???

Fine.

He wasn't afraid of having to earn his stripes. He would just prefer not playing games in the middle of a freaking takedown.

Was the team worried because they were going up against another SEAL? The SEAL brotherhood was definitely a real thing'involving a tremendous amount of loyalty. But if Tekla had gone rogue, Gabe had no problem taking the man out. In this, and everything, country came first.

Troy pulled into cover and folded into a low crouch, the scars on his face hidden under camo paint tonight. He signaled to Gabe, pointing west, and disappeared from sight in three seconds flat, moving with purpose.

He didn't look like he had any trouble with hunting Tekla either. Then again, he hadn't personally known the target. Roughly twenty-five hundred active duty SEALs served at any given time. It wasn't as if they all knew each other and were best buddies.

Gabe looked after Troy, then stole off in the opposite direction.

Dormers, chimneys, and ridges blocked visibility. Clouds began drifting across the moon. None of that bothered him. Compared to some of the ops he'd been on overseas, this was a walk in the park.

Scan. Move forward. Take cover. Repeat.

He enjoyed a good night game of hide-and-seek, made more challenging by the fact that the ramshackle roof could open up under his feet any minute. He had to watch where he stepped. Nothing new there. The constant IED threat in Afghanistan and Iraq had taught him how to walk with care.

Then he stole around a dormer and spotted the target at last, so he stopped moving. He barely even drew air.

Jake Tekla blended into the night in black fatigues similar to Gabe's, black ski mask in place. He was much slighter than Gabe remembered. Being on the run had taken its toll on the guy. Had he been sick? Injured?

He wasn't injured now. He crept toward the edge of the roof as smoothly as a cat, his focus on the jump he was considering.

No visible weapons.

Yet another thing that didn't add up tonight. Tekla was a seasoned veteran on the run. No way he'd go anywhere unarmed.

Gabe inched closer, watching for a trap. Come on. Turn. He needed to make positive ID. He wasn't going to make assumptions, not with a kill order. He moved another step closer, then stopped with his feet apart, SIG raised.

His target sensed him at last and spun around. Froze. And for the first time in his life while on an op, Gabe froze too. Tonight's luck had run out at last.

He'd definitely seen the curve of a...breast.