A hot-blooded bodyguard. An heiress worth a cool billion. And one dangerous attraction.... Roxanne St. Claire delivers a heart-pounding thrill ride in the second Bullet Catchers novel!
HE KNOWS ALL HER SECRETS...
Max Roper never lets emotion get in the way of his job not since the tragic shooting that killed his fiancée's father. Now the former DEA agent is a Bullet Catcher, and he's managed to block out Cori's bitter goodbye and their sizzling passion. Those dangerous desires come back with a vengeance when Max is assigned to protect a recently widowed heiress: who turns out to be Cori. But Max must also discover his ex's dark secret...and they both know she can't hide anything from him.
...AND HOW TO USE THEM AGAINST HER
Her luxury lifestyle suggests that Cori has gone from being a trophy wife to a merry widow, but nothing could be further from the truth. Suspicious of her billionaire husband's sudden death, she hires a bodyguard. But her protector is the one man who can melt her every defense the one man she blames for her deepest sorrow, the one man whose six-feet four-inches of solid muscle ignites reckless passion in her. And as they close in on a killer who hides in plain view, their high-stakes affair could cost her everything...including her life.
About the Author
Roxanne St. Claire is the author of the Bullet Catchers series and the critically acclaimed romantic suspense novels Killer Curves, French Twist, and Tropical Getaway. The national bestselling author of more than seventeen novels, Roxanne has won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award, the Bookseller's Best Award, the Book Buyers "Top Pick," the HOLT Medallion, and the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Best Romantic Suspense. Find out more at RoxanneStClaire.com, at Twitter.com/RoxanneStClaire, and at Facebook.com/RoxanneStClaire.
Read an Excerpt
Thrill Me to Death
By Roxanne St. Claire
All right reserved.
Not much impressed Lucy Sharpe. But when she told Max Roper his next assignment and he didn't even blink, her respect for his famous self-control ratcheted up a notch.
Unless he didn't recognize the name? Perhaps he hadn't kept track of his former lover. Maybe he didn't realize that Corinne Peyton, widowed billionairess, and Cori Cooper, DePaul law student, were one and the same.
Lucy slid a large color photo from a dossier, placing it so that the light caught the gleam in the subject's midnight blue eyes and captured the sheen of her long black hair.
"Here's a photo of Mrs. Peyton," Lucy said, lifting her gaze to gauge his reaction. "Lovely, isn't she?"
He barely nodded. Maybe an eyebrow moved a millimeter, but she couldn't be sure. Anyone would think this was the first time Max Roper had laid eyes on Corinne Peyton. Anyone but Lucy, who made it her business to know everything about every man and woman who'd earned the right to be a Bullet Catcher, her top-notch cadre of bodyguards and security specialists.
"This was taken on the day the Peyton Foundation was launched, shortly after the Peytons were married. Four years ago."
"The organization is the largest philanthropic endeavor of the multibillion-dollar PeytonEnterprises. Mrs. Peyton was instrumental in creating this foundation with her late husband." She paused long enough for him to look up from the picture. "The Peyton Foundation provides complete financial support and legal services to the families of fallen law enforcement officers."
Nothing. No giveaway pulse in his muscle-roped neck. No change in his carved-from-granite features. Max remained stoic and still, as always. A quality that made him an outstanding bodyguard, but one that rarely endeared him to clients who wanted to know what made this calm giant of a man tick.
She leaned her elbows on the table and repeated her earlier statement. "I'm assigning you to protect Corinne Peyton."
He merely flicked the picture to the side and pulled the rest of the paperwork closer, skimming his fingertip down the key points on the top sheet. He lifted the page and studied a photo of William Peyton, taken on his sixtieth birthday. And another, picturing the mall magnate in his Star Island home on the cover of Fortune magazine.
"As you can see by the date, that article ran last year," she added. "Just months before Peyton died, at sixty-three years old."
Again, Lucy paused, waiting for Max to reveal his connection to the widow.
He simply pushed the file aside and leaned back to deliver one seriously disgusted look. "Miami? In August, Luce? Why not just send me to hell?"
She smiled. "Next time, Alaska. I promise."
"That's what you said after Madagascar. Put Jazz and Alex Romero on this. They live there."
"They're on assignment in Helsinki."
He snorted softly. "That lucky bastard."
"You won't melt in Miami, Max." Or would he?
He reopened the folder, as though he couldn't resist another look at the man with a shock of white hair and a set of black eyebrows. The man who'd dotted the nation with ultraluxurious shopping complexes and reaped considerable wealth in the process. The man who got everything he wanted out of life...including the woman Max loved.
"So, did you know this guy?" Max asked casually. "Is that how the Bullet Catchers got involved?"
"No. This is a referral from Beckworth Insurance. Mrs. Peyton's had a situation recently and asked the insurance company for security recommendations. They put her in touch with me."
"Beckworth?" Max looked up, curious. "Is it a kidnapping threat?"
The Bullet Catchers routinely worked with Beckworth in areas with high incidences of kidnapping, such as South America. "No, but evidently someone tried to kiss her with the fender of a car while she was shopping. On the surface, this is a standard VIP protection."
The crease in his forehead deepened at her pointed tone. "And below the surface?"
She leaned her chin onto her knuckles. "I've spent most of my adult life as a spy, Max. You know that I know you have a history with this woman."
"An ancient history."
She arched one brow. "Ancient enough for you to protect her with your life?"
He met her gaze. "If you ask me to."
"Ancient enough for you to regain her trust?"
"If I had to."
"Ancient enough for you to quietly determine whether or not she killed her husband?"
"What?" He blew out the word. "He died of a heart attack. That's right here on page one of your file."
"That's the official report."
Max waited a beat, his expression asking the obvious question: What was the unofficial report?
Lucy pushed her chair back from the Victorian writing table that served as her desk. At the mullioned window that filled one wall of her library, she stared at the Hudson River Valley and the manicured acres of her estate, lushly green from the summer rain.
"No formal investigation is being launched into William Peyton's death. His heart failure was confirmed with an autopsy. But..." She turned to look at him. "Beckworth Insurance investigators are not entirely certain. It's very neat, this young woman being handed billions and the power of all her husband's voting shares on Peyton's board of directors. Yes, the autopsy was clean. No one is filing charges and no law enforcement has been notified. But you know how thorough Beckworth is. Since they handle the insurance for the entire Peyton Enterprises, they want the truth, whatever it is."
"She didn't really inherit control of the company," he told her. "Just that Foundation, and I believe it was one billion, not two."
She couldn't resist a wry smile. "So you have been keeping tabs on Cori Cooper."
He glanced at the magazine cover. "I read." His brow furrowed as he gazed at her. "This is no random assignment, Luce. Why me?"
Lucy locked her hands behind her back and looked hard at him. "You bring some critical elements to the party."
A smile threatened. "Other than my boyish charm, they would be?"
"You are a superb bodyguard, you are an excellent interrogator thanks to your years in the DEA, and you have a personal relationship with the principal, making it easier to access private information." He also had charm, in spades. He just didn't dole it out liberally. "I do, however, have one major concern."
He looked at her expectantly.
"Can you leave your emotions out of this, Max?"
His lip twitched and for a moment, she thought he was going to laugh. "You're kidding, right?"
"Unfortunately, I'm not."
"Lucy." He shook his head, a gleam in his chestnut brown eyes. "Of all things to get in my way, emotions would not be one of them."
"I've never given you a responsibility like this, protecting and investigating a person you were involved with."
He stood to a height that dwarfed her own six feet, his face still unreadable except for the tiny scar above his right eyebrow, which paled as he gathered the papers together.
"Not an issue. Considering I just got back from six months in South Africa sucking up to an arms dealer, I'd call babysitting some trophy widow a walk in the park."
"Parks can be deadly places."
He smirked. "Luce, this is Protection and Investigation 101. And I know Cori Cooper: That girl's an open book."
"That girl is a very rich woman under a cloud of suspicion for murder."
His eyes shuttered momentarily. "If she's guilty of anything, I'll know it in five minutes." He closed the folder and slid it into a soft-sided leather bag.
"Money -- and murder -- can change a person," she warned softly.
He crossed the twenty-foot oriental carpet in just a few steps. At the door, he slowly turned back. "Have you considered the possibility that she had nothing to do with her husband's death? That it was a heart attack, pure and simple?"
"Defending her already?" That was the risk in assigning him to the job: He couldn't be objective.
He finally gave her a long, slow smile. "Just considering every possible outcome."
"You do that. And try to stay cool down there."
As he disappeared into the hallway, she could have sworn she heard him laugh softly.
Every Bullet Catcher was tested once in his career. Lord, she hoped that this Rock of Gibraltar, with a mile-wide moat around his heart, could pass his test.
"You know what I hate most about you, Mrs. Corinne Peyton?"
Cori turned to see her closest friend descending three stone steps to the lower lawn, moving in beaded evening pants as gossamer-like as her nickname. "I'm sure the list is long, Breezy, but what is it now?"
"That death becomes you."
Cori drew back, offended. "That's not funny."
"I'm not, for once in my life, going for humor." Breezy slid a well-toned arm around Cori's waist and tugged her closer. "I watched you work that party for the last hour. You manage to exude grace, class, and radiance, with just the appropriate amount of grief and ennui."
Cori tilted her head and laughed. "Ennui? Now there's a word you don't hear thrown around too often."
Breezy shrugged. "Occupational hazard of being married to a lawyer who likes expensive words."
"Hey, you're lucky to have him," she said softly.
Breezy's whole body softened next to Cori. "You miss your man, sweetie?"
"I do," Cori admitted on a sigh. "Especially on a night like this." She swept a hand toward the uplighting surrounding the tropical estate, the pool, and pavilion area trimmed with stately royal palms and littered with overdressed guests and obsequious waiters. "I turn around and expect to see him wearing that special look he saved just for me."
"I'm going to be sick."
Cori prodded Breezy's ribs. "Did you come out here to abuse me or give me the latest numbers?"
"Neither, but I can do both. We passed two hundred thousand dollars on the last of the silent auction items. Some fool bid twenty-five thousand for a weekend on Lulu Garrey's yacht."
"Really? That's great, Breeze." Cori leaned her head toward Breezy's thin but supportive shoulder. "God, I can't believe how much work you did to pull this fund-raiser together. I'd be so lost without you."
"Oh, please. I had fun. My goal was to make it so that all you had to do was slide your sexy self into that eye-popping Valentino, and show up to answer the one question on every collagen-enhanced lip in Miami."
"Did he really die in the sack?"
Cori tried to laugh. "You know he did. But in his sleep."
He died in his sleep of natural causes.
How many thousands of times in the last three months had she uttered those words? And how many times had a little voice responded in her head: No, he didn't?
She turned to Breezy. "What they really want to know is if the trophy wife has turned into a merry widow."
"Screw 'em. You never were a trophy wife." Breezy pulled a cigarette out of her tiny bag and shot a glance toward the house as she lit and inhaled sharply. "Anyway, I came down to tell you that you have a guest."
"I have two hundred of them. Is there one in particular I'm supposed to see right now?"
"This one claims to be your bodyguard." Breezy exhaled, her green eyes tapered by smoke and accusation. "So you really did it, huh?"
"I had to," Cori said. "That little scene up in Bal Harbour convinced me."
Breezy nodded knowingly. She hadn't been shopping with Cori the day a menacing black Jag swiped her so close that the side mirror knocked her handbag to the ground, but she'd shared the postevent trauma.
"Where'd you find this guy?" Breezy asked. "He's smoldering hot."
"The insurance company hooked me up with some high-end security operation, and I requested someone intimidating and visible. I want to send a message to that weasel that I'm not afraid of him." She had deeper reasons than that, but her stepson had unwittingly offered her the perfect excuse to beef up security.
Breezy snorted. "I notice that weasel hasn't made his appearance yet."
"Thank God." The last thing Cori needed on her first major social outing as the widow of William Peyton was a run-in with the son of William Peyton. "After contesting the will, I doubt even he has the audacity to show up tonight."
"If he does, you've got one sizeable stud up there being paid to protect you. Here, he gave me his card." She snuffed her cigarette in a planter and reached back into her bag.
Cori started toward the steps. "I thought he was coming tomorrow, but Marta's already set up the guest house. I'll go talk to him."
"Trust me, it won't be painful."
"No thanks, not interested. I've only been widowed for three months."
"But you haven't been laid in three years. So you might change your mind when you see..." Breezy tilted the card toward the light to read it. "Max Roper."
Cori's foot slipped off the limestone step. "What?"
"Executive protection and personal security. Max Roper."
Cori seized the card, the blood draining from her head so fast the letters danced. "No. The universe could not be so cruel and twisted."
At the top of the stairs, a shadow eclipsed the glittering party lights. She didn't have to look and he didn't have to speak.
She knew who it was.
"The universe is most definitely a cruel and twisted place." His sinful baritone rumbled right through her. "You of all people know that, Mrs. Peyton."
She looked up and swayed a little. But that was surely from her high heels sinking in the lawn -- not the impact of a man she had loved and hated at the same time.
"What are you doing here, Max?"
"Lucy Sharpe sent me."
"You?" She injected a healthy dose of disgust into the syllable.
"Me." He descended two steps, which did nothing to diminish the sheer size of him. Maximillian P. Roper III was six feet four inches of unforgiving muscle and man. No doubt he made an excellent bodyguard.
But he wouldn't be hers. Never, never, never.
"Cori, do you know this man?" Breezy closed in as though her wispy one-hundred-and-one pounds could actually keep Max Roper at bay.
"We knew each other in Chicago," Max said.
"I knew her in Chicago," Breezy insisted. "I never met you."
Cori cupped Breezy's elbow to urge her away. "I'll talk to him alone, Breeze. Then he'll be leaving."
Max's gaze never wavered from Cori, those hundred-proof eyes refusing to reveal anything as mundane as a feeling. A tailored sports jacket covered what she knew to be a Herculean chest, and in that chest pounded a heart that she'd once considered her most treasured possession.
"There must be a mistake," she said. "I arranged for a bodyguard, not a DEA bloodhound."
The corner of his mouth quirked -- a full-fledged grin for Max Roper. He reached out a hand for a formal shake. "I'm here to provide you with unparalleled personal security."
She backed away. Touching a charged lightning rod would be less dangerous than touching Max again. "Let me get this straight. You're one of the Bullet Catchers?"
"And Lucy Sharpe sent you to protect me?" She shook her head in disbelief.
"Lucy has her reasons and we rarely question them, Mrs. Peyton."
The emphasis on Cori's married name wasn't lost on her. Did he believe what everyone else did: that she'd married an older man for his money, and won the lottery when he died in their bed, leaving her an heiress to a big, juicy estate and a seat in the Peyton Enterprises boardroom?
Surely Max, of all people, knew her better than that. Maybe not, though.
And she wouldn't explain. She stopped caring what Max Roper thought about her a long time ago, and he'd be gone before her party ended. "I'll call Lucy and make other arrangements," she said simply. "Perhaps she doesn't realize we have a -- "
"Conflict of interest?"
Is that what he'd call it? The memory of soul-soaring kisses and heart-cracking tears and gut-wrenching accusations flashed in her brain. "That assumes interest, Max."
"Still the lawyer, I see."
She jutted her chin defiantly. "I never finished law school, but I can still argue."
"I'll look forward to that." His eyes danced. Curse him.
"Don't bother." She tried to sidestep him. "I'll go call your boss and tell her you're not what I had in mind." Now there was an understatement.
He pulled out a cell phone and held it toward her. "Just press one. It's programmed to Lucy's private line."
She took the phone, regarding him closely for signs of a bluff. He was so very, very good at that.
If he'd spent the last five years chasing evil drug lords, the job hadn't ravaged his handsome face; if anything, he looked better. Older. Wiser. Scarier. His dark hair was just as thick as it had been back in the days when Cori's fingers explored it endlessly, but he'd grown it longer, letting it touch his collar and dip farther over his ominous-looking brow. A brow that still knotted at the sight of her, as though he could never figure her out but refused to stop trying. His strong jaw remained set and unyielding, but she knew how to slacken it. She knew every weak spot on his body.
"Or you could just stare at me."
She narrowed her eyes, pointing the phone at him. "You still think you're a world-class bluffer."
"Anytime you want to play a hand..." He leaned an inch closer. "You can find out."
She didn't move. "The last time I bet you, I lost."
He dipped one millimeter closer, blocking all the light behind him and sending a whiff of a familiar, musky scent right down to her toes. "The last time you bet me, I made you come using nothing but a two of diamonds and this." He blew softly on her face, fluttering her bangs. "Wanna bet, Cori Cooper?"
She locked her knees, refusing to give him the satisfaction of a reaction. "I go by Corinne Peyton now."
"So I read in Town and Country." At her surprised look, he added, "The clipping was in your file."
"You knew who I was when you accepted this assignment?"
"Of course." He angled his head. "And, by the way, my deepest sympathies on the loss of your husband."
There was no indictment in his voice; none of the veiled resentment at her fortune. Another bluff? Or was that the gentleness he rarely displayed? God, Max could always get her with softness. No matter how big and tough and mean and bad he was, when he turned soft, it killed her.
No, she reminded herself sharply, it killed her father.
She opened the skinny silver phone and pressed the talk button. The screen lit up. "You said press one?"
Max flipped the phone closed. "I'm the best she's got, kid."
She looked up and met his gaze. "I hear the Bullet Catchers are all the cream of the security crop. I'm sure we can find a suitable replacement."
He reached for the phone, but she tugged it toward her chest.
He relented and let her have it. "Before you call, why don't you tell me exactly what your problem is," he suggested. "Then I can help Lucy pick the right bodyguard for you."
The shatter of glass on metal reverberated from the patio. In one split second, Max whirled around, blocked Cori with his massive body and whipped out a handgun.
"I just want to talk to her!" The strident voice echoed across the lawn, loud enough to hush two hundred inquisitive guests who peered at the scene from around the pavilion and on every balcony. "I don't need a fucking invitation to my own father's house."
Oh, God. Billy.
"Don't shoot him, Max," Cori said, stepping away from the human wall he'd made. "He's my stepson. And he..." she added with a definite edge, "is my problem."
Billy Peyton easily pushed past Breezy's ineffective arms and ambled across the lawn, drawing every eye to the luster of his long, platinum blond hair. Cori knew what the cellular buzz from South Beach to Coral Gables would be tomorrow: Billy Peyton was wasted. Not exactly news.
She squared her shoulders, bracing for the worst. She'd become adept at acting like his behavior was normal, a trick she'd used to keep William from getting enraged over his only son's antics. "I'm right here, Billy."
As she took the steps to the upper lawn to meet him, Max was right beside her.
Billy stumbled as he approached her and she reached out to steady him.
"What do you want?" she demanded.
He leaned back and even in the dim party light, she could see his enlarged pupils and pink-rimmed eyes. What was it tonight? Weed? Coke? Ecstasy?
His eyes swept over her. "That's a pretty stupid question, Mom."
Disgust roiled, but she kept her tone modulated. "I received the papers, and my attorney will contact yours. There's nothing else to discuss. Especially not tonight -- this is a critical fund-raiser for the Foundation. Please. Do me a favor and leave."
He lowered his head in a bull-like gesture that might have been threatening, if he wasn't just this side of throwing up and his floppy surfer locks didn't ruin the whole effect.
"I don't want to discuss shit and I couldn't give a rat's ass about your Foundation. Where's the bar?"
"Get out of here," she said through gritted teeth, vaguely aware that Max had moved behind Billy. "Without making a scene."
As he opened his mouth to argue, Max seized him around the neck. Billy tried to lunge, but Max easily overpowered him with his left hand.
In his right, he held up a sleek black gun.
"Holy fuck -- " Billy's eyes widened in terror and he jerked again, but Max immobilized every muscle with one squeeze.
"Watch your language around the lady," Max growled, pointing the gun straight up.
"Who the hell are you?" Billy grunted, twisting his head to see Max. "Get your fu -- "
Max yanked tighter. "I said, watch your language."
Cori took a step toward them. "I've hired a bodyguard, Billy. You're wasting your time threatening me."
He snorted. "You are swimming in delusions of grandeur, Cor. I just want what is mine. Just because you got flat on your back for -- "
Max wrenched his neck, maybe a little harder than necessary. "It's time for you to leave, Mr. Peyton."
Fury flashed in Billy's pale blue eyes and he tried to shake his head. "This is my dad's house and I'm -- "
Max cocked the gun. "Leaving."
Billy stared at the weapon, sweat beading over his upper lip.
"Is there another way out besides the front?" Max asked Cori.
She indicated the north lawn. "You can take him around the guest house."
Billy glared at her, his dilated pupils sparking with hatred. "Whore." He mouthed the word at her so Max didn't hear it.
"He shouldn't drive," she said quietly. "I'll meet you in the front and get a car and driver."
"No need. I'll take care of him," Max said, walking away with Billy tightly in his grasp. "Billy and I are going to have a talk."
She watched them disappear into the shadows, still able to hear Billy's protests and Max's low, single syllable responses. Ironically, there was a certain comfort in the idea of Max Roper responsible for her life. After all, he owed her. Big.
But he couldn't stay. Aside from the fact that they had combustible chemistry, the real problem was that she'd never, ever been able to hide anything from him. And if he found out what she was trying to do, he'd try to stop her. He'd tell her she was crazy, stupid, and wrong, and then he'd wave the autopsy report in her face just like the police had done.
William died in his sleep of natural causes.
Until she discovered what -- or who -- killed her husband, she wasn't safe. She needed a bodyguard...but she didn't need that one.
Breezy appeared with two glasses of champagne and a sly smile. "Well, I'd say you made the right call on the whole bodyguard thing."
Cori reached for a flute. "Oh, I still have his cell phone."
"How clever of you." Breezy chuckled and raised her drink in a mock toast. "That guarantees he'll be back, even if you do get someone else for the job." She took a sip and winked. "Which, we both know, you won't."
Copyright 2006 by Roxanne St. Claire
Excerpted from Thrill Me to Death by Roxanne St. Claire Copyright © 2006 by Roxanne St. Claire. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very suspenseful read, however i didn't like it as much as the first book in the series. I didn't feel the romance. The heroine was so hung up on her dead husband, it didn't seem real that she was still in love with Max. And i didn't really find her very likable.##
Finally, we get beyond Lucy's cool exterior and find out what's hiding underneath. Always get plenty of action and romance from a St. Claire story.
Roxanne St. Claire writes another thriller in her Bullet Catcher Series¿ Thrill Me To Death. _______ Bodyguard Max Roper never lets his feelings come out when he is on the job. He has his work cut out for him on his latest assignment. Max has been assigned to watch former lover Cori Peyton. Max and Cori¿s relationship ended very badly years ago. Now Max has to guard Cori and try not to give into their sizzling passion. __________ Cori Peyton is now a wealthy widow. After her relationship with Max ended she met and fell in love with an older man. Since her husbands recent death she has been receiving death threats. Enter Max who still makes her heart pump furiously. Cori must place her life and trust in Max¿s hands in order to survive. ______ Thrill Me To Death is an intriguing, fast paced story. It will keep you guessing who is out to harm Cori. The passion between Cori and Max just sets the pages on fire. I can¿t wait to read the next installment in this series.
Another great story! No complaints, non at all.
Billionaire Widow, is she a victum or is she a killer? In walks her former love to save her, or, to put her away for the rest of her life. This had me on the edge of my seat throughout!
I loved this whole series!