Thursday, November 3, 2022

Escape with the Navy SEAL (The Riley Code Book 3) by Regan Black



USA TODAY Bestselling Author

Pawns in a madman’s vendetta

Can a hostage couple defeat their captor?

Seeing his shy childhood friend transformed into an intoxicating beauty has thrown navy SEAL Mark Riley off balance. So much so that he’s caught off guard when a team of kidnappers sweep them into a deadly nightmare. Now he and Charlotte Hanover are hostages to a psychopath wreaking revenge on Mark’s father. Facing danger is Mark’s business, but with Charlotte’s life at stake, he’s never had so much to lose.

From Harlequin Romantic Suspense: Danger. Passion. Drama.

The Riley Code

Book 1:
A Soldier’s Honor

Book 2: His Soldier Under Siege

Book 3: Escape with the Navy SEAL

Alone in the central room of the art gallery, Charlotte Hanover turned a slow circle, surrounded by her canvases. A year’s worth of work about to go on display for anyone with eyes and an opinion to critique. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply through her nose. If she ignored the murmur of voices from the side rooms, it was almost like being in the peaceful, muted light of her studio at home.

In minutes, the gallery doors would open to the VIP guests for her first solo showing. Approximately an hour after that, any interested art lover in Virginia Beach would be welcome to wander in and take a closer look, as well.

She pressed a hand to her belly to smother another wave of jitters and felt the rich silk of her dress under her palm.

Almost like home. Almost like home.

She almost believed it. In her studio, she’d be in a soft T-shirt and her favorite jeans that were held together with more paint than denim after all these years. She imagined the light pouring through the skylight and windows of her cabin at the edge of an inlet north of town while her heart rate settled.

There. She could hold that feeling close and let that sweet security buoy her through the night ahead. Although the next few hours would be a challenge, her agent promised it would absolutely be worth the energy drain. She opened her eyes.

“Oh, aren’t you a vision!” Charlotte’s agent, Marisol Collins, swept into the space and the air vibrated in a happy response. She was a petite powerhouse in an expertly tailored black suit and glossy black heels. Her dark hair was swept up and back in a perfect twist and her porcelain skin glowed. She wore onyx drops at her ears and an intricate onyx ring on her right hand. The overall effect was pure feminine elegance.

Marisol had never met an objection she couldn’t overcome or a situation she couldn’t fix to her client’s advantage. As opposite as they were in both appearance and personality, Charlotte was perpetually grateful to have signed with her.

Marisol fluttered her hands, urging Charlotte to turn, despite the fact that she’d already danced at least one circle around Charlotte. “Lovely.” She gave a decisive nod. “I knew this was the right look for tonight.”

Charlotte’s dress was deceptively simple, a soft sheath falling from a network of thin straps that crossed in the back. The silky fabric rippled with color and movement from the neckline to the hem in shades of pale seafoam to deep aqua. Marisol slipped her arm around Charlotte and took her on another tour of the gallery, chattering about each of the bar and food stations. The effort should have put her at ease; instead, those jitters climbed to new heights.

“We’re ready, sweet girl,” Marisol said, giving her a squeeze. “On my signal, they’ll open the doors to the VIPs and you’re on.”

That’s what she was afraid of. Being on required grace and charm and enduring the same questions over and over with only mild variations thrown in. Tonight she must keep up the full-watt smile until her cheeks ached and then some, pretending she knew how to excel at social events.

She understood people wanted to feel a connection to the person behind the art that moved them. Was it so much to ask to connect from a respectable distance? A continent between her and this gathering felt about right.

“Any changes to the VIP list?” Charlotte asked, quickly doing a mental rundown of the coaching Marisol had provided about each of the elite guests who were eager to meet her and, with luck, be inspired to purchase the paintings on display tonight.

Normally, she didn’t mind selling her work. Part of the joy of her art was sharing it with others. Turning a profit was the practical side of the miracle of making a career from her view of the world. The private sales seemed more personal than a gallery show, as if she was sending her work to a good home. A nonsensical feeling really, since she had no idea how, where or if her paintings were displayed when they reached the buyer.

More than one pragmatic art instructor through the years encouraged her to find the balance between creative joy and creating marketable work. “Da Vinci never starved and neither should you!” Marisol had preached a similar motto from their first introduction. “How can you create to your true potential when you’re worried about bills, overhead or even groceries?”

Truly, Charlotte had never worried about food, having been raised by practical parents with a strong work ethic. They’d led by example, teaching her to budget, save and invest wisely in the present to secure a future. Still, believing Marisol’s predictions about the evening meant Charlotte’s bank accounts were about to get a serious infusion of cash.

“And miraculously, all before I’m dead,” she muttered under her breath. Like so many creatives before them, she and her fellow students had often joked that artists and poets made for rich soil, having little value until they were six feet under and could no longer create.

“Here now, you’re still nervous.” Marisol drew her attention back to the present and pressed a filled champagne flute into her hand. Taking one for herself, she raised her glass for a toast. “To your first solo show.” She tapped Charlotte’s glass, the crystal ringing with a merry chime. “You just slay them with that smile.” She arranged a loose wave of Charlotte’s hair over her shoulder. “I’ll take care of the sales.”

Taking a sip of champagne, she braced herself as the gallery doors opened to the VIPs.

It wasn’t all strangers who surged in with smiles ranging from reserved to enthusiastic. Her parents and older brother were here to lend their support. Several close friends had also been invited to help ease the pressure. Many of her friends who lived within driving distance were happy to come out for her, as well. Marisol’s office had handled the official invitations and responses so Charlotte wouldn’t stress over the numbers.

The friendly faces muted a bit of the immediate overwhelming feeling she encountered with the press of people swirling around, each seeking a moment to ask a question or offer congratulations. Hopefully that steadying sensation would hold her when the doors opened for the next wave of curious gallery patrons.

Already she was counting down the minutes until she could duck out for a break and a breath of fresh air. She checked her wrist and remembered too late her watch had been ruled out by Marisol.

“People want to believe you have all the time in the world for them. It’s just one night,” she’d added when Charlotte had argued. “Only a few hours of one night. I promise you’ll have the breaks you need.”

Charlotte dutifully kept up the smile, the answers that had her feeling like a broken record and the litany of thanks. All the while, her quiet-loving soul clamored for an expansive view of a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.

“Congratulations,” a mellow baritone voice said from just behind her.

She turned, baffled enough that her smile faltered as the man attached to the voice exchanged her empty champagne flute for a full one. “Mark?”

What on earth had brought Mark Riley here tonight?

Adult Charlotte was sure she was hallucinating, while the love-struck teenager she’d once been now danced in happy pirouettes to see his handsome face. His perfectly tailored dark blue suit emphasized his breathtaking physique from his broad shoulders to his trim hips. The ivory shirt was open at the collar, giving her a tantalizing view of his tanned skin. Surely he should be doing something dangerously heroic on the other side of the world. Navy SEALs were too tough and far too busy to visit old friends at art galleries, weren’t they?

He smiled and her knees turned weak at the mischievous sparkle in his light brown eyes and the single dimple winking in his cheek. “You’ve come a long way, Lottie.” He used her childhood nickname as he raised his champagne glass, saluting her. “It looks good on you.”

She had no idea if her reply was even remotely coherent or if the smile she attempted resulted in a pleasant expression or an off-putting grimace. She lifted her glass in response and he politely moved on before she melted into a puddle of longing and wishful thinking at his feet.


Having done his self-appointed duty of refreshing Charlotte’s champagne glass, Mark wandered through the gallery, studying the paintings on display. The range and variety of her work surprised him, from wild to wistful, vivid landscapes and subtle skylines, works large and small. From the time she could hold a crayon, she’d been drawing, filling notebooks and sketch pads with her take on the world around her. Sometimes as accurate as a photograph, other times otherworldly. He’d never given a thought to what she might do with her talent and creative energy. Art and Charlotte simply went hand in hand.

From the far side of the room, he looked back, studying the artist. Her strawberry blond hair was styled in loose waves, lending an untamed, carefree vibe to the colorful curve-hugging dress that reminded him of the Caribbean Sea. The presentation probably fooled the people who weren’t as observant, but he recognized the flash of nerves in her big blue eyes when he’d said hello. She’d been shy with strangers as a kid, quieter than any of the Riley siblings, but she was holding up under the pressure tonight.

Read the rest of this chapter at Harlequin!


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