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Forged in Desire


Lamar “Striker” Jennings walked into the hospital room, stopped and then frowned. “What the hell is he doing working from bed?”

“I asked myself the same thing when I got his call for us to come here,” Striker’s friend Quasar Patterson said, sitting lazily in a chair with his long legs stretched out in front of him.

“And you might as well take a seat like he told us to do,” another friend, Stonewall Courson, suggested, while pointing to an empty chair. “Evidently it will take more than a bullet to slow down Roland.”

Roland Summers, CEO of Summers Security Firm, lay in the hospital bed, staring at them. Had it been just last week that the man had been fighting for his life after foiling an attempted carjacking?

“You still look like shit, Roland. Shouldn’t you be trying to get some rest instead of calling a meeting?” Striker asked, sliding his tall frame into the chair. He didn’t like seeing Roland this way. They’d been friends a long time, and he couldn’t ever recall the man being sick. Not even with a cold. Well, at least he was alive. That damn bullet could have taken him out and Striker didn’t want to think about that.

“You guys have been keeping up with the news?”  

Roland asked in a strained voice, interrupting Striker’s thoughts.

“We’re aware of what’s going on, if that’s what you want to know,” Stonewall answered. “Nobody took Murphy Erickson’s threat seriously.”

Roland made an attempt to nod his head. “And now?”

“And now people are panicking. Phones at the office have been ringing off the hook. I’m sure every protec­tive security service in town is booked solid. Everyone in the courtroom that day is either in hiding or seek­ing protection, and with good reason,” Quasar piped in to say. “The judge, clerk reporter and bailiff are all dead. All three were gunned down within seventy-two hours of each other.”

“The FBI is working closely with local law enforce­ment, and they figure it’s the work of the same assas­sin,” Striker added. “I heard they anticipate he’ll go after someone on the jury next.”

“Which is why I called the three of you here. There was a woman on the jury who I want protected. It’s personal.”

“Personal?” Striker asked, lifting a brow. He knew Roland dated off and on, but he’d never been serious with anyone. He was always quick to say that his wife, Becca, had been his one and only love.

“Yes, personal. She’s a family member.”

The room got quiet. That statement was even more baffling since, as far as the three of them knew, Roland didn’t have any family…at least not anymore. They were all aware of his history. He’d been a cop, who’d discovered some of his fellow officers on the take. Be­fore he could blow the whistle he’d been framed and sent to prison for fifteen years. Becca had refused to accept his fate and worked hard to get him a new trial. He served three years before finally leaving prison but not before the dirty cops murdered Roland’s wife. All the cops involved had eventually been brought to jus­tice and charged with the death of Becca Summers, in addition to other crimes.

“You said she’s family?” Striker asked, looking con­fused.

“Yes, although I say that loosely since we’ve never officially met. I know who she is, but she doesn’t know I even exist.” Roland then closed his eyes, and Striker knew he had to be in pain.

“Man, you need to rest,” Quasar said. “You can cover this with us another time.”

Roland’s eyes flashed back open. “No, we need to talk now. I need one of you protecting her right away.”

Nobody said anything for a minute and then Striker asked, “What relation is she to you, man?”

“My niece. To make a long story short, years ago my mom got involved with a married man. He broke things off when his wife found out about the affair but not before I was conceived. I always knew the identity of my father. I also knew about his other two older sons, although they didn’t know about me. I guess you can say I was the old man’s secret.” Roland tried shifting in bed and suddenly let out a deep moan.

“You okay, Roland?” Stonewall asked in concern.

Roland nodded. “I’m okay.”

“You need to rest,” Striker said.

“The sooner I finish telling you everything, the sooner I can rest.”

“Then finish before we call the nurse to increase your pain meds,” Quasar said, leaning forward.

“One day after I’d left for college, I got a call from my mother letting me know the old man was dead but he’d left me something in his will.”

Striker didn’t say anything, thinking that at least Roland’s old man had done right by him in the end. To this day, his own poor excuse of a father hadn’t even acknowledged his existence. “That’s when your two brothers found out about you?” he asked.

“Yes. Their mother found out about me as well. She turned out to be a real bitch. Even tried blocking what Connelly had left for me in the will. But she couldn’t. The old man evidently had anticipated her making such a move and made sure the will was ironclad. He gave me enough to finish college without taking out student loans with a little left over.”

“Good for him,” Quasar said. “What about your brothers? How did they react to finding out about you?”

“The eldest acted like a dickhead,” Roland said without pause. “The other one’s reaction was just the opposite. His name was Murdock and he reached out to me afterward. I would hear from him from time to time. He would call to see how I was doing.”

Roland didn’t say anything for a minute, his face showing he was struggling with strong emotions. “Murdock is the one who gave Becca the money to hire a private investigator to reopen my case. I never got the chance to thank him.”

“Why?” Quasar asked.

Roland drew in a deep breath and then said, “Murdock and his wife were killed weeks before my new trial began.”

“How did they die?”

“House fire. Fire department claimed faulty wir­ing. I never believed it but couldn’t prove otherwise. Luckily their ten-year-old daughter wasn’t home at the time. She’d been attending a sleepover at one of her friends’ houses.”

“You think those dirty cops took them out too?” Stonewall asked.

“Yes. While I could link Becca’s death to those cor­rupt cops, there wasn’t enough evidence to connect Murdock’s and his wife’s deaths.”

Stonewall nodded. “What happened to the little girl after that?”

“She was raised by the other brother. Since the old lady had died by then, he became her guardian.” Ro­land paused a minute and then added, “He came to see me this morning.”

“Who? Your brother? The dickhead?” Quasar asked with a snort.

“Yes,” Roland said, and it was obvious he was try­ing not to grin. “When he walked in here it shocked the hell out of me. Unlike Murdock, he never reached out to me, and I think he even resented Murdock for doing so.”

“So what the fuck was his reason for showing up here today?” Stonewall asked. “He’d heard you’d got­ten shot and wanted to show some brotherly concern?” It was apparent by Stonewall’s tone he didn’t believe that was the case.

“Umm, let me guess,” Quasar then said languidly. “He had a change of heart, especially now that his niece’s life is in danger. Now he wants your help. I as­sume this is the same niece you want protected.”

“Yes, to both. He’d heard I’d gotten shot and claimed he was concerned. Although he’s not as much of a dick­head as before, I sensed a little resentment is still there. But not because I’m his father’s bastard. A part of me believes he’s gotten over that.”

“What, then?” Striker asked.

“I think he blames me for Murdock’s death. He didn’t come out and say that, but he did let me know he was aware of the money Murdock gave Becca to get me a new trial and that he has similar suspicions regarding the cause of their deaths. That’s why when he became his niece’s guardian, he sent her out of the country to attend an all-girls school with tight security in London for a few years. He didn’t bring her back to the States until after those bad cops were sent to jail.”

“So the reason he showed up today was because he thought sending you on a guilt trip would be the only way to get you to protect your niece?” Striker asked angrily. Although Roland had tried hiding it, Striker could clearly see the pain etched in his face whenever he spoke.

“Evidently. I guess it didn’t occur to him that mak­ing sure she is protected is something I’d want to do. I owe Murdock, although I don’t owe Frazier Connelly a damn thing.”

“Frazier Connelly?” Quasar said, sitting up straight in his chair. “The Frazier Connelly of Connelly En­terprises?”

“One and the same.”

Nobody said anything for a while. Then Striker asked, “Your niece—what’s her name?”

“Margo. Margo Connelly.”

“And she doesn’t know anything about you?” Stone­wall asked. “Are you still the family’s well-kept se­cret?”

Roland nodded. “Frazier confirmed that today, and I prefer things to stay that way. If I could, I would protect her. I can’t, so I need one of you to do it for me. Hope­fully, it won’t be long before the assassin that Erickson hired is apprehended.”

Striker eased out of his chair. Roland, of all people, knew that, in addition to working together, he, Quasar and Stonewall were the best of friends. They looked out for each other and watched each other’s backs. And if needed they would cover Roland’s back as well. Roland was more than just their employer—he was their close friend, mentor and the voice of reason, even when they really didn’t want one. “Stonewall is handling things at the office in your absence, and Quasar is already working a case. That leaves me. Don’t worry about a thing, Roland. I’ve got it covered. Consider it done.”

Margo Connelly stared up at her uncle. “A body­guard? Do you really think that’s necessary, Uncle Frazier? I understand extra policemen are patrolling the streets.”

“That’s not good enough. Why should I trust a bunch of police officers?”

“Why shouldn’t you?” she countered, not for the first time wondering what her uncle had against cops. On more than one occasion he’d made that quite ob­vious.

“I have my reasons, but this isn’t about me—this is about you and your safety. I refuse to have you placed in any danger. What’s the big deal? You’ve had a body­guard before.”

Yes, she’d had one before. Right after her parents’ deaths, when her uncle had become her guardian. He had shipped her off to London for three years. She’d reckoned he’d been trying to figure out what he, a de­vout bachelor, was to do with a ten-year-old. When she returned to the United States, Apollo remained her bodyguard. When she turned fourteen, she fought hard for a little personal freedom. But she’d always known the chauffeurs Uncle Frazier hired could do more than drive her to and from school. More than once she’d seen the guns they carried.

“Yes, but that was then and this is now, Uncle Frazier. I can look after myself.”

“Haven’t you been keeping up with the news?” he snapped. “Three people are dead. All three were in that courtroom with you. Erickson is making sure his threat is carried out.”

“And more than likely whoever is committing these murders will be caught before there can be another shooting. I understand the three were killed while they were away from home. I have enough paperwork to catch up on here for a while. I didn’t even leave my house today.”

“You don’t think a paid assassin will find you here? Alone? You either get on board with having a body­guard or you move back home. It’s well secured there.”

Margo drew in a deep breath. Back home was the Connelly estate. Yes, it was secure, with its state-of-the-art surveillance system. While growing up, she’d thought of the ten-acre property, surrounded by a tall wrought-iron fence and cameras watching her every move, as a prison. Now she couldn’t stand the thought of staying there for any long period of time…especially if Liz was still in residence.

Her forty-five-year-old uncle had never married and claimed he had his reasons for never wanting to. But that didn’t keep him from occasionally having a live-in mistress under his roof. His most recent was Liz Till­man and, as far as Margo was concerned, the woman was a real work of art with the words gold digger writ­ten all over her. Margo knew her uncle was a smart man and would eventually figure that fact out for him­self. But right now it seemed he was quite taken with Liz’s looks and body.

“It’s final. A bodyguard will be here around the clock to protect you until this madness is over.”

Margo didn’t say anything. She wondered if at any time it had crossed her uncle’s mind that they were at her house, not his, and she was no longer a child but a twenty-six-year-old woman. In a way, she knew she should appreciate his concern, but she refused to let anyone order her around.

He was wrong in assuming she hadn’t been keep­ing up with the news. Just because she was trying to maintain a level head didn’t mean a part of her wasn’t a little worried. She could still recall the threat Mur­phy Erickson had made in the courtroom that day. Each time she remembered it chills would go through her.

Her uncle walked over to the window and looked out. It had snowed earlier. He stood there for a long moment, just staring out at the snow. She’d known that taking on the responsibility of raising her after her par­ents’ deaths hadn’t been easy for him. Not that he had ever complained. He’d always been there for her, al­though at times, especially during her teen years, she’d thought he was a little too controlling.

“What are you thinking about, Uncle Frazier?” she asked, getting up and joining him at the window to look out as well. Light snow was expected in Charlottesville during the end of January, but the snow that had fallen earlier had been heavier than usual, just like the fore­casters had predicted. In the distance she could see it covered the top of the mountains.

“Too much snow for you?” she asked. Margo knew how much he hated cold weather. The times he’d visited her in New York had been during the summer months.

He chuckled, something she liked hearing since he rarely did it. Sometimes she wondered about him, es­pecially when he got into one of his pensive moods. It was as if he was trying to deal with some major regrets. What were they? Would he ever share them with her?

“I was just remembering a day similar to this one,” he finally said. “There was a lot of snow. And your fa­ther talked me into going outside and building a snow­man with him.”

Frazier chuckled again. “Crazy me, I did it, instead of refusing and throwing my weight around as the old­est. Your dad had that ability to convince me to do something I really didn’t want to do.” He got quiet for a minute and then said, seeming thoughtful, “At least with most things.” He paused a moment. “Anyway, we had fun that day, although afterward I caught a bad cold and had to stay out of school for a week.”

Margo smiled. She loved whenever he shared fond memories with her. He and her father had been close at one time… At least that was the impression her uncle gave when he reminisced about their childhood. She knew something happened to the brothers as adults that had placed a wedged between them, and to this day she had no idea what it had been. She’d asked, but he refused to say. In fact, he dismissed her assump­tions as untrue.

“I have to be honest—you had me worried there for a minute, Uncle Frazier.”

He looked down at her. “About what?”

“The reason for your preoccupied expression. I thought you were about to break the news that you’ve decided to get married or something.”

He snorted and said, “Not hardly.”

His words, especially the way he’d said them, made Margo wonder if there was trouble in paradise. He’d been with Liz for over a year now, longer than any other woman. After he moved Liz into his home, Margo rarely visited him at the estate, and he knew why. It was obvious whenever she and Liz were in the same room that they couldn’t get along. Heaven knew she’d tried, but it was as if the woman saw her as competi­tion. Liz wanted Frazier for herself and didn’t intend to share him with any woman. Not even a niece. How crazy was that?

“I’m glad you’re going along with me about the bodyguard, Margo.”

She frowned as she glanced up at him. Had she really agreed? In a way she guessed she had. The last thing she wanted was for him to worry needlessly about her. “I’ll give one a try…but this bodyguard better be forewarned not to get underfoot. I have a lot of work to do. An order came in while I was sequestered and the woman will be dropping by tomorrow morning for measurements. Al­though it’s a September wedding, I want to get started right away.”

“Why the rush?”

“I’d like to take this summer off. Possibly visit Apollo and his family in London.”

“That would be nice.”

She wasn’t finished yet. “And another thing, Uncle Frazier,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I think you forget sometimes that I’m twenty-six and live on my own and am very independent. Just because I’m going along with you on this, I hope you don’t think you can start bulldozing your way with me.”

He glowered at her. “You’re stubborn like your fa­ther.”

She smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” Drop­ping her hands, she moved back toward the sofa and sat down, grabbing a magazine off the coffee table to flip through. “So, when do we hire this bodyguard?”

“He’s been hired. In fact, I expect him to arrive in a few minutes.”

Margo’s head jerked up. “What?! You hired him without consulting me?”

“I saw no need. He came highly recommended, Margo. I understand he’s good at what he does and that’s what I want.”

That wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to vet her own bodyguard. The last thing she needed was someone breathing down her neck, watching her every move and telling her what she could and could not do, which was exactly what the sort of man her uncle hired would do.

“And I hope you follow his orders, Margo. His job is to keep you alive.”

She scowled at him. “Since he came so highly rec­ommended, I’m sure that he will.”

Margo drew in a deep breath. She hated being a smart mouth; however, the thought of another man crowding her space for any reason—even to keep her alive—didn’t sit well with her. She and Scott had lived in separate apartments and had tossed around the idea of moving in together. He was more for it than she was. During the weekends he had stayed over at her place, she’d been more than ready for him to leave on Monday morning. He never picked up after himself and depended on her to do practically everything. She’d begun to feel like his personal assistant rather than his lover.

She leaned back against the sofa. Her uncle moved from the window to take the chair across from her. “So what do you know about this person whose presence I have to put up with for no telling how long?” she asked. “Who recommended him, Uncle Frazier?”

There was a long pause. Hadn’t her uncle heard her question? Just in case, she repeated it.

“Someone I know.”

“So this person has used him before?”

“Not sure.”

She lifted a brow. “Yet you’ve taken his word for it?” She could tell her questions were agitating him. She was ready to dig deeper when the doorbell rang.

“I hope that’s him,” her uncle said, standing quickly.

She stood as well. A part of her hoped it wasn’t him. Why did she feel certain her life would be changing? Probably because it would. A madman was on the loose. A killer for hire. Did Murphy Erickson really think he would be set free from prison? If nothing else, these ad­ditional deaths were on his hands. Had the man forgot­ten that Virginia was a death-penalty state? Did he care?

Margo moved toward the door, her uncle right on her heels. She started to say something and decided not to waste her time. What was the point? Her uncle had arranged for her to have a bodyguard regardless of whether she wanted one or not.

Upon reaching the door, she turned to her uncle. “Like I said, I won’t have him underfoot, Uncle Frazier.”

“If it means keeping you alive, I don’t care if he’s underarm,” he responded tersely.

She rolled her eyes before turning back to the door. “Who is it?”

“Striker Jennings.”

Striker? What kind of name was that?

She turned to her uncle, who nodded and said, “That’s him.”

She wanted to see what kind of guy went by the name Striker. She stared through the peephole and, as if he knew what she was doing, he looked directly at her. The moment their gazes connected, something—she wasn’t sure what—made her breath catch.

Her uncle heard it and quickly asked, “What’s wrong?”

Margo drew in a deep breath as she pulled away. “Nothing.” She was lying. Who was this man? Why did just staring into his eyes have such an effect on her? The thought that he would be sharing her space…for who knew how long…was rather unsettling.

“Well, aren’t you going to let him in?”

Instead of answering her uncle’s question, she opened the door. And there he stood. The man named Striker Jennings. Instead of focusing on his eyes like before, she took in the entire man. And what a man he was. He was tall, way over six feet. And he was big. Muscular in a dark business suit and looking totally professional and serious. Why was her gaze intrigued by his broad shoul­ders, bulging biceps and flat abs? And those heavily lashed, dark eyes, the same ones she had stared into just moments ago, seemed to say, “Go ahead and try me.”

Try him? Margo swallowed deeply while thinking, How? With what? And for how long? She snapped back to her senses when her uncle came around to verify the man’s identity and said, “Show me credentials.”

Although the man gave her uncle a look that all but told him what he could do with the credentials he’d asked for, the man shifted his duffel bag into the other hand before pulling an identification card from his jacket pocket. She and her uncle looked at it. Lamar Jen­nings. So Striker wasn’t his real name. And he worked for a Summers Security Firm. There was a nice pic­ture of him, but the real thing standing in front of her was so much better. Almost too much. Far too pleasing on any woman’s eyes. His nutmeg-colored facial fea­tures were way too mesmerizing. Way too captivating to even be considered merely handsome. Definitely riv­eting. She noted there was nothing soft about him and detected a hardness that would kick ass first and ask questions later.

Her uncle handed the ID card back to him. “Come on in, Jennings.”

“Striker,” he corrected him, not moving an inch. It was as if he needed to establish a few things up front and what he wanted to be called was one of them.

Her uncle didn’t say anything, and she wondered if he would. Although he often accused her of being stubborn, Frazier Connelly could be just as stubborn.

Even more so. The two men stared hard at each other, and then, as if her uncle had decided it would be in his best interest to be the one to concede, he said, “Okay. Come in, Striker.”

She stepped aside when he walked past her and she closed the door behind him.

“You come highly recommended,” her uncle was saying, extending his hand out to the man.

“Do I?” Striker replied, accepting her uncle’s hand­shake.

“Yes, and this is my niece, Margo Connelly. The woman I’m depending on you to keep safe.”

He turned his dark, penetrating eyes on her. She could feel a deep stirring in the pit of her stomach when he extended his hand out to her. “Ms. Connelly.”

Margo accepted his hand and suddenly an intense rush of desire tore into her. It took everything she had not to snatch her hand back. She’d never met this man before. Didn’t know a thing about him other than that he’d been hired by her uncle. Yet she was attracted to him. She’d heard of sudden attraction but had never been the recipient of it, until now.

Even though he was impeccably dressed in a busi­ness suit, she detected a rough edge. And she suspected if the need arose, he could be lethal. As far as she was concerned, lethal and good-looking was one hell of a combination. She was a woman and there was nothing wrong with appreciating a well-muscled, nicely built man when she saw one.

“Mr. Jennings,” she said, pulling her hand from his.

“Striker,” he corrected her.

Instead of acknowledging his correction, Margo didn’t say anything, not sure she could find her voice even if she’d wanted to. At that moment a semblance of heated desire fanned low in her stomach. On top of that, her mind was still reeling from the sensations caused from their handshake. She felt irritated wondering what in the world was going on here. Putting the appreciation thing aside, it was totally unlike her to be this affected by any man. Although she relished eye candy like any other fe­male might, she’d never let a man bring out the lustful side of her. In fact, to be totally honest, she hadn’t been aware she had one until now. She hadn’t been involved with a man since Scott. And that had been her choice. Her passion was her work and it superseded any intimate feminine needs. She’d learned not to place any man at the top of her pedestal.

That decision had come about after her last two se­rious relationships had left a bad taste in her mouth. Her attitude was that she didn’t need a man to be happy since all they seemed to do was disappoint her anyway. She liked her life just the way it was. Uninvolved, unat­tached and drama-free. At least it had been drama-free before the Erickson trial.

As Margo continued to study the man who’d entered her home, she had a feeling she was in a heap of trou­ble that had nothing to do with any assassin’s attempt on her life.

Forged in Desire
by by Brenda Jackson

  • Genres: Fiction, Romance
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books
  • ISBN-10: 0373790007
  • ISBN-13: 9780373790005