Her Millionaire MarineŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
What if Striker didnít leave? What if the Marine Corps ordered him to stay?
She closed her eyes for a moment, imagining what it would be likeÖhaving him in her life permanently. Having this traveling marine settle down, marry, have kids. All with her.
ďDo you want more?Ē Striker asked.
Her eyes flew open. ďMore?Ē Her voice was husky. No, she wouldnít want more than that. Having him safe by her side would be a dream come true.
But dreams didnít come true. Not for her.
Spring is here. And what better way to enjoy natureís renewed vigor than with an afternoon on the porch swing, lost in four brand-new stories of love everlasting from Silhouette Romance?
New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer leads our lineup this month with Cattlemanís Pride (#1718), the latest in her LONG, TALL TEXANS miniseries. Get to know the stubborn, seductive rancher and the shy innocent woman who yearns for him. Will her love be enough to corral his heart?
When a single, soon-to-be mom hires a matchmaker to find her a practical husband, she makes it clear she doesnít want a man who inspires reckless passionÖbut then she meets her new boss! In Myrna Mackenzieís miniseries THE BRIDES OF RED ROSE classic legends take on a whole new interpretation. Donít miss Midasís Bride (#1719)!
Her Millionaire Marine (#1720), from USA TODAY bestselling author Cathie Linz, and part of her MEN OF HONOR miniseries, finds a beautiful lawyer making sure the marine she secretly adores fulfills his grandfatherís will. Falling in love with the daredevil is not part of the plan!
And Judith McWilliamsís Dr. Charming (#1721) puts a stranded female traveler in the path of a mysterious doctor; she agrees to take a job in exchange for a temporary homeówith him. Now, this man makes her want to explore passion, but can he tempt her to take the ultimate risk?
Mavis C. Allen
Associate Senior Editor
Her Millionaire Marine
This book is dedicated to ďAdCappyĒ Sarah Galanter, an extraordinary woman who loved romances and loved life. She was one in a million. Sheís greatly missed and will not be forgotten by those of us in her ďcrew.Ē
Books by Cathie Linz
One of a Kind Marriage #1032
*Daddy in Dress Blues #1470
*Stranded with the Sergeant #1534
*The Marine & the Princess #1561
A Prince at Last! #1594
*Married to a Marine #1616
*Sleeping Beauty & the
*Her Millionaire Marine #1720
Change of Heart #408
A Friend in Need #443
As Good as Gold #484
Adamís Way #519
Smiles #575 Handyman #616
Smooth Sailing #665
Flirting with Trouble #722
Male Ordered Bride #761
Escapades #804 Midnight Ice #846
Bridal Blues #894 A Wife in Time #958
ÜMichaelís Baby #1023
ÜSeducing Hunter #1029
ÜAbbie and the Cowboy #1036
Husband Needed #1098
left her career in a university law library to become a USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary romances.
She is the recipient of the highly coveted Storyteller of the Year Award given by Romantic Times and was recently nominated for a Love and Laughter Career Achievement Award for the delightful humor in her books.
Although Cathie loves to travel, she is always glad to get back home to her family, her various cats, her trusty computer and her hidden cache of Oreo cookies!
Striker Kozlowski was a dead man. He knew it the instant he saw the top brass gathered in his C.O.ís office at the Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Virginia. His buddy Justice Wilder had warned him that one day heíd have to answer for his hotshot ways. Apparently today was that day.
None of Strikerís thoughts showed as he saluted and stood at attention.
ďAt ease,Ē Commander Jenks said. ďAs you know, this is a delicate situation, and while I can understand your reluctance to proceed, the bottom line is that thereís only one thing to be done here.Ē
ďAgreed, sir,Ē Striker said. ďIíll apologize to the naval officer.Ē
ďWhat naval officer?Ē
So this wasnít about his fight with a naval officer in a bar last night? ďNothing, sir.Ē
ďAs I was saying, weíre all aware that you and your grandfather werenít close. He made no bones about the fact that he didnít approve of you being a Marine and he informed every senator and every general he met of that fact. I speak for us all when I say you have our condolences.Ē
ďThank you, sir.Ē Condolences because he and his grandfather hadnít gotten along for years, or because the old man had never approved of Striker joining the Marine Corps instead of his oil company?
ďHis sudden death must still be dealt with,Ē Commander Jenks added.
Striker went cold. His grandfather was dead? Not possible. Not Hank King, the mega-millionaire Texas oilman who was tougher than the walls of the Alamo and more stubborn than a packload of mules. Gone. Striker had a hard time wrapping his mind around that concept.
Somehow heíd always thought there would be time to sort things out, to mend the fences that had been broken when Striker had followed in his fatherís footsteps instead of falling into line by joining his maternal grandfatherís oil business.
Striker had been trained well by the Marines, so his expression remained impassive as his emotions shut down and he went on autopilot.
The office door opened. ďMs. Kate Bradley, sir,Ē the gunnery sergeant announced.
A female civilian rushed into the room on a cloud of expensive perfume. ďIím sorry Iím late, gentlemen,Ē she said.
Striker recognized her type immediately. She was a ritzy blonde with high cheekbones and an elegant way about her. Her silky hair was drawn away from her face into some kind of intricate knot. The business suit she wore only hinted at the lush body beneath it. He was no expert on womenís footwear, but he was willing to bet that the shoes she wore were Italian and probably cost more than he made in a month.
She radiated class. She also radiated sex appeal. And she was looking at him with disapproval even though he had yet to say a word. ďIíve been trying to get in touch with you since yesterday,Ē Kate said, her cultured voice running over him like silk, ďbut you didnít return my calls.Ē
ďI apologize, maíam.Ē He said the words but he didnít mean them. ďYou never said what your call was in regard to.Ē
ďI assumed youíd already told Striker about his grandfatherís passing,Ē Commander Jenks said, clearly not pleased at this glitch in the game plan and holding Kate responsible for that fact.
She didnít even squirm, holding her ground as only those born and bred to wealth can. ďAs I said, I wasnít able to reach him.Ē
ďLetís cut to the bottom line here,Ē Commander Jenks said. ďStriker, your grandfather left an unusual codicil in his will regarding you.Ē
ďSir, my grandfather disowned me years ago,Ē Striker said.
ďNo, he didnít,Ē Kate said. ďHe may have talked about doing that, but it was all bluster.Ē Dropping onto a chair, she balanced her slim leather briefcase on her lap before opening it and removing a sheaf of papers. ďIíve come here today as his attorney and the executor of his will. His wish is that you come to Texas and run King Oil for a period of not less than two months.Ē
ďThat dogís just not gonna hunt,Ē Striker said, deliberately using a Texas phrase. ďIím a Marine, maíam, not an oilman. I havenít had any contact with Hank King since I was nineteen and joined the Marines. Thatís been twelve years now. And even before that, we never had much of a relationship given the fact that he never approved of his only child, my mother, marrying a penniless nobody Marine named Kozlowski.Ē
ďI tried to reach your mother to give her the news, but there was no answer at the number I had for her.Ē
ďMy parents are taking an extended vacation in a rented RV out west,Ē Striker replied. ďIíll contact them on their cell phone right after this meeting.Ē
ďIím sorry for your loss,Ē Kate said softly. ďIf it makes it any easier for you, Hank died in his sleep. He wasnít in any pain.Ē
ďAs I said, I barely knew the man.Ē Strikerís voice was remote.
ďBe that as it may, the terms of the will are very clear. You are to return to Texas with me and run King Oil for two months.Ē
Even saying the words ďreturn to TexasĒ made Kateís stomach feel fluttery. She was trying to stay calm, but this meeting was much harder than sheíd anticipated. When sheíd walked into the office on the Marine base and realized that his commanding officer had broken the news to Striker, sheíd felt both guilt and relief.
Not that Striker looked upset or emotional. He looked incredible but tough. The last time sheíd seen him had been the last time heíd visited Hank. Striker had always been good-looking with his dark hair and green eyes, but the nineteen-year-old boy had grown into a combat-hardened man. There were lines on his face and shadows in his eyes that only hinted at the hardships heíd seen.
He obviously didnít remember meeting her that summer heíd worked on his grandfatherís ranch so many years ago. But she remembered him. Heíd played a pivotal part in her life, even though theyíd barely met.
Closing her eyes, she was transported back in time to that fateful summer, when she was seventeen and had often ridden her Arabian horse Midnight over to the spring-fed pond that bordered their ranch with Hankís. The first time sheíd seen Striker, heíd been stark naked, skinny-dipping in the cool waters on a sultry day. She could still see the droplets of water running down his muscular, tanned body. Sheíd silently watched him walk into the water, without making her presence known.
Not the proper behavior for a well-bred girl like herself. Especially given the fact that she was going steady with Ted at the time, and would become engaged to him a few months later, on her eighteenth birthday.
Kateís sexual fantasies about Striker had started then, and had only continued to increase that steamy summer. Sheíd seen Striker several other times, often finding him tossing hay in the barn wearing only well-washed jeans and a sheen of sweat.
Her mouth went dry at the memoryÖ.
Oh, yes, Striker had made a huge impression on her fanciful mind.
And now here she was, expected to return to Texas with him.
What on earth had made Hank think that sheíd be able to deal with Striker? Sheíd tried to tell the oil baron that this was a bad idea, but he hadnít listened to her. The men in her life never seemed to listen to her. Not really.
ďIím thinking of going into public law,Ē sheíd told her father in her last year of law school.
ďNonsense. Youíll join the family firm like we planned. Youíre a Bradley, and Bradleys always do as expected.Ē
And so, in the end, she had. Sheíd done what was expected, including getting engaged to Ted Went-worthÖwith fatal results.
Kate took a soothing breath, before reminding herself that this was no time to be reviewing her life choices. She had to keep her focus here. She had a feeling sheíd need her wits about her in order to deal with Striker.
She knew he was a Force Recon Marine, which meant he was a risk taker. An adrenaline junkie, like Ted.
Opponents who faced her in court called her Ice Queen because of her regal demeanor and distant manner. She used those tactics now, opening her eyes and facing Striker. ďAs I said, your grandfatherís will states that you return and run King Oil for at least two months or else the entire company will be shut down. If you do return with me, the King fortune will be split equally among you and your four brothers. In addition, a sizable amount will be bestowed upon your mother.Ē
Striker told himself he shouldnít have been surprised that, even in his death, Hank King was trying to force him into this idiotic plan.
But Striker still held the ace in the hole. Money had never been important to his family. Theyíd managed okay without much of it. His mother believed that wealth had been a terrible burden and made Hank a bitter man.
ďSo King Oil is sold off.Ē Striker said. ďSo what?Ē
ďPerhaps I wasnít clear,Ē Kate replied. ďEveryone who works for King Oil will be out on the streets if you donít come back.Ē
As if on cue, the Marine Corpsí top brass, present but silent until now, explained their presence. General Hyett was their spokesman. ďTop government officials are of the opinion that King Oil is too important to go under, that such a thing would make the economy unstable after the series of recent corporate bankruptcies. Therefore, itís in the countryís best interest that Captain Kozlowski spend the two months at King Oil.Ē
Striker had been trained to fight and rescue, to do whatever was necessary for his countryís best interest. No doubt his grandfather had counted on that when devising his will.
ďSir, I feel compelled to point out that I know nothing whatsoever about the oil business or about business in general,Ē Striker said.
ďThat doesnít matter,Ē General Hyett replied. ďAll you have to do is show up and stand guard for two months, then you can return to your regular duties. Isnít that right, maíam? You said that would meet the terms of the will.Ē
ďGood. Then itís agreed,Ē the general stated. ďLook on this as just another mission, Captain. Iím sure youíll complete it as successfully as you have all the others.Ē
Striker nodded curtly. He knew when he was beaten. ďThank you, sir.Ē
ďYou and Ms. Bradley may use the conference room next door to work out the details,Ē Commander Jenks told Striker. ďThat will be all. Dismissed.Ē
Striker saluted before doing a precise about-face and heading for the door, which he held open for Kate. It wasnít until they were alone in the conference room that he displayed some of his pent-up frustration and anger.
ďYou and Hank had this all worked out, didnít you?Ē he growled.
ďFor your information, I told Hank that this wasnít a good idea,Ē Kate replied in that highfalutin voice of hers.
ďBravo for you.Ē
ďHe didnít listen to me.Ē
ďThatís a pity.Ē
ďLook, Iím no happier about this state of affairs than you are.Ē
ďAnd why is that?Ē
ďIíve got better things to do with my time than deal with stubborn Marines who have a chip on their shoulder.Ē
The woman clearly had an attitude problem. He knew why he was upsetóhe felt like his grandfather was still trying to control him even from beyond the grave. In addition, Striker had never done well dealing with the world of the rich and privileged.
He had his reasons, going all the way back to his time on Hankís Westwind Ranch. That had been his momís idea. Hank had convinced her during one of their rare phone conversations that ďthe boysĒ should have a choice, should see what they were missing. Hank could have suggested having them work the rigs out in the oil fields, but instead heíd been wily enough to suggest they visit the ranch.
Striker wondered if his mom had ever been afraid her sons might be wooed over to the dark side by the wealth and the power visible at Westwind. Or if sheíd trusted them to stand by the ethics and values sheíd instilled in them from birth.
Sure, money had been tight when heíd been growing up. But there had never been a lack of respect, love or laughter in their household.
The same could not be said about the domain of Hank and his ďchildĒ King Oil. In Hankís world, he was absolute ruler. If you werenít with him, then you were against him.
Which is why Striker had been so sure Hank had written him off. That and the fact that the old man had vowed to disown him the last time heíd seen him, after the disastrous nineteenth birthday party Hank had thrown for Striker. In fact, Hank had shouted the words, tossing the threat at him as if throwing hand grenades. His face had been taut with rage, his oversized fists clenched.
Not the picture of the loving grandfather. But there had been other moments, when Hank had taught Striker how to bait a hook and taken him fishing, that had given Striker hope that there might have been a bond forged between them.
Heíd never know nowÖ.
Striker turned off the memories and refocused his attention on Kate.
The bottom line was that this lady lawyer, with her fancy ways and arrogant assumptions that heíd obediently fall in with his grandfatherís plans, represented that wealthy lifestyleóthe one that Striker had so painfully collided with that summer.
Oh, yeah, he had plenty of reasons to be upset.
But he didnít know why she had eyed him so disapprovingly, calling him a stubborn Marine. Her voice had a new edge to it, an edge that got him wondering what her story was.
ďHow many Marines have you dealt with?Ē he asked.
ďNot many,Ē she admitted. ďBut I know your type.Ē
ďReally? And what type might that be, maíam?Ē he drawled, noticing for the first time how lush her mouth was.
ďThe type that takes pleasure in living on the edge. The type that never feels more alive than when youíre risking your life.Ē
ďIs that a crime?Ē
Kate wanted to answer that it should be. But that would mean revealing too much about her inner feelings, so she bit her tongue and stayed silent instead.
ďHow long were you Hankís attorney?Ē he demanded.
ďWhy do you care?Ē she countered.
ďJust answer the question.Ē
ďTwo years. Before that my father had been his attorney for a number of years. But my father had a heart attack and was required to cut back his workload, so I took over several of his clients, including Mr. King.Ē
Striker wondered what she was thinking, wondered what was going on behind those cool blue eyes of hers. He preferred doing that to dealing with his own torn emotionsóthe unexpected grief at knowing he was never going to make peace with his grandfather, the conflicting resentment toward the old man for manipulating him even from the grave.
He had to view this entire mess as if it were just another special op. Get in, accomplish the mission, get out.
But none of his missions had ever tugged at his emotions this way.
Sure, heíd been affected by some of the things heíd seen over the years. But you packaged it up, put it on the shelf and got on with the job.
Good advice. He needed to do that here.
Striker had a feeling that would not be easy in this case.
Not that Marines were into easy. No, difficult was their specialty. A good Marine loves a challenge. And Kate was certainly a challenge.
Under other circumstances he might even have enjoyed flirting with her. If she hadnít acted so icy and above him.
ďI made our return travel arrangements before I left Texas,Ē she said. ďWeíre booked on a flight to San Antonio tonight.Ē
Okay, this was another thing that aggravated him about her. ďSure of yourself, arenít you.Ē
Kate wished that was the case, but it wasnít. Not at all. Striker could disrupt her normal calmness with remarkable ease. Which was why sheíd wrapped her Ice Queen mantle around herself for protection. Who wouldnít be rattled by coming face-to-face with the man whoíd been the source of so many of her secret sexual fantasies, forbidden fantasies.
But there was more to it than that. So much moreÖ
The bottom line was that Kate hadnít anticipated thisÖthingÖthis physical thing that seemed to exist between them.
Just passing by him when heíd held the door open for her had made her heart beat twice as fast. Sitting at the large conference table with him now made her breath catch. And she had yet to even touch him. Not that she planned on doing that. But it was bound to happen at some point.
Maybe it would be best if she got it over with right now. Waiting for it only made things worse.
She dropped her pen, which obediently rolled across the table toward him. Striker picked it up, but instead of handing it over to her, he tossed it onto the yellow legal pad sheíd taken out of her briefcase.
Was he deliberately avoiding touching her? Why?
She tried to imagine herself in his shoesódiscovering that a member of her family had died, someone with whom sheíd never made her peace. Sheíd be a wreck. Sheíd been a wreck when her father had had his heart attack two years ago.
But Striker was different. For one thing, he was a guy and guys dealt with these things differently. He was also a Marine, which no doubt meant he was even more disciplined about not showing any emotion.
Maybe she should be a little more understanding. ďIím sorry things have worked out this way, Striker.Ē
It was the first time sheíd said his name and the sound of it on her lips made his heart unexpectedly clench. His strong reaction to her caught him by surprise. This particular female had a way of getting under his skin. Not a good sign. So he did what any good Marine would do. He fought back. ďI donít need your pity.Ē
She flinched as if heíd struck her. Great, now he had more guilt to add to the mess.
Concentrate on the mission, he grimly ordered himself. But it didnít work. Not with her sitting so close that he could hear her breathe, could smell her rich perfume, could see the way her tongue darted out to nervously lick her lower lip.ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ