Read The Survivor Online

Authors: Rhonda Nelson

The Survivor

Check out what
RT Book Reviews
is saying about Rhonda Nelson's heroes in—and out of—uniform!

Letters from Home

“This highly romantic tale
is filled with emotion and wonderful characters.
It's a heart-melting romance.”

The Soldier

“Wonderfully written and heart-stirring, the story
flies by to the deeply satisfying ending.”

The Hell-Raiser

“A highly entertaining story that has
eccentric secondary characters, hot sex
and a heartwarming romance.”

The Loner

“A highly romantic story with two heartwarming
characters and a surprise ending.”

The Ranger

“Well plotted and wickedly sexy,
this one's got it all—including a completely
scrumptious hero. A keeper.”

 

Dear Reader,

November is one of my favorite months of the year here in the South. Summer clings determinedly through the bulk of October, so November really ushers in our fall. The leaves turn, the breeze gets crisp and my husband and I are often on our deck in front the chimenea, warming our feet by a fire. We get to enjoy Thanksgiving without the rush of the Christmas holidays. And it's a great time to curl up with a good book, isn't it? (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.)

When Lex Sanborn comes out of the military and goes to work for Ranger Security, the last thing he expects is to be paired up with Bess Cantrell, on the hunt for one of the few remaining “Wicked” Bibles. A printing error in the 1600s edition, which says, “Thou shalt commit adultery,” makes this particular Bible one of the most valuable books on the market. And the forced proximity with the sexy “picker” is most definitely keeping sinning at the forefront of his mind.

Nothing brings a smile to my face faster than hearing from my readers, so be sure to check out my website at www.ReadRhondaNelson.com. Also, the Blaze Authors have taken on a Pet Project. Be sure to visit www.blazeauthors.com to see what we're up to and how you can help.

Happy reading!

Rhonda

Rhonda Nelson
THE SURVIVOR

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A Waldenbooks bestselling author, two-time RITA
®
Award nominee and
RT Book Reviews
Reviewers' Choice nominee, Rhonda Nelson writes hot romantic comedy for the Harlequin Blaze line and other Harlequin imprints. With more than twenty-five published books to her credit and many more coming down the pike, she's thrilled with her career and enjoys dreaming up her characters and manipulating the worlds they live in. In addition to a writing career, she has a husband, two adorable kids, a black Lab and a beautiful bichon frise. She and her family make their chaotic but happy home in a small town in northern Alabama. She loves to hear from her readers, so be sure and check her out at www.readrhondanelson.com.

Books by Rhonda Nelson

HARLEQUIN BLAZE

255—THE PLAYER

277—THE SPECIALIST

283—THE MAVERICK

322—THE EX-GIRLFRIENDS' CLUB

361—FEELING THE HEAT

400—THE LONER

412—THE HELL-RAISER

475—LETTERS FROM HOME

481—THE SOLDIER

545—THE RANGER

549—BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY
“The Prodigal”

557—THE RENEGADE

579—IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE MISTLETOE…
“Cole for Christmas”

586—THE REBEL

594—THE WILD CARD

615—REAL MEN WEAR PLAID

For Beverly. I miss you.

Prologue

L
EX
S
ANBORN HAD NEVER
wondered what his last thoughts before dying would be, but he certainly hadn't expected an intense craving for pineapple sherbet and having lines from American poet Alan Seeger's
I Have a Rendezvous with Death
running through his mind.

I have a rendezvous with Death, at some disputed barricade, when Spring comes back with rustling shade, and apple blossoms fill the air…

The initial pain from the hit had receded, leaving a contented warmth in most of his body, an odd coldness at the site of the wound. His shoulder, he knew, more from the remembered pain of the injury and the absence of any real feeling now. Though he couldn't open his eyes, he could hear them working above him, knew they were doing everything they
could, and a part of him wanted to tell them to stop, to save someone who wasn't going to die, that their efforts were wasted on him. He was finished. He could feel himself sliding further and further away, feel the blood leaving his body. Must have hit an artery…

But I've a rendezvous with Death, at midnight in some flaming town, when Spring trips north again this year…

“Lex! Lex, damn you, can you hear me?” Jeb, his best friend and fellow soldier, shouted near his ear.

He could, but as much as he wanted to, he couldn't respond. Couldn't do anything but drift away. He could feel himself getting smaller and smaller, shrinking into nothingness, and the nothingness felt wonderful, better than anything he'd ever felt before. A glow of euphoria started in his center and spread, his limbs going weightless. If he could have smiled, he would.

And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.

1

Six months later…

F
ORMER
R
ANGER TURNED
newly minted security agent Lex Sanborn looked at the photocopied page of the Bible he'd been handed and felt his eyes widen in shock. “Thou
shalt
commit adultery?” Granted, he hadn't been to church in years, but he certainly didn't remember learning
this
particular version in Sunday school class.

Brian Payne, Jamie Flanagan and Guy McCann, owners of the elite security company who'd just hired him, all chuckled, presumably at his slack-jawed expression.

“That's why it's called the ‘Wicked Bible,'” Payne explained. “This version was printed—accidentally, of course—in 1636 and there are only believed to be eleven surviving copies in the world. The New
York Public Library has one in its rare books section, there's another in Branson, Missouri, at the Bible museum, and the British Library actually had it on display, opened to the page of the misprint, during part of '09.”

“It's very valuable,” Jamie chimed in. Sprawled in a leather recliner with a sports drink in his hand, he was affable and easygoing and Lex had liked him instantly. Had taken an immediate liking to all of them actually.

Jamie Flanagan had been the original player until he met and married Colonel Garrett's granddaughter and purportedly sported a genius-level IQ. That quick brain combined with a substantial amount of brawn made him a force to be reckoned with. And with a lucky streak that bordered on the divine, Guy McCann's ability to skate the thin line between recklessness and perfection was still locker-room lore.

Known in certain circles as the Specialist, Brian Payne was coolly efficient and had strategy down to an art form. With an unmatched attention to detail, there was no such thing as half-assed in his world. He didn't tolerate it.

He was damned lucky to have a job here, Lex thought, thankful again to Colonel Carl Garrett for the recommendation. Was this what he'd imagined he'd be doing for the rest of his life? No. But six months ago he'd thought his life was over and that
significantly changed things. Had changed him in ways that he wasn't altogether proud of, in ways he'd never, ever anticipated.

“It's worth around a hundred grand in today's market,” Guy remarked.

Lex whistled low. Now it was beginning to make sense. He looked again at the picture Payne had handed him and searched the image for clues. The snapshot depicted an old Coca-Cola sign that had been propped up on a dusty counter covered with lots of other junk. A blue mason jar with a rusty lid, wooden spools, an old teakettle and— Ah, he thought, spying the black spine of the Wicked Bible just below the teakettle.

“So this is it? This is what they're after?”

“Yes,” Payne told him. “At least, we think so. Bess came to see me yesterday and brought that with her. She said she'd gotten a few emails about the picture, but not the sign, which was what she had for sale. She's got an online store as well as the brick-and-mortar kind,” he explained. “She says the emailer wanted to know where the picture was taken and that she wouldn't have told them regardless, but she genuinely didn't remember.”

“She's a junk dealer?” he asked.

Payne almost smiled and a flash of humor momentarily lit his gaze. “She rescues antiques,” he corrected, then gestured to a pair of old glass gas
pumps in the corner. “For instance, I bought those from her. She has a great eye for things that are different. I've known her for years.” His grin widened. “And for what it's worth, I wouldn't ever call her that to her face.”

Lex nodded, appreciating the advice. If he was going to have to work with this old woman, then he didn't want to piss her off. In his limited experience, mostly with his grandparents, older folks were funny about their stuff. If he was reading this correctly, based on Payne's advice, Bess Cantrell was the same way.

“At any rate, she didn't hear from the emailer again and had chalked it up to an odd occurrence, nothing more,” Payne continued. “Then night before last her store was broken into and the external hard drive to her computer was stolen. While the police were still there doing the report, Bess got a call from one of her clients, Walker Wiggins, who said a man had come to see him about a book—”

“The one in the picture obviously,” Lex said, nodding grimly.

“—and that when he'd refused to let the man search his property, the stranger had gotten violent and tried to push past him into his house. His dog came to his rescue and ultimately sent the man packing, but Walker was shaken and concerned all the same.”

Heartened to hear that the man had an animal willing to protect him—he adored dogs and had briefly considered going into veterinary school before joining the military—Lex nevertheless frowned. “Why had he called Bess to tell her all of this?”

“Because the man had told Walker that he was a friend of Bess's and had gotten his address from her.” He shrugged. “Walker knew Bess better than that and called her to give her a heads-up. Since then, three other clients have been contacted in this manner, and on this last occasion, one was actually hurt.”

Lex's blood boiled. So whoever this jackass was, he was dangerous
and
he was a bully. Bastard, Lex thought. No doubt the majority of Bess's clients were her age and older and they were being harassed and manhandled in their own homes over something that was, if they even had it,
theirs
.

“Naturally, Bess doesn't want anyone to get hurt, particularly any of her clients, and doesn't think that the police are going to truly be able to help her in time to prevent either a theft or a tragedy—” he grimaced “—or possibly both, unfortunately.”

“So that's where you come in,” Flanagan told him. “We're going to put a man at her store as a safety measure and you and Bess are going to go on the road and try to (a.) catch this guy and (b.) get to the book before he does. Obviously whoever has the book
doesn't realize what it's worth. This person, whoever he is, no doubt is banking on that.”

Lex nodded, certain that he could handle this. He only hoped that Bess didn't slow him down. He knew there were a lot of spry older people, ones who walked daily and kept themselves in shape, and he sincerely hoped that Bess Cantrell had done the same. If not, then he could easily see this becoming a problem. He inwardly grimaced. If she had a small bladder or a bad hip, they were going to be in serious trouble.

Honestly, he didn't see any good reason why Bess had to go along. He would be able to move faster without her and, so long as he had a list of her clients and a good map, he could take care of everything himself. After a moment, he said as much. “Look, I appreciate that Mrs. Cantrell wants to look after—”

“It's Miss,” Payne corrected mildly. “She's not married.”

A spinster then. Whatever. “—her clients,” he continued. “But is there any particular reason why I can't do this without her?”

Jamie Flanagan and Guy McCann shared a brief look and McCann was obviously trying to keep from smiling. For whatever reason, Lex knew that anything that would make the irreverent McCann want to grin couldn't be anything that would work in Lex's
favor. He studied all three of them again and knew that they were sharing some sort of private joke.

And it was at his expense.

Excellent.

“You can't do it without her because she's not going to let you,” Payne said, releasing a long sigh. “These are her clients and she's the one who has inadvertently put them at risk. Also, a lot of these people aren't going to trust anyone but her, and if you show up without her, you're not any more credible than the other guy. Much as I'm sure you don't think so now, it's better that she goes with you.”

Lex nodded, resigned. What choice did he have really? This was his first assignment and he was accustomed to taking orders. These weren't orders, exactly, but they might as well be, and he had no intention of rocking the boat.

Honestly, when the doctor had told him he was never going to get a full range of motion back in his shoulder and that there wasn't going to be any way he could continue with his unit, he'd been equally devastated and relieved. How two such opposing reactions could take place in the same body was simply amazing to him, but he had felt them both all the same. Devastated that his career was over, relieved because, for the first time in his life, to his absolute shame…he was afraid of dying. Afraid that that self-
same fear would prevent him from acting, from doing what needed to be done.

And a fearful soldier might as well be a dead one.

Born into a service-oriented family, Lex had been raised with the belief that every human being needed to leave the world a better place than they found it. His father had served in the army for twenty years, then went on to become a police officer. His mother was a retired schoolteacher who helped inmates at the local jail who didn't have their general education diplomas—GEDs—to get them so that they could apply for further continuing education classes. His brother was a medic, currently serving with the air force in Afghanistan, and his sister was a nurse.

His entire family contributed to the greater good of the world and he was unbelievably proud of them. They each had a purpose and, even though he'd had one up until six months ago, he'd never truly felt like his feet had been on the right path. He'd loved the military, had a tremendous regard for the men and women who served, and he'd been proud to be a part of it. But he'd always had the nagging suspicion that it wasn't what he was meant to do, to be.

Truthfully, he couldn't say being a security expert was what he wanted, either, but at least he was out of the military and would have time to pursue other interests.

He would be lying if he said there wasn't a hor
rible sense of guilt at leaving. He had friends over there on the front lines—most specifically Jeb Anderson, whom he'd gone through ROTC with—and coming home, out of the line of fire, felt wrong in a way that he couldn't accurately describe.

And the horrible part? The part that made him sick to his stomach with guilt, regret and shame?

He was glad to be home. Thankful to be out of the line of fire.

He'd had nightmares the first few months after he'd taken the hit—
hits
actually, four right into his shoulder, shredding the muscle, nicking an artery, shattering the bone—and the only thing that had helped was the stray dog that had attached itself to him on his way to the car after therapy one day.

A scraggly big-eared mutt Lex had named Honey because of her golden color. She'd been dirty and half-starved and she'd looked at him with the most haunted and hopeless big brown eyes and he hadn't thought twice about taking her home. She'd spent the first night on the rug next to his bed and, following a particularly horrible nightmare, had moved into the bed, against his back. Within a week, the dreams had stopped and there was something about her reassuring presence—knowing that they'd sort of saved each other—that made him feel like he was on his way to a recovery of sorts.

He'd always been an animal lover and inevita
bly ended up caring for the various strays on whatever base he was living. Having the dog to talk to, when he didn't want to talk to anyone else, having the dog to take for walks and care for, had helped him in ways that he wasn't even sure he could put into words. She'd loved him—unconditionally and quietly—and the difference she'd made in his world was phenomenal.

Thankfully Payne had assured him that the apartment that came with his unbelievably generous employment package was pet-friendly, and he also hadn't had any objections to Lex taking Honey along with him on this first assignment. Naturally Lex knew there were going to be times when he'd need to find someone to keep her for him and, as an added bonus, Payne had mentioned that his wife was a vet and would be happy to board the dog when the need arose.

Overall, despite the guilt and the injury—his shoulder wasn't ever going to be right again—Lex felt like he was closer to being where he should be than he'd been in a very long time. And rather than doing what was expected or what he knew would meet with approval, he was going to find his ultimate purpose and pursue it with as much energy as he could. Did that mean he intended this to be a transition job, that he'd hired on with the intent of leaving? No. But he was never again going to be so
wedded to a career that he couldn't make the most of his life.

As a result of almost dying on the battlefield, he had a whole new appreciation for life, and wanted to live it to the fullest. Every choice, every decision—from what he had for breakfast to what he was going to do with the rest of his life—held infinitely more significance.

Almost dying would do that to you. Among other things…

“You're all settled into your apartment?” Payne asked.

“Yes.” It was very nice and, lucky for him, fully furnished. The place had been outfitted with every possible convenience. Much like the “boardroom” they were currently in, it had state-of-the-art appliances and electronics and had been decorated with an eclectic mix of old and new. The old had more than likely come from Bess Cantrell, he realized now. The cabinets and fridge had been stocked with essentials and a bottle of Jameson—a gift from Jamie—had been on his counter.

The apartment had previously belonged to Seth McCutcheon, who had recently married and moved into his new bride's house in Marietta. Evidently he made the drive into Atlanta when necessary, but otherwise, mostly worked from home. Lex hadn't met him yet, but everyone else spoke highly of him.

Despite the fact that he'd lived in different places all over the world, Lex had to admit that the South would always be home. Originally he was from Blue Creek, Alabama—a sweet little town that sat right on the banks of the Tennessee River—but Atlanta was a mere four-hour drive. He hadn't been this close to home since he'd graduated high school, and while he didn't have any desire to move back—they practically rolled up the streets at five o'clock—he did like the fact that he could make a quick run over for Sunday dinner and that he would be close enough to visit his parents, and his sister and her children, for holidays and the occasional barbecue.

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