Thursday, September 1, 2022

Defending Avery: Brotherhood Protectors World (Team Trojan Book 5) by Regan Black

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Former Special Forces operator, Clint Manning, along with the rest of Team Trojan, left his Army career for a new opportunity with the Colorado division of the Brotherhood Protectors. He enjoys the work, especially when he's sent to protect a woman he's been interested in. A woman desperate to keep her secrets buried.

Avery Tripp created her fresh start in Fool's Gold with a new name and a new profession. As a floral designer, she's found the perfect place to blend in and pretend she never made the unforgivable mistake that forced her into hiding. But a startling uptick in crime is the first clue that she's been found.

Before Avery can run, Clint reveals that he's been assigned to protect her. Although he claims he's interested in more than her security, she struggles with his 24/7 presence and the risks he's taking to keep her safe. Although she can't deny the heat of his kisses, the cold certainty that her past endangers him frightens her more.

With the threats creeping ever closer, Avery must believe in Clint's promises and skills or give up any hope of a full life where she can truly be herself with the man she loves.

If you like romantic suspense loaded with action, heart-pounding danger, and steamy passion, you'll love Defending Avery by USA Today bestseller Regan Black! 

Excerpt:

Behind the bar, Clint Manning served drinks to a thirsty crowd in the Watering Hole near the Lost Valley Ranch. He chatted up customers as his mind wandered. His life had changed so much in the last few months. Still based in Colorado, no longer part of the Army.

He’d been in plenty of bars, dives, and pubs all over the world, but this place was special. Dan “Gunny” Tate and his daughter RJ had made this local hangout feel more friendly than any other place Clint could recall. The casual vibe at the bar and the teamwork involved as everyone pitched in whenever and wherever they were needed went a long way to heal the bitterness that had been dogging him since his forced career change.

Clint along with the rest of Team Trojan had been booted out of the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, forced to leave the Army, simply for doing the right thing. Bodie Jackson, Zeke Turner, Hale Foster, Stone Bishop, and Clint had all agreed to disagree with an order, knowing it would be their last action as Army soldiers. Didn’t help that the right thing had conflicted with their commander’s goals, but when push came to shove, they took the fall as a team.

Miserable as that mess had been, at least they all could look themselves in the mirror with pride and respect now that it was over. And somehow, they’d managed to land on their feet.

Former Navy SEAL Jake Cogburn had reached out to them, inviting them to a meeting at the Lost Valley Ranch to discuss a new career option. The five of them had come on out and met with Jake who was heading up the Colorado division of the Brotherhood Protectors, a security group founded by Hank Patterson, who’d also served as a Navy SEAL. Reluctantly, they decided as a team to hang around and see how things worked on the civilian side. Now, Clint considered it a privilege to take on private security cases for various clients, including those without the financial resources to pay the going rate.

It was the best possible outcome for him. His mom had died a few years back during a deployment and he didn’t have any family eagerly awaiting his military retirement. Here in Fool’s Gold he worked with new purpose alongside men he trusted with his life. And when he wasn’t on a security detail, he enjoyed pitching in here, making things easier on Gunny.

In the months since they’d left Ft. Carson behind, he’d helped his teammates through some dangerous situations and, to his surprise, watched his closest friends fall in love with some amazing women. He never would’ve imagined life could turn around so fast for any of them.

Jake walked in through the back door, limping slightly due to his prosthetic leg. “Clint, I need a minute.”

Clint followed his new boss outside. “What’s up?”

“I just got off the phone with Hank. He has connections with another private security group based in Chicago, the Guardian Agency.”

“Never heard of them.”

“They keep a real low profile,” Jake said. “Apparently, like us, they take on some unique personal security cases. A few years back, they helped the police protect a witness who testified against a robbery crew hitting several jewelry stores. Her testimony took down the operation, sent four men to prison.”

Clint folded his arms over his chest, listening intently for more details before he asked any questions. A Colorado Springs jewelry store had been robbed just last week.

“Hank’s friends in Chicago know the witness settled here in Fool’s Gold. Changed her name, appearance, and profession, but they’re concerned. Three of the four men in the original crew have been released. Rumors are circling that they’re looking for the witness. It might be nothing, but I’d like you to take this one.”

“Absolutely.” He was always eager for an assignment.

“You’ll need to keep an eye on her. Just a low-key observation detail. The last time she suspected trouble, she ran and it took a few months before the agency in Chicago tracked her here. They don’t want to lose her again.” Jake rubbed the back of his neck. “Now, if you see trouble while you’re observing her, feel free to loop her in.”

“And when do I start?”

“Tonight. The witness is Avery Tripp.”

“Sparrow’s friend?” Sparrow Oakley was a local sheriff’s deputy and Stone’s new girlfriend. She met Avery here at the Watering Hole for a beer after work at least once a week. In fact, they were sitting at the bar right now.

“The same,” Jake confirmed.

“Does Sparrow know anything about this?”

Jake shrugged. “Doubtful. I don’t want to ask in case it spooks Avery. Since she lives and works in town, we’ll move you to the casino hotel as a consultant for cover. That puts you much closer to her for the day to day.”

Avery could be in serious trouble if that crew was looking for retribution. “All right.”

Clint ignored the twitch between his shoulder blades at the necessary deception. He didn’t know her well, but he enjoyed her company and considered her a friend. He’d been thinking of asking her out on a date and now things were sticky.

“Great.” Jake clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll send you an email with all the details I have. In the meantime, just be yourself.”

“You got it.” Clint returned to the bar as Jake headed back toward the lodge.

Inside, he filled drink orders, chatted with a few customers and tried not to stare at Avery as a rush of questions spun around in his head. Blond, average height, with subtle curves, she had the most fascinating hazel eyes that shifted closer to blue or green depending on what she wore.

Tonight, her moss green work shirt, printed with the logo for Laurel’s Florals flower shop on the sleeve, brought out the green in her eyes. It was tough to imagine her running in the same circle as criminals. He wanted to believe she’d been an innocent bystander, though he knew better than to leap to conclusions. Hopefully the email would give him a better picture.

“I need to close out,” she said when he stopped to ask if she wanted a second beer.

“Done already?” he asked.

She gave him an abbreviated nod, her blond hair falling forward to hide her face. His fingers twitched to tuck it back behind her ear. He was starting to wonder if she’d always been shy or if whatever she’d survived had forced her to develop this habit of hiding.

“I’m first in tomorrow while Laurel is on vacation.” Avery pulled on her coat and fished her car keys out of her purse.

“I’ll walk you out,” he offered.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, no thanks. You don’t have to do that.”

Half an hour ago, he sure didn’t, though he would’ve wanted to. Now it wasn’t an option, despite the fact that she was a capable, independent woman. He needed to get to know her better. Something about her reserved, almost shy, manner didn’t match the spark that appeared when she was hanging out with Sparrow and their girlfriends.

Of course, he might be reading way too much into every nuance after his conversation with Jake. Either way, his job was to keep watch over her.

He’d been around her enough to hear her hold her own in conversations about mining, horses, jewelry or the many trails that crisscrossed the area. And he’d heard through Sparrow that she baked the best cookies on the planet. He could find some common ground to make this less awkward for both of them.

“Part of the service,” he said. “You know how Gunny is.” He shot her a quick grin, then signaled Stone to take over the bartending duties for a few minutes. Everyone who joined the Brotherhood Protectors team learned the ins and outs of the Lost Valley Ranch and Watering Hole operations so they could help Gunny when they weren’t on assignment.

Guiding Avery toward the back door, he held it open for her. His mother had drilled courtesy and manners into him from the start. As the chilly November wind sliced through his flannel shirt, he wished he’d thought to grab his coat.

Beside him, Avery buttoned her coat and tucked her chin into the collar, her hands sliding deep into her pockets. Nerves, hiding, or just staying warm? She’d seemed jumpy recently, though she always relaxed after a few minutes of chatting with Sparrow or Casey.

He shortened his stride and matched his pace to hers. “How are things at work?” Lame opening, but it was the safest topic he could think of.

“Fine,” she replied, her voice muffled by the thick wool. “Things are good here?”

“Things are great,” he said. “I’m glad Jake brought us in. The job and the area have a lot to offer.”

“I agree. The views sucked me in right away.”

He knew she hiked with Sparrow and the other women and he’d heard her talking about spending time with the horses out at the Jones place. “What’s your favorite thing to do around here in your down time?”

She pulled out her keys when they reached her car. It was a sturdy compact SUV, ideal for managing the mountain roads. “My hours aren’t all that typical.”

That wasn’t what he’d asked at all, so he pressed. Just a little. For the assignment. He needed to learn as much about her as possible and fast. “Do you drink coffee?”

“Yes,” she replied warily.

Progress. “Do you get a morning break? How about I bring something over to you, if you’re on your own at the shop tomorrow.”

“Oh.” She glanced past him. “That would be nice. Timing always depends on the day’s orders, but after ten is usually a safe bet.” She looked toward the lights on the sign overhead, her lips curving slightly. “It’s snowing.”

Her soft, delighted smile made it easy to ignore the cold snowflakes on the back of his neck and falling into his collar.

“If you don’t want to drive back into town you can stay over. There’s plenty of room at the lodge.” Gunny and RJ always held a room or two in reserve for clients or new guys coming onto the Brotherhood Protectors team. “Or you can wait for me to follow you. I just moved into the Lucky Strike Hotel.”

Her gaze snapped back to his face. “What? Why?”

He could hardly tell her it was to stay closer to her. “I’m consulting on a few security upgrades at the casino,” he hedged. Lying wasn’t something he enjoyed, but there were times when it was necessary. This was one of those times. Jake had been clear that he wasn’t to say anything that might upset Avery and make her run.

“That sounds interesting.” Her brow furrowed. “There’s no need for anyone to go to all that trouble. I can make it home just fine.”

Just as she’d done every other night to this point. “Would you call me when you get there? Please. You know the roads can turn slick in a hurry up here.”

“You’re serious.”

She had no idea. The look on her face told him no one had expressed this level of concern for her in some time. The awareness annoyed him a great deal. Whatever had happened in Chicago, Avery was pleasant, if shy, and fun to talk to when she did open up. Suddenly, it didn’t matter who put him in her path or why. He was determined to make sure she knew people cared about her.

“Afraid so.” He held out his cell phone and waited. On willpower alone, he refused to show any reaction to the cold weather slipping under his clothing. At last, she made the exchange. He added his number to her contacts list while she did the same. “Be safe,” he said when she tucked the phone away once more.

“I will. And…” She seemed to struggle with some internal debate. “I will call as soon as I’m back to the apartment. Now do me a favor and get back inside before you freeze.”

“Sure thing.” He gave her a smile, feeling as if he’d just won a major victory.

When she got into her car, he stepped back, but he lingered close by while she started the car and let the engine warm up for a minute, then watched as she pulled out of the parking space, heading for town.

For a few seconds he considered following her anyway, but the team had an app that would let him track her phone without her knowledge. Ignoring the weather, he jogged up to the lodge, then headed to the basement headquarters to plug her number into that program.

 

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