Read The Reunion Mission Online

Authors: Beth Cornelison

The Reunion Mission

Protect me, baby...

Though it’s been five years since Black Ops agent Daniel LeCroix last saw Nicole White, his desire for her burns as strong as ever. But he’s got to stay focused on his mission—rescue Nicole and an innocent child from a Colombian prison camp.

Nicole is shocked to see Daniel again. She still has feelings for him, but hasn’t forgotten his betrayal. When danger finds her again, Daniel places her in a safe house. Sharing such close quarters, Nicole and Daniel must confront the past—and a passion that won’t be denied.

“I need to know...you remember. Tell me...you remember.”

The Cajun's dark eyes were wild with agony, and his face contorted in misery. She hated seeing him suffer.

“Nicole,” he repeated, and held a hand out, summoning her to come closer.

At that moment, the morning sun broke over the tops of the trees and shone through the open side door of the helicopter, casting his rugged face in sharp relief. For the first time, she could truly see the man who'd risked his life for her. Her heart clenched, and the prickle of déjà vu returned. He seemed so familiar....

“I...need—” He stopped, clenching his teeth and growling in torment. “Please...I need to know...you remember.”

“I remember,” she lied, leaning closer to be sure he heard her.

“Then say my name, Nicole.”

And in a heartbeat, an echo from her past yanked her back five years to a hotel room in New Orleans. Her heart wrenched, and tears spilled from her eyes.

“Oh, my God!” She curled her fingers into the hair at his nape and buried her face in his neck. “Daniel...”

Books by Beth Cornelison

Harlequin Romantic Suspense

Special
Ops Bodyguard
#1668
Operation Baby
Rescue
#1677
**
Soldier’s Pregnancy Protocol
#1709
**
The Reunion Mission
#1717

Silhouette Romantic Suspense

A To Love, Honor and Defend
#1362
In Protective Custody #1422
Danger at Her Door
#1478
Duty to Protect #1522
Rancher’s
Redemption #1532
Tall Dark Defender #1566
*The Christmas
Stranger #1581
Blackout at Christmas #1583
“Stranded with the Bridesmaid”
*The Bride’s
Bodyguard #1630
P.I. Daddy’s Personal Mission #1632
*The
Prodigal Bride #1646

*The Bancroft Brides
**Black Ops Rescues

Other titles by this author available in ebook
format.

BETH CORNELISON

started writing stories as a child when she penned a tale
about the adventures of her cat, Ajax. A Georgia native, she received her
bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Georgia. After
working in public relations for a little more than a year, she moved with her
husband to Louisiana, where she decided to pursue her love of writing
fiction.

Since that first time, Beth has written many more stories of
adventure and romantic suspense and has won numerous honors for her work,
including a coveted Golden Heart Award in romantic suspense from Romance Writers
of America. She is active on the board of directors for the North Louisiana
Storytellers and Authors of Romance (NOLA STARS) and loves reading, traveling,
Peanuts’
Snoopy and spending downtime with her
family.

She writes from her home in Louisiana, where she lives with
her husband, one son and two cats who think they are people. Beth loves to hear
from her readers. You can write to her at P.O. Box 5418, Bossier City, LA 71171
or visit her website,
www.bethcornelison.com
.

Beth Cornelison

The Reunion Mission

Dear Reader,

As I was writing
Soldier’s Pregnancy Protocol
(Harlequin Romantic Suspense, June 2012), I found myself more and more fascinated by Alec’s missing partner, Daniel LeCroix. What had happened to him? I asked myself. Just who was this mysterious Cajun? Even though he was not “on screen” most of the book, I felt his presence throughout writing the book. Secondary characters sometimes take over, demanding their own story be told. By the time I finished Alec’s book, Daniel’s history with Senator White’s daughter was already playing out in my head.

I was thrilled to have the chance to write Daniel and Nicole’s story...so much so that the opening chapters of
The Reunion Mission
almost wrote themselves. This is a true story of my heart, even though I shook my head at times wondering what I’d done to myself by having characters who needed to speak not just Spanish, but Colombian Spanish, and not just French, but Cajun French. (Yes, there is a big difference!) I hope you enjoy Daniel and Nicole’s story as much as I enjoyed telling it....

Oh, and keep an eye out for book three in the Black Ops Rescues series. I hope to have Jake’s story ready soon! As always, more information about all my books is available on my website,
www.bethcornelison.com
.

Happy reading,

Beth Cornelison

The Reunion Mission

To Keyren Gerlach Burgess, who believed in me and helped bring Alec, Daniel and Jake to life.

Thank you to fellow Harlequin Romantic Suspense author Gail Barrett and her friend, Margarita Unger, for their help with Colombian Spanish translations.

Thank you also to Jennifer Malone and her father, Monte Bonin, for their help with Cajun French, as well as answering questions about Cajun culture.

Thank you to Sara Beth Salyer for sharing her name (as the winning bidder in the Brenda Novak Diabetes Auction for a Cure) and allowing me the honor of paying homage to her beloved kitty, Oreo, as characters in
The Reunion Mission.

Chapter 1

“L
eft perimeter clear.” Shifting his night
vision goggles, Daniel LeCroix peered through the inky blankness of the
Colombian jungle, his body humming and ready for action. He focused on the large
tent at the far end of the rebel encampment. No sign of the soldiers who slept
in the canvas shelter. Lowering the night vision goggles, he cast a glance to
his partner, who monitored the camp through an infrared imaging camera. “What do
you have?”

Months of preparation had led to this moment. With their
objective moments from fruition, he’d be damned if he’d let anything screw up
their mission now.

“No movement,” Alec Kincaid confirmed. “Looks like the guards
watching the ammo are the only ones awake.” Alec stowed the infrared imager in
his pack and slid his NVGs into place. “Ready to move?”

Adrenaline spiked in Daniel’s blood, readying him for battle.
“Hell, yeah. Let’s go.”

Silently, he and Alec dropped from the tree where they’d been
perched for hours, watching the faction of rebel soldiers who held several
captives in the remote camp. Only one of the prisoners interested Daniel.

Nicole White. A U.S. senator’s daughter kidnapped from the
medical mission where she was working and held as a political pawn.

Freeing her and returning her safely to the United States was
their sole objective tonight.

Leading with his sidearm, Daniel crept down the steep,
vegetation-dense hillside to the clearing in the narrow Colombian valley where
Nicole had been held for close to thirteen months.

Would she recognize him, remember him?

Daniel shoved down the jangle of anticipation that skittered
through him when he thought of seeing Nicole again. Touching her. He had to stay
focused on his job if they were to get out of that jungle alive.

When they reached the crude wire fence at the edge of the camp,
Alec pulled a pair of wire cutters from his pack and quickly created a hole
large enough for them to crawl through on their bellies. Daniel wiggled through
first, then Alec. Using hand signals, Daniel directed Alec to the right. Daniel
walked backward, following Alec and guarding their six. Keeping to the shadows,
they made their way toward the back of the camp where Nicole was being held.

As they rounded the tent where they’d determined supplies were
kept, Alec stopped abruptly. He pointed to the guard stationed at the entrance
of the supply tent.

I’ve got this one,
Alec signaled,
then soundlessly dispatched the man before the guard even knew he had
company.

Behind them, a squeak drew Daniel’s attention. The door to the
ramshackle latrine by the perimeter fence opened, and a soldier stepped out,
shining a flashlight toward the camp. When the beam passed over Alec, Daniel
tensed. Just as the man swung the light back and opened his mouth to shout a
warning to the camp, Daniel fired a single head shot, and the soldier crumpled.
Despite the silencer muffling the gun’s noise, Daniel knew someone could have
heard the telltale pop. They had to hurry.

By unspoken agreement, Alec set a faster pace toward the fenced
area where Nicole was being held. Farther down, they encountered two more
guards, playing a game with dice as they monitored the cache of arms stacked in
crates under a tarp. Skulking through the night like panthers, Alec and Daniel
snuck up on the duo and took them out, as well.

All clear.

With Alec keeping watch, Daniel hurried to the fenced area
where the rebels held their captives. The cages holding the prisoners were
little more than dog pens, and two teepeed sheets of rotting plywood provided
Nicole’s only protection from the elements. Rage flashed through Daniel seeing
the squalid conditions in which Nicole had been forced to live. Gritting his
teeth, he funneled his fury into cutting through the fencing of her cage, then
crawled to the tented plywood where she slept.

She wasn’t alone. Daniel frowned but dismissed the small form
huddled beside her. His mandate was clear. Nicole was his only objective.

Shifting his attention, Daniel held his breath as he caught his
first up-close glimpse of Nicole in five years. Her long slender legs and feet
were bare. Dirty cargo shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt hugged her womanly
curves, and the fetal position in which she slept heightened his sense of her
vulnerability. Her arms pillowed her head, and her tangled blond hair spilled
over her cheek. Even disheveled and grimy, she was still every bit as beautiful
as he remembered.

Daniel’s heart performed a tuck and roll, and he allowed
himself the briefest moment just to look at her and thank God she appeared
unharmed. But even a few seconds of delay were an indulgence, and he steeled
himself for the task ahead. It was go time.

* * *

Five years earlier

Daniel stood at attention, watching the parade of
national and state dignitaries dressed in their best black-tie finery make their
way into the governor’s Mardi Gras ball. His buddies at the New Orleans Naval
Air Station thought he was crazy for volunteering to work security for the ball.
But when he’d heard that Louisiana Senator Alan White would be attending, he’d
known he couldn’t be anywhere else that night.

Daniel had prepped his Navy dress whites for the event,
counting on the other rumor he’d heard to be true—since his wife’s death last
year, Senator White had brought his daughter, Nicole, as his companion to public
events such as this.

Even as he conjured a memory of the last time he’d seen Nicole,
a limo flying American flags from the antennae pulled up to the front drive of
the antebellum mansion where the ball was underway. Daniel held his breath as
Senator White emerged from the backseat, then turned to offer his hand to
someone inside the limo. A chill filled the air that February evening, but the
weather had nothing to do with the tremor that rolled through Daniel as a
graceful young blonde woman stepped out onto the driveway. An ice-blue chiffon
gown hugged her curves, and she molded her mouth into a stiff smile as she
started toward the stairs on the senator’s arm. Jeweled combs winked in the
porch lights and held her long hair swept up in a twist, exposing the slim
column of her neck.

Daniel tracked her progress with his gaze as she approached,
his mouth dry and his gut in knots. With her hand tucked in the crook of her
father’s arm, Nicole cast a surveying glance to the other partygoers, issuing
perfunctory greetings. The politician’s daughter, groomed in social graces and
good public relations. American nobility, so far out of his league Daniel had to
squelch the urge to laugh in bitter irony at the lengths he’d gone to tonight
just for a chance to see her again. His studious gaze caught her attention, and
Daniel flashed her a lopsided grin. “Hello, Nicole.”

Her steps faltered, and a look of confusion dented her brow.
“Do I—?”

Daniel blew out a deep breath. He’d been crazy to think she’d
remember him after so many years.

But then her face brightened, and she pulled her arm free of
her father’s to step closer to Daniel. “Boudreaux!”

His heart kicked up a zydeco beat as she seized his hand and
squeezed his fingers. “Boudreaux? Is that you?”

He grimaced mentally. As much as he’d wanted her to remember
him, her use of the derogatory nickname her friends had given him didn’t bode
well for
what
she remembered about him. He tugged
his mouth into an awkward smile. “Yeah, it’s me.”

Delight lit her eyes and brightened her grin, and hope stirred
in his chest.

“Oh, my God! Look at you!” She canted forward, circling his
shoulders with her arms and pressing a social kiss to his cheek.

Stunned by her hug, he was a beat too slow returning the
embrace, and his brain snagged when the sweet floral scent of her hair hit him.
His body’s reaction to her touch, her scent was immediate and carnal.

Still holding the sleeves of his dress whites jacket, she
levered back and let her gaze take in the length of him. “I almost didn’t
recognize you in this impressive attire.” She flashed a flirtatious grin and
tugged at the breast of his jacket. “Good Lord, everything they say about a man
in uniform is true!”

Daniel rallied his senses, determined not to come off as a
flustered sap and to preserve the dignity his uniform required. “You look
beautiful, too.”

Understatement. She was breathtaking. He’d thought so five
years ago on her prom night, when he’d been his cousin’s date and met Nicole for
the first time.

“Nicole!” Senator White had backtracked to fetch his wayward
daughter, not quite managing to hide his irritation. “What’s going on?”

Had she been hugging the son of one of his golf buddies rather
than a security guard, the senator wouldn’t have been nearly so piqued, Daniel
wagered.

Nicole extended a hand to her father, waving him closer.
“Daddy, I want you to meet someone. This is—” She hesitated, cutting an
embarrassed look to Daniel.

“Daniel LeCroix,” he finished, offering his hand to the senator
before she defaulted to the nickname that mocked his bayou roots.

She twitched her lips in an apologetic grin. “Daniel. Of
course! Forgive me. I’m just awful with names!”

Her father arched an eyebrow and heaved a sigh. “To my chagrin.
She once called the chairman of armed services by his predecessor’s name.”

Folding Daniel’s free hand between her hands, she faced her
father again. “Daniel is the boy who brought me home from prom my junior year.”
When her father’s expression remained blank, she added pointedly, “He’s the one
who rescued Boudreaux from the storm drain for me!”

Adrenaline kicked Daniel’s pulse, and he jerked a startled
glance toward her.
Boudreaux?
She’d named the
kitten—?

Nicole met his questioning look with a secret smile. “What else
would I name him?”

“Ah, yes. Your cat. I remember now. Well, it’s nice to meet
you, Daniel.” The senator offered Nicole his arm, and his raised eyebrows,
warning her it was time to go inside. “Nicole, this young man has a job to do,
and our hosts are waiting.”

Facing Daniel, she squeezed his hand and gave him a lopsided
smile of regret. “It was wonderful seeing you again, Daniel.”

He returned a polite smile.
Don’t
leave.
“You, too, Nicole.” Then to the senator, “Sir.”

The senator met his gaze with a hard look that darted to
Daniel’s rank insignia on his uniform. “Lieutenant.”

The senator’s tone carried a warning, a reminder of Daniel’s
place and the social gap between a boy from the bayou and the senator’s
well-bred daughter. As if Daniel needed reminding. Though he was proud of his
Cajun roots, he was always striving to be better than the next guy—at basic
training, in the classroom, in operations—trying to prove his detractors wrong,
silencing those who singled him out or who bought into erroneous stereotypes
regarding his heritage.

Nicole squeezed his hand before she released it and flashed a
rueful smile as her father grasped her elbow and led her inside.

With a cleansing breath, he resumed his watch, shoulders back
and hands clasped behind him. Though he stood at rigid attention, his mind
writhed with a tangle of emotions.

He’d accomplished what he’d set out to do tonight. He’d seen
Nicole again. But, in light of the tumult inside him, coming tonight might have
been a mistake.

* * *

Nicole needed air. Shoving her way through the crowded
dance floor, she hurried to the front porch and gripped the railing as another
shudder of disgust rippled through her. All evening she’d put up with the
leering glances her father seemed not to notice, but when the president of the
Chamber of Commerce squeezed her bottom on the dance floor, she’d had enough.
She’d bet her father’s fortune that his “friends” never treated her mother with
such disrespect.

Thoughts of her mother, stolen from her by cancer just four
months ago, brought moisture to Nicole’s eyes. She cast a longing gaze toward
the parked cars, wishing she didn’t have to endure the party any longer, and she
spotted the white dress uniform and broad shoulders that had sent her pulse
racing earlier that evening.

A smile ghosted across her lips. Daniel LeCroix. She wasn’t
surprised he’d joined the armed forces. Even in her brief association with him
on prom night five years ago, she’d seen his valor, his kindness, his integrity.
When her date hadn’t deigned to get his hands dirty to retrieve the stranded
kitten, when her friends had all abandoned her for “wasting time” on the rescue,
only Daniel had stayed behind to help her instead of going to the dance. Daniel
had ruined his rented tux moving the sewer grate and climbing into the drainage
pipes, then had walked her and her new pet home. And left an indelible mark on
her heart.

Nicole couldn’t help but wonder how different
tonight
would have been if he’d been her escort
instead of her father.

The night’s not over.
Her breath
stilled. Ditching her father in favor of Daniel would be waving a red flag in
her father’s face. He’d never forgive her for the snub and the damage to his
well-crafted public image.

But had her father respected her feelings when she’d complained
about his friends’ untoward advances? A flash of anger spiraled through her. How
long was she supposed to put her life on hold to be her father’s PR darling? She
was already a year behind her class in nursing school because of his last
election campaign and months of filling her mother’s shoes as his companion at
high-profile events and parties. As much as she loved her father, she just
didn’t want the high-society lifestyle he thrived on.

Inside, the orchestra began playing the ballad from a popular
Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and Nicole sighed. Fixing her gaze on Daniel, she
crossed the porch and approached him. “Dance with me?”

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