BEVERLY BARTON

Murdock's Last Stand


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      “Don’t you know the more you fight a man, the more determined he’ll be to conquer you?”

      Murdock arrogantly raked his eyes over her. “And, Cat, honey, you have a knack for verbal sparring that can really turn a man on.”

      That was it! Catherine had had it with this big, smart-mouthed wise guy! With her hands balled into tight fists, she took that one step that separated them, then lifted her gaze to make direct eye-to-eye contact. That’s when she realized she’d made a mistake. A huge mistake. Murdock was looking at her as if she were the last drop of water in a sweltering, dry desert.

      “What the hell,” he said as he reached out and jerked her into his arms. “We might as well get this over with.”

      Dear Reader,

      Happy New Year! Silhouette Intimate Moments is starting the year off with a bang—not to mention six great books. Why not begin with the latest of THE PROTECTORS, Beverly Barton’s miniseries about men no woman can resist? In Murdock’s Last Stand, a well-muscled mercenary meets his match in a woman who suddenly has him thinking of forever.

      Alicia Scott returns with Marrying Mike… Again, an intense reunion story featuring a couple who are both police officers with old hurts to heal before their happy ending. Try Terese Ramin’s A Drive-By Wedding when you’re in the mood for suspense, an undercover agent hero, an irresistible child and a carjacked heroine who ends up glad to go along for the ride. Already known for her compelling storytelling abilities, Eileen Wilks lives up to her reputation with Midnight Promises, a marriage-of-convenience story unlike any other you’ve ever read. Virginia Kantra brings you the next of the irresistible MacNeills in The Comeback of Con MacNeill, and Kate Stevenson returns after a long time away, with Witness…and Wife?

      All six books live up to Intimate Moments’ reputation for excitement and passion mixed together in just the right proportions, so I hope you enjoy them all.

      Yours,

      Leslie J. Wainger

      Executive Senior Editor

      Murdock’s Last Stand

      Beverly Barton

      

www.millsandboon.co.uk

      To Connie,

       whose mind is filled with fanciful, magical and intriguing ideas. This “protector” is for you.

      BEVERLY BARTON

      has been in love with romance since her grandfather gave her an illustrated book of Beauty and the Beast. An avid reader since childhood, she began writing at the age of nine and wrote short stories, poetry, plays and novels throughout high school and college. After marriage to her own “hero” and the births of her daughter and son, she chose to be a full-time homemaker, aka wife, mother, friend and volunteer.

      When she returned to writing, she joined Romance Writers of America and helped found the Heart of Dixie chapter in Alabama. Since the release of her first Silhouette book in 1990, she has won the GRW Maggie Award and the National Readers’ Choice Award and has been a RITA Award finalist. Beverly considers writing romance books a real labor of love. Her stories come straight from the heart, and she hopes that all the strong and varied emotions she invests in her books will be felt by everyone who reads them.

      Contents

      Prologue

      Chapter 1

      Chapter 2

      Chapter 3

      Chapter 4

      Chapter 5

      Chapter 6

      Chapter 7

      Chapter 8

      Chapter 9

      Chapter 10

      Chapter 11

      Chapter 12

      Chapter 13

      Chapter 14

      Chapter 15

      Epilogue

      Prologue

      Sweat dripped off his forehead and down into his eyes, blurring his vision. Using the back of his hand, he swiped away the moisture. The oppressive heat coated his body, filled his lungs and dulled his senses. He had been in some bad situations before, endured sweltering temperatures just as deadly and lived to tell the tale. But his gut instincts warned him that this time was different. From the minute he and Lanny arrived in Zaraza, he’d had an uneasy feeling that their luck had finally run out. He’d known that sooner or later fate would catch up with them and they’d wind up paying with their lives. He just hadn’t thought it would be this soon. Hell, he was only twenty-six. He was too young to die. Besides, wasn’t there an old adage that said only the good die young? If that were true, he’d live to be a hundred.

      “No way we’re both going to get out of this alive, Bubba,” Lanny said.

      Murdock lifted his gaze from the tip of his M-16 to his old buddy’s dirt-streaked face. Lanny McCroskey was a good ol’ boy from Tennessee, who had lost his soul back in Nam and had been searching for it ever since.

      “We’ve been outnumbered before. We’ll figure a way to get out of this one.” Even as the denial came from his mouth, Murdock knew Lanny was right. They were trapped! And even for a couple of highly trained mercenaries like them, it would take a miracle for both of them and Sabino’s troops to all escape.

      “The information has to get back to Burdett.” Lanny opened his canteen, then lifted it to his lips. After taking a hefty swig, he recapped the canteen. “One of us has to hightail it out of here, while Juan and his boys keep Ramos’s men occupied.”

      “Whoever stays is a dead man,” Murdock said.

      “You go. I’ll stay.” Lanny chuckled. “We both know that I’ve been living on borrowed time ever since Nam. You’re different. You’re a young man. You’ve still got a chance to have a normal life, if you get out of our line of work.”

      Before Murdock could reply, before he could protest leaving his former army sergeant behind, a barrage of enemy gunfire exploded around them. As the ragtag band of rebel soldiers retaliated against the Zarazaian troops, Juan Sabino crawled through the thicket and eased up beside Lanny.

      “We can hold them off for a while longer,” Juan said in his native Spanish. “One of you must go now, if there is any hope of getting that information to Burdett.”

      “Murdock’s going,” Lanny said.

      “Sì. He is younger and stronger than you and has the best chance of getting through.” Juan’s large, dark eyes gazed directly at Murdock, the look a mixture of fear and hope and pleading. “Vaya con Dios, amigo.”

      Murdock opened his mouth to protest, but stopped short of uttering a word. He knew that Lanny and Juan were right. And he didn’t have time for long farewells. No time to tell Lanny what the man already knew—that he cared for him like a son cared for his father.

      While Juan’s battered and bruised teenage soldiers held the mighty Zarazaian army at bay, Murdock slipped into the thicket of vines and gnarled trees that led into the jungle. He didn’t think, didn’t feel and didn’t look back. On his belly, he made his way over the rough forest floor until he knew he was out of sight and out of range. Just as he rose into a crouching position, a thunderous explosion rocked the earth beneath his feet. He froze to the spot. His heartbeat drummed in his ears. His blood ran cold.

      Murdock retraced