A Harmless Little Ruse (Harmless #2)

A Harmless Little Ruse
Meli Raine

A
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A
uthor’s note
: I also write romantic comedy as
Julia Kent
and paranormal shifter romance as one-half of the writing duo
Diana Seere
. Check out those books as well. ;)

A Harmless Little Ruse (Harmless #2)

S
he has
no idea what she’s doing. Loose cannons never hit their targets.

And they take out plenty of collateral damage.

Four years ago Lindsay experienced the unspeakable right before me, and I couldn’t stop them.

But that’s all changed now.

When her father, Senator Bosworth, contacted me to ask —
demand
— that I protect her, it was a second chance. A shot at redemption.

An opportunity to right an unspeakable wrong.

Controlling Lindsay as she seeks her revenge on the monsters who hurt her won’t be hard.

Containing my own out-of-control feelings for Lindsay and keeping up this ruse of cold-blooded distance will be.

Even harder than admitting to her what really happened that night four years ago.

It turns out I don’t have to, though.

Someone else did it for me.

And I’ll make sure they regret it.

A
Harmless Little Ruse
is the second book in this political thriller/romantic suspense trilogy by
USA Today
bestselling author Meli Raine, and is entirely from Drew’s perspective.

Chapter 1

I
wake
up to an empty bed.

It’s not mine.

Lindsay’s gone.

I can feel a change in the air. I jump to my feet, instantly alert, blood pumping to arms and legs that are battle-ready. Her bedroom room smells like lavender and beeswax, mingled with the hot scent of sex. I swear her heat still lingers on the sheets. The ceiling fan is still, the room crackling with silence.

I grab my gun belt and --

What the hell?

My weapon is missing.

Gun’s gone.

Lindsay’s gone.

Oh, shit.

She didn’t?

She did.

“Gentian,” I bark as I shove my earpiece in. “Where’s Lilac?” Lilac’s her code name.

“With you,” he responds.

“Negative.”

Dead air.

“Gentian?”

“I don’t know, sir. No one’s seen her. Last we knew, she was locked in her bedroom with you.”

No trace of irony. No hint of teasing. If he had even one whiff of either, he’d have his ass handed to him.

And he knows it.

“She’s gone, Gentian. Find her.”

“Yes, sir.”

The instant flurry of activity in the house matches my organs. They rearrange themselves inside me as I assess the situation, which is pretty fucking simple.

Lindsay stole my gun and ran away.

Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Last night was the first time in four damn years that I slept. Actual REM sleep. The night those bastards tortured us was the first night of my new life.

A life without sleep.

And last night?

I slept like someone who had finally come home.

“Jesus,” I mutter to myself. “Great job, Drew. She totally snowed you.”

I have to hand it to Lindsay. She fooled me. I believed her act the entire time. She managed to outwit us all.

Damn smart woman.

Damn dangerous, too.

A thousand points of information flood my mind. My job is to sort out the unimportant details, laser in on what’s significant, and create an instant plan from that.

Only one man is better than me in a situation like this.

Lucky for me, he’s a phone call away, and on my payroll.

Speed dial is my friend.

“ ’lo?” Mark Paulson’s sleepy voice answers the phone, and before I can say a word, he goes into full alert mode. “Paulson here. What do you need, Drew?”

Now that’s a soldier.

“My detail stole my weapon and escaped.”

Silence.

Yeah, I’m going to pay for this by being mocked for years.

“She
what
?”

“You heard me.”

More silence.

“Give me half an hour. I’ll be there.”

Click.

A few months ago, Mark called me in on a complicated mission to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend, Carrie. Ex-DEA, ex-Special Ops, and probably ex-secret agencies even Senator Bosworth doesn’t know about, Paulson has the most strategic mind I’ve ever seen. He’s like a chess grandmaster combined with a ruthless mercenary.

Which makes him my second in command at my private security company.

He’s second in name only, though. Called in only for extreme missions, Paulson’s trying to lay low and recover from the hell of having his woman nearly chopped into pieces and enjoyed by one of the most perverted drug and sex slave smugglers in U.S. history.

But enough about that.

Lindsay just stole my gun and ran away.

“Fuck.” The truth of it starts to sink in. I anchor myself with facts.

Fact: that gun is not registered, has no ID number, and cannot be tracked back to me.

Fact: the three targets who defiled her four years ago are texting and taunting her.

Fact: the three targets tried to kill her with her own car.

Fact: she managed to escape a perimeter set up with nine of the best military-trained security guys in the world.

Fact: I can still taste her on my tongue.

“Sir?” Gentian walks into the room with a hard, tight face. “We found tracks in the....” His voice drops off as his eyes travel to my throat. He stares.

I look down.

The tag of my t-shirt sticks out. I’ve put my shirt on backwards and inside out.

So much for pretense.

“Did something happen between you and Lindsay last night, sir?” His eyes go dark.

“What do you think?” He’s treading on very dangerous territory now.

“Did she run away because of you,
sir
?” His point is crystal clear.

Before I can punch him, impulse control kicks in. I plant my hands on my hips, take in a deep breath, and start to laugh.

It’s a bitter sound.

I’ve trained him well. He’s putting the client’s welfare ahead of pleasing his boss.

Good man.

“Nothing happened between us that would cause her to steal my weapon and run away.”

Gentian’s eyes fly wide open. “Your weapon?”

“Yeah.”

He knows better than to react further. “Is that confidential?”

“For now.”

“Is she unstable?”

He’s really asking whether she’ll shoot anyone on our security detail.

“No. She has a specific target.”

“More than one?”

Damn, he’s smarter than he looks.

“I suspect she’s going after her attackers from four years ago.”

“I sure would.”

That’s the first hint of unprofessionalism out of him.

“What you would or would not do if you were in the client’s shoes has no bearing on what you’re going to do right now, Gentian.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Expand the perimeter search. Disable all vehicles on the grounds. Check for hitchhikers. Call gun stores and alert them to anyone buying bullets that match my weapon.”

Someone speaks into his headset. Gentian murmurs back, then tells me, “All vehicles accounted for.”

Cold steel shoots through my gut. Good news.

“Then she’s on foot. Get as many guys in the field as you can.” I ignore the shoreline below. No way she got her hands on a boat. She knows how to jet ski and that’s it. Lindsay wouldn’t --

Wait.

The Lindsay I knew four years ago wouldn’t.

The woman I’m dealing with
now
?

Who the hell knows.

“Done.” Gentian speaks into his earpiece, then turns to me and asks, “Do we inform Senator Bosworth and Mrs. Bosworth?”

That cold steel in my gut turns into hot metal.

I rake my hand through my hair. My fingers smell like her. Smell like sex and fun and smiles and groans. Like freedom.

Like reclaiming.

And she fucking threw it away for revenge.

“Sir?”

I shake it off. “No. Not yet. Containment on all levels. Get her roped in, get this situation under control, and we’ll reassess if we can’t locate her quickly. Timeline silence.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And I want tails on all three of the targets.”

“Already done.”

“Add one more each.”

“Yes, sir.” Gentian’s mouth sets in a firm line. He knows how bad this is.

How bad this is for Lindsay.

How bad this is for
me
.

“And check her phone records.”

He nods. He leaves.

I breathe. At least, I try.

And then I let a tiny bit of emotional pressure out. Just a few seconds’ worth. If I don’t, I’ll explode, and you can’t be strategic and emotional at the same time.

You fail all around.

“What are you doing, Lindsay?” I mutter to myself, pacing the room like a caged animal. The room is stripped clean, devoid of any real personality. What personal effects she has are from four years ago. Adele posters on the walls, an old iPhone from 2012, and concert tickets littering a bulletin board, stopping nearly four years ago at the month of the attack.

Lindsay’s used me to get her hands on a gun, so she can kill John, Stellan and Blaine. She’s a loose cannon.

And loose cannons never hit their targets.

Chapter 2

I
run
through last night over and over. No part of the intimacy stands out as fake. She wasn’t faking those moans, her sighs, her beautiful orgasms, her crying at the end, her acceptance of my comfort and my love.

“That was
not
an act,” I hiss under my breath, grabbing a bed pillow and throwing it at the window. It sails through, the thin sheer curtain billowing through the opening. I punch a second pillow so hard it flies across the bed and lands on top of her alarm clock, knocking it off the nightstand.

“You think you’re fooling me,” I say to no one, arms tense, shoulders tight as rocks, my mind racing. “But you’re not
this
Lindsay. You’re not. No way you changed that much.”

The emotional impact of what she’s done feels like the wind’s been knocked out of me. She did this. She
really
did this. She opened up to me last night and we connected. We more than connected. We reveled and we healed and we --

“FUCK!” I scream, remembering how much I needed to please her last night, how she healed in my arms. I felt it. I didn’t imagine it.

We cracked open the door to the future. We pried the nails from that closed-off door. One by one, we did it.

And she just dumped an entire cement mixer’s load of concrete on top of it.

Protectiveness pumps through my veins like adrenaline mixed with caffeine and uppers. My pulse is in my cock, my tongue, my throat. She’s out there, alone, thinking she’s smarter than my entire team of guys who were hired to make sure no one ever hurts her again.

I push aside the question of who
she
hurts. Let’s not go there.

Not now.

“Jesus, Lindsay, are you out of your mind?” I’m talking to myself again.

Sheer speculation makes my mind fill with worst-case scenarios. The world is dangerous enough. Add three well-connected psychopaths with a penchant for playing Cat and Mouse, and danger seems like a preschool playground.

Lindsay’s put herself in mortal peril.

Whether she likes it or not, I have to get her out.

Those crazy assholes are out for blood.

And more.

I peer out the open window and look at the pillow, caught in the tree branches right outside her window. A cat meows. Again.
Again
.

I tense.

Something’s off.

My body’s half in, half out of the window. A light breeze pushes the leaves toward me, the rustle a familiar sound. When you live this close to the ocean, the wind becomes a second language.

And it’s telling me something right now.

Instinct takes over. The amygdala sends rat-brain signals to my body. I stand up on the windowsill, look down, and coil my leg muscles. Too tight and I’ll snap a bone. Too loose and I’ll burst my spleen.

And...I jump.

You think the impact from the landing is the worst part of a long fall. It’s actually the seconds where you’re suspended in midair. With nothing to set you in space and time, you float.

You float like there is no sense of touch. Reaching out yields air. You can’t track time or measure your space. It’s like you don’t exist.

Until you land.

I dart to the left, my thighs screaming from quick, sharp movement.

I tackle the sound before I even hear it. My arms whip around the source of the noise, caging it in, pressing it against the mulch and grass, the carefully edged lawn around the base of the house.

“Mphhhh! Mmmm! Uh uh!” says the sound.

The sound is soft and hot, twisty and frantic.

And then the sound speaks.

“Fuck you, Drew!”

I sigh, as much as you can sigh while you’re taking an adrenaline bath as you straddle the woman who stole your gun and escaped from nine members of your security team.

“I love you, too, Lindsay.”

“Let me go!”

“No.”

“You can’t keep me here.”

She’s legally right, but operationally wrong.

I lighten up just enough for her to move from her side onto her back, our mouths inches apart.

Just like a few hours ago, in her bed.

A few pesky little details have changed since then.

“Where’s my gun?”

She clamps her lips shut.

Like
that’s
going to work.

“Lindsay,” I say in a low, even voice that is designed to scare the shit out of her. “Give me my gun or I’ll have my guys personally escort you back to that fucking island, only this time you’ll arrive by parachute in the ocean a quarter mile offshore.”

She snorts. “You wouldn’t.”

The ragged, excited breaths she’s taking make her loose breasts push up against my chest, over and over. Our nipples brush up against each other.

Both sets are hard.

So is something else.

On me.

“Try me. You stole my firearm,” I hiss. “What the fuck were you thinking? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? And what are you planning to do?” In the moonlight, her eyes should be big as saucers, frightened and agitated.

But they’re narrow and calculating.

Like a cat.

“You think you can escape and go get John, Stellan and Blaine? You stupid little -- ”

The bite comes out of nowhere as she sits up, her core muscles so fucking powerful she bucks me up an inch or so, and she’s biting my ear.

I see stars.

But I’m not getting off her. She’s driven me to this extreme.

The only way to protect Lindsay is to literally pin her in place with my body.

And there are two ways we can do this.

The hard way

or

The harder way

So I headbutt her.

I see stars again, but she lets go and squeals, then howls in pain.

“Why did you
dooooo
that?” she moans, pressing the bridge of her nose with her fingers, rocking in place.

Ignoring her version of
please
, I get off her. She won’t bite me like that again. I haul her up and use an arm-twist technique that immobilizes her.

“Gun.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She juts her chin up, defiant.

God, she’s so fucking rebellious and hot.

And a pain in the ass.

“You can be charged with multiple felonies for stealing a firearm from an active-duty military officer and a federal -- ”

“Prove it.”

“Prove you stole my gun?” I snort. “Your fingerprints are all over it.” She’s twisting in my hands but there’s no hope. I’ve held guys three times her size with this technique.

“Prove the gun exists.”

Wasn’t expecting
that
.

“Prove the
what
?”

“It’s not registered. All the metal’s been filed down. Bet it’s untraceable. Which means I can’t steal something that doesn’t exist, Drew,” she says, taunting me.

Teasing
me.

Blood runs in a small trickle from her left nostril, looking like a black worm in the night.

“Do you mind?” She jostles her hands. “Can I wipe my nose that
you
just injured? Daddy is going to shit a brick when he finds out you’ve abused his daughter.”

“And when he finds out you stole my gun to go after three well-established, highly successful men to fulfill some sick, mentally unbalanced scheme you have for revenge against guys who did nothing more than meet your request for some gang bang sex, I don’t think your version of events is the one he’s going to believe.”

She moves to kick me in the balls.

I’m a nanosecond faster and swoop my foot across her ankles.

Lindsay drops. I let go of her wrist.

“You bastard,” she says from the ground, looking up at me, blood smeared and eyes wide and feral now.

“You think this is me being a bastard, Lindsay? Really? Because on a scale of bastard, this is downright courtly.”

“You bruise me and headbutt me and give me a bloody nose and you call that
courtly
?”

“You pretend to want me, give me a little intimacy -- ” My voice cracks on that word, damn it. “And then steal my gun and try to escape. You really aren’t in a position to demand anything from me behavior-wise.”

Her lips purse, nostrils flaring, and she grabs the hem of her shirt, pulling it up to wipe her nose.

A flash of dusky nipples greets my gaze.

I bite back a groan.

We’re both panting, angry, frustrated, feeling betrayed, and turned on as
fuck
.

Or maybe that’s just me.

“Lindsay. Give me my gun. I’m not going to stop asking.”

She plants the soles of her feet on the ground. She’s wearing black leather sneakers, black sweatpants, a black hoodie with a black t-shirt underneath.

Who does she think she is? An Emo ninja?

Her head dips between her knees and she just breathes.

Footsteps. Leaves rustling. And then --

“Sir?”

It’s Gentian.

“Call them off. Found her.”

He eyes me uncertainly. “And your -- ”

“And nothing. Target found. Do the rest.”

“Yes, sir.” Gentian runs off.

“You are just like Daddy,” Lindsay says, contempt so thick in her voice I could wear it as sunscreen in Afghanistan and stay pasty white. “You think you can order everyone around and they’ll do your bidding like good little robots. I spent four years of my life on that island because Daddy made his mission more important than me.”


My
mission would be easier if you were just a robot.” My damn erection taunts me. Wish
I
were a robot right now.

“This mission wouldn’t exist if I were dead.”

I explode. “That’s the point, Lindsay! My job is to keep you undead!”

“Your job is to turn me into a zombie?” She gives me a withering look.

I ignore that. “Where’s my gun?”

“What gun?”

I grab her arm, hard. My fingertips dig into her wiry muscles. I know I’m hurting her. A sick little corner of me enjoys hurting her. I can’t admit it, but she fucking
gutted
me back in her bedroom, letting me wake up like that. Alone. Used.

A mark for her sick little game. Is that all this is?

She squirms, but juts her chin up at me, defiant, glaring.

I dare you
, those honey-brown eyes say, turning dark as this standoff continues.

Oh, yeah?

I don’t back down.

Ever
.

Pain enters those eyes, then fear. Good. A healthy dose of fear means we’re getting somewhere. She should be afraid. Not of me. Of
them
.

Any fear, though, is progress.

“Let go.”

“My gun.”

She nudges her chin toward the bush behind me. I push her toward it.

“Get it.”

“How can I get it when you’re squeezing me like a nut in a wrench?”

“You got the ‘nut’ part right.”

She scowls, then rolls her eyes.

I’d laugh if I were in a different mood, but now I’m pissed. Not so much about the gun, which was bad.

Pissed that she left me like that.

And by pissed, I mean
hurt
.

“You are such an asshole. How can I bend over when you’re holding me like this?”

I reach up for her hair with my free hand and snake my fingers through it, threading it like a Chinese finger torture puzzle through my knuckles.

“What are you doing?”

I let go of her upper arm.

She bolts.

Then yanks back with such force I have to lean down slightly or I’ll rip all her hair out at the roots because of the sheer force of
her
movement.

Her scream dies in her throat.

“You bastard,” she gasps, pooled at my feet into a panting little ball of hard, tight anger. Her chest rises and falls and God help me, my blood goes where it shouldn’t. I need all the oxygen to go to my brain. Last thing my pants need is a tent.

“I may be a bastard, but I’m not a sucker, Lindsay. Bend down and find my gun.”

“You just want me to bend down so you can see my ass.”

I stay silent, because one of the rules of handling a hostile person is to give them something to be right about.

I can give her a victory on that topic.

Because she is mostly correct.

It’s not the only reason, but it’s a nice fringe benefit.

Five seconds later, my gun’s in my waistband, and she’s two feet away from me. I let her go.

We’re at an impasse.

“Just let me leave, Drew. I’ll disappear. Run away. Hide. I know how.” Her voice is so contrite. Her pleading is damn close to begging. These mood swings are killing me.

Why the change in her? What’s made her so desperate to leave?

“You think letting a presidential candidate’s daughter escape to go live an underground life is on my list of Shit I Want to Do Tonight?” I start laughing. It’s not a pleasant sound. “You’re as crazy as your parents think you are, Lindsay!”

She winces. I hurt her. Hit a nerve. Her eyes simmer in the moonlight, unspilled tears pooling on her lower lids. As pissed as I am, I regret that comment. My heart starts doing the two-step in my chest, and my hands curl into fists so I don’t reach out and pull her into my arms and whisper
I’m sorry
.

If I do that, it’s like handing her a scalpel and telling her to cut out my beating heart and use it as a metronome.

“Plus,” I add, “whatever you think you know about disappearing is nothing compared to how much more the people who want to get their hands on you know about it. You’d be tracked, found, kidnapped and dead – or worse – before you know it.”

She shudders at the word
worse
.

Footsteps.

“Help!” Lindsay starts screaming.

“What are you doing?” I plant my hands on my hips and just watch, unamused.

“I’m going to tell Silas what you did to me.”

I snort. “You mean the part where I saved you from yourself?”

“You controlling, overbearing, arrogant son of a bitch! You think you own the world! You think you can tell me what to do and -- ”

“I see Drew hasn’t changed a bit,” says a familiar voice. Mark Paulson’s here, to our right, his face in profile, blond hair a lot longer than the last time I saw him. I catch his eye and see his eyebrows are arched, filled with questions.

“You got here fast,” I snap at him.

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