Her Secret Weaponñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
When a deadly traitor threatens to dishonor a top-secret agency, A YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY begins….
Penetrating blue eyes, a powerful build—and a way with women…
His wealth had brought him privilege and his work for SPEAR had brought him honor. But when Burke married enigmatic Callie Severin, he was about to learn something about love—and fatherhood….
A rare beauty with russet hair and a secret lurking in her pretty gray eyes…
She had agreed to be Burke’s bride because she desperately needed his protection. But what would her sexy husband do when he discovered she was the mother of his child?
With his burns and battle scars, this reputed traitor looked as deadly as rumors made him out to be….
Simon is steps away from securing the weaponry he needs to wreak more havoc on SPEAR, but first he needs to get past powerful Burke Lonigan….
The 20th anniversary excitement continues as we bring you a 2-in-1 collection containing brand-new novellas by two of your favorite authors: Maggie Shayne and Marilyn Pappano. Who Do You Love? It’s an interesting question—made more complicated for these heroes and heroines because they’re not quite what they seem, making the path to happily-ever-after an especially twisty one. Enjoy!
A YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY continues with Her Secret Weapon by bestselling writer Beverly Barton. This is a great secret-baby story—with a forgotten night of passion thrown in to make things even more exciting. Our in-line 36 HOURS spin-off continues with A Thanksgiving To Remember, by Margaret Watson. Suspenseful and sensual, this story shows off her talents to their fullest. Applaud the return of Justine Davis with The Return of Luke McGuire. There’s something irresistible about a bad boy turned hero, and Justine’s compelling and emotional handling of the theme will win your heart. In The Lawman Meets His Bride, Meagan McKinney brings her MATCHED IN MONTANA miniseries over from Desire with an exciting romance featuring a to-die-for hero. Finally, pick up The Virgin Beauty by Claire King and discover why this relative newcomer already has people talking about her talent.
Share the excitement—and come back next month for more!
Leslie J. Wainger
Executive Senior Editor
Her Secret Weapon
To my girls,
Badiema Beaver Waldrep and Jana Parris Beaver A special thanks to Brian Usher, who helped me with my London research, and to his aunt, Carol Benjamin, for putting me in touch with a resident of the U.K.
A note from award-winning author Beverly Barton, author of over thirty books, including the bestselling Intimate Moment series THE PROTECTORS.
Writing Burke Lonigan and Callie Severin’s romance began with a certain process to make the story uniquely my own—a process I undertake whenever I write a book that is part of a continuity series, as Her Secret Weapon is.
The exciting premise of A YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY, revolving around characters associated with a highly secret organization formed to protect the world from evil, intrigued me immediately. At first glance Her Secret Weapon is simply a secret-baby book, but as we all know, a tried-and-true plot can be the basis of a highly emotional love story—especially if the heroine suspects that the playboy tycoon father of her child is really an illegal arms dealer. As I do with most of my books, I added to the mix a little cloak-and-dagger danger, several unique secondary characters and some hot sex. And in the end I achieved my goal. This story, the fourth in a twelve-book series, took on a life of its own as a Beverly Barton book. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Callie and Burke and sharing all the emotional highs and lows they experience on the rocky road to happily-ever-after.
During the process of researching London, the British “English language” and numerous other details I needed to know in order to write this book, I became thoroughly absorbed in the setting as well as the plot and characters. Luckily, I had the assistance of a U.K. resident, the nephew of a longtime Heart of Dixie RWA friend who, via e-mail, answered numerous questions for me. The research quickly became almost as much fun as writing the book.
The crisp autumn breeze swirled around Callie Severin as she stood outside the Princess Inn, located in the heart of London’s elegant Belgravia. An October rain earlier in the day had lowered the temperature, so that it was rather chilly. Shivering slightly, she wished she’d taken a heavy coat to the office with her today. Hindsight was twenty-twenty, she reminded herself. One of her American father’s favorite sayings. And that old saying definitely applied to her love life as well as to her coat!
After Laurence had so cruelly broken their engagement and ripped out her heart only a few hours ago, Callie had resigned her position as a Personal Assistant at McNeill, Inc., where Laurence had been her superior. He’d assured her that her resignation was unnecessary and she had assured him that it most certainly was. And she’d told him that she had no intention of working out a notice. He was a heartless, uncaring cad and she was well rid of him! She had repeated those words to herself so often they were now a litany.
After clearing out her desk and saying a somber goodbye to her associates, Callie had taken the tube home and then rushed down the street to her flat, hoping that Enid would be there. She’d needed a friend. A shoulder to cry on. And who better than Enid, her dearest friend and cousin, with whom she shared the flat in Kensington. But Enid hadn’t been there. So Callie had waited and waited, crying for a while and fantasizing about smashing her fist into Laurence’s aquiline nose.
After pulling herself together as best as she could, Callie had searched for Enid in all the places she usually frequented, but hadn’t found her. Enid delighted in being an artist’s model and lived a rather free and easy life, thanks to an inheritance from her paternal grandmother. Men were a disposable commodity to Enid, and she changed lovers frequently. Despite the fact that she and Enid were cousins, their mothers having been sisters, they were as different as day and night. Callie had remained a virgin until she’d become engaged to Laurence.
God! She had to stop thinking about him! Heartless cad. Better off without him.
Callie decided that the Princess Inn would be her last stop. If Enid and her new boyfriend, Niles, weren’t there, she wouldn’t continue searching. She’d go home, have herself another good cry and wait until morning to tell Enid that not only had she lost her fianc? because he was in love with another woman, she would have to temporarily rely on Enid’s generosity until she found a new position.
The pub featured a perfect Georgian era facade with Victorian decor. Elegant and probably very expensive, Callie thought, as she scanned the bar area. If Enid were here, her new boyfriend must have plenty of money. Either that or Enid was picking up the tab. Callie searched the place thoroughly, garnering several odds stares and a couple of propositions. But she didn’t catch a glimpse of Enid anywhere. Enough of this! Time to go home, she told herself. She would simply have to live through this night alone, no matter how much she needed sympathy and comfort.
Just as Callie turned to leave, she noticed a man sitting alone in a back booth. She wasn’t quite sure why her gaze fixed on him—and lingered—or why she couldn’t make herself stop staring at him. Oh, he was quite good-looking. Actually more than good-looking. He was devastatingly handsome. In a terribly masculine way. Not young. Not a boy. Probably late thirties. A good ten or fifteen years older than she.
He glanced at Callie and for a split second she stopped breathing. His eyes focused directly on her, freezing her in place. Some inner instinct warned her to run. Now! But his gaze held her hypnotized.
The man’s face possessed a world-weary expression and his beautiful blue eyes spoke silently of some deep sadness within him. She had never seen eyes such a brilliant blue or a man’s lashes so long and thick. He’d been blessed with black Irish looks—black hair, blue eyes and a fair, ruddy complexion. He was, without a doubt, the best-looking man she’d ever seen.
A heavy stubble darkened his cheeks and chin, as if he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. From the tousled appearance of his stylishly cut hair, she assumed he’d been raking his fingers through it. And his rather expensive-looking navy blue suit was slightly rumpled. She couldn’t help wondering if perhaps he’d slept in it last night.
Without taking his eyes off her, he lifted his glass, saluted her with it and downed the last drops of what she thought was probably Scotch whiskey. His lips lifted ever so lightly in an almost smile that never reached his eyes. As if it were a palpable thing, the stranger’s misery reached out to her, drawing her to him.
Callie took a hesitant step in the man’s direction, her gaze still riveted to his. Somehow she knew he was as unhappy and as alone as she. Could he sense her pain, the way she had sensed his?
He tilted his head, motioning to her, and the almost smile grew wider but remained only a parody of a real smile. As if of their own volition, her legs moved, taking her closer and closer to the stranger. When she stopped at the edge of the booth, the man stood. Unsteady on his feet, he chuckled and grabbed the edge of the table.
With a magnanimous sweep of his hand, he bowed to Callie. “Won’t you join me, lovely lady?”
She hesitated only a second before she nodded and slid into the booth. With staggering unease, he slumped onto the seat. “May I get you something to drink?” he asked, but didn’t wait for her reply before he tried again to stand. A bit wobbly, he braced his hand on the tabletop.
“Thank you,” Callie said. That would be nice, Mr., er, Mr….?
“Lonigan. Burke Lonigan.”
His devastating smile did evil things to her stomach, making it tighten and then turn somersaults. Oh, dear me, she thought. Mr. Burke Lonigan was undeniably lethal.
“I’ll get myself another,” he said, his speech slightly slurred. “And you will have a—”
“Chardonnay,” she said, her voice creaky. She cleared her throat, feeling uneasy and uncertain. And breathlessly attracted to a perfect stranger.
Mr. Lonigan made his way across the crowded room to the bar area, leaving her with her confused thoughts. What was she doing? Had she lost her mind? She’d never been the type to pick up men in pubs. Not until now, a pesky inner voice chided.
He returned from the bar, their drinks in hand, set hers before her and slid into the booth.
“What’s a pretty lady like you doing all alone?” he asked.
“I was looking for someone.”
“No, actually, I was looking for a friend—a girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend, huh? Looking for her to chat her up, I suppose.”
“Yes, something like that.”
“Good friend, is she?” he asked. “Someone you can trust with your problems?”
“I don’t have a friend like that,” he said, his eyes piercing her with their intense stare. “Would you like to be my friend? Just for tonight?”
A hint of tears glistened in his eyes. Unshed tears. Agonized tears. She saw the pain and understood—this man was hurting in the worst way. Hurting as she was hurting. Had someone broken his heart? she wondered.
Without thinking about what she was doing, Callie reached over and placed her hand atop his and squeezed gently. “Yes, I’ll be your friend, just for tonight, if you’ll be my friend.”
It was apparent she wasn’t going to find Enid tonight, and she desperately needed someone with whom she could share her misery. Why not this handsome man, this stranger she would never see again? She’d often heard that it was easier to talk to a stranger. Perhaps it was.
Suddenly Callie felt him tense as he looked at the whiskey. His hand beneath hers balled into a fist. As he removed his hand from hers, she noted a slight tremble.
“Do you really need more to drink?” she asked.
“If I’m going to drown my sorrows, I do,” he told her.
“Can a person really drown their sorrows? If they can, then I’d be willing to give it a try.”
“What sorrows could a pretty young thing like you have?” He lifted the whiskey to his mouth and downed half of it in one swallow. The shiver that went through his body was barely discernible.
“The sorrow of having been betrayed by my fianc?,” she explained, not really understanding why she was pouring out her heart to this man. “He dumped me this afternoon. Seems he’s been having an affair for the past two months with someone he loves madly.”
“Obviously, the man’s a fool.”
“Actually, I’m the fool.” Callie lifted the flute of Chardonnay to her lips. The taste was pleasing on her tongue. She sipped the sharp, dry white wine and decided it was the best she’d ever drunk.
Mr. Lonigan downed the rest of his whiskey. His already flushed cheeks darkened. “Why are you the fool?”
“Because I should have known something was wrong. He’s been acting odd for quite some time now and I chose to accept his rather weak excuses.”
“You were very much in love, I assume. Young girls like you always are, aren’t they?”
“I thought I was. You know how it is. He was charming and attentive and he was the first man I’d…” Callie realized she was about to tell this stranger that Laurence had been her first lover. “Well, I’d never been in love before.”
Mr. Lonigan’s mesmerizing blue eyes opened wide in an expression that told Callie he had understood only too well the meaning of “he was the first man.”
“Love, my girl, is a wasted emotion. Smart people don’t need love. They don’t give it and they don’t expect to receive it. Not from anyone. Not from friends or lovers or—” he paused, sighing loudly “—and not even from parents.”
Callie stared at Mr. Lonigan. He looked directly at her, but she knew he was looking through her. It was so obvious that his mind had drifted away to another time and another place. From the expression on his handsome face, she surmised that his memories were painful.
“Call me Burke.” He chuckled. “What shall I call you?” When she opened her mouth to tell him her name, he shushed her. “No, no, don’t tell me. I’ll just forget it anyway. I could call you love, I suppose. But that doesn’t suit, does it? Why don’t I call you my darling? Something just as easy to remember.” He inspected her thoroughly. “Besides, you look like a darling to me. So tell me, my darling, what did you do when your fianc? dumped you? Did you scream and cry and call him names?”
“I slapped his silly face and then I resigned my position in the firm where we both worked.”
“Ah, so you’re without a man and without a job.”
“It appears so.”
“Mm… If you’re as smart as you are pretty, you won’t be without either for long.”
Burke excused himself for a trip to the bar, but when he asked if she’d like another, she declined. She watched him staggering as he disappeared into the crowded bar area. He returned within minutes, smiling, another whiskey in his hand.
The moment he sat down, he reached for the Scotch. Callie grasped his hand before he could pick up the glass. “I’ve told you my sad story,” she said. “Why don’t you tell me yours?”
“My sad story?” He lifted his eyebrows as if surprised by her request. “What makes you think I have a sad story to tell?”
She tightened her hold on his big hand. “Because you’re drinking to drown your sorrows and—” she hesitated momentarily “—you look like an unmade bed.”
He tossed back his head and laughed. Genuine, gut-deep laughter.
When he looked at her again, a rather cocky, crooked smile remained in place. “I like honesty in a woman. Unusual quality in most. So, I look like an unmade bed, do I?”
“Yes, you do. And the moment I saw you, I noticed the sadness in your eyes.”
His smile vanished. He knocked her hand aside and lifted the whiskey. This time he downed the entire drink in one long swallow. Afterward he coughed several times.
“Observant little thing, aren’t you?”
“Please, don’t drink any more. You’ve had more than enough.”
He deliberately pinched his cheek. “I’m afraid I can still feel, so that means I haven’t had enough.”
“Want to tell me what’s wrong?”
“Why is it that women always want to poke and probe into a man’s business? If you really want to help me, then why don’t you come closer and I’ll tell you what will really make me feel better.”
She noted that he’d begun to slur his words more and more. Another drink and he might not be able to walk. So, why do you care? an inner voice asked. This man doesn’t mean anything to you. He’s a stranger. But he is a stranger in pain. He needs someone tonight. Someone to ease his pain. And you need someone, too, that inner voice reminded her. Someone to ease your pain.
Callie slid closer to him so that they were shoulder to shoulder. Then she draped her arm around his waist and cuddled to his side. “Don’t drink any more and we’ll discuss what we can do for each other…how I can ease your pain and you can ease mine.”
She had no intention of giving this man anything more than sympathy and caring. The two things they both needed. But first she had to find a way to stop him from drinking, didn’t she?
He grinned at her. The bottom dropped out of her stomach. She’d never had such a strong physical reaction to a man—not even Laurence, and they had been lovers. It was as if she and this stranger, this Mr. Lonigan, were somehow connected. She couldn’t explain the odd attraction she felt for him. Did he feel it, too? she wondered. She thought that perhaps he did. Right now he was looking at her as if he could see straight through her clothes. His intense scrutiny made her feel completely naked.
“Would you come home with me, my darling?” he asked, his voice a deep, sensuous invitation.
“I’ll make sure you get home safely.” She made a counteroffer.
“Will you now?”
Callie’s heartbeat quickened when he stared at her, his eyes twinkling with devilment. “I’m not really into casual sex,” she admitted. “I’ve just lived through one of the worst days of my life and obviously you have, too, so perhaps—”
“No sex, huh?”
“I’ll get us a taxi,” Callie said. “And I’ll see you home.”
Burke glowered at her. “Take-charge kind of girl, are you? Well, I don’t need anyone to take charge of me, thank you kindly.” With that said, he tried to stand. After swaying right and left, he quickly sat. “I seem to be quite blotto.”
Callie couldn’t suppress the giggle that escaped from her throat.
“You won’t get an argument from me. You, Mr. Lonigan, are most definitely blotto.”
Within ten minutes Callie, aided by a pub employee, eased Burke Lonigan into a black cab, then slid in beside him. While she rummaged in her purse for money to tip the young man who had helped her, Burke handed the man an overly generous twenty quid.
“Where to, governor?” the driver asked.
When Burke gave the driver his address, Callie gasped. His home was in Belgravia? Only the extremely wealthy lived here. Multimillionaires. Was her Mr. Lonigan that rich? she wondered. Not your Mr. Lonigan, an inner voice scolded.
Burke slipped his arm around Callie’s shoulders and pulled her against him. His whiskey breath was warm and soft against the side of her face. A tingling shudder rippled up her spine, and her stomach fluttered with sexual awareness.
Burke nuzzled her ear and laughed when she trembled. “You’re as jumpy as a virgin, my darling.”
“I’m not a—”
“Of course you’re not. You had a fianc?, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Engaged long?” Burke asked.
“Nearly a year,” she said. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you married or engaged or anything?”
“Never married. Never engaged. But a great deal of anything.”
His teasing manner helped her relax just a bit. “Have you ever been in love?”
“Depends on your definition of love.”
“I suppose what I’m trying to ask is why you’re so sad tonight. I thought perhaps you had a broken heart, too.” She cuddled against Burke Lonigan’s large, strong body. Oddly enough, being encompassed in this stranger’s arms made her feel safe and comforted.
“Ah, I see.” He released her, scooted her toward the opposite side of the taxi and then laid his head on her lap as he stretched his long legs across the seat. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“No.” And she really didn’t. Unable to stop herself, she threaded her fingers through his wavy black hair, which felt incredibly soft and silky to the touch.
Burke lifted his right arm. Reaching up, he caressed the back of her neck with his fingertips. He lowered his left hand to begin a similar maneuver with her knees.
She could stop him. She should stop him! But she didn’t. His touch somehow soothed her as, at the same time, it excited her. An odd combination, but she knew no other way to describe the sensations fluttering inside her body.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî