The McKenzie Artifact by Alison Kent

THE MCKENZIE ARTIFACT
digital reissue edition
May 2016

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Eli McKenzie’s tough exterior has been cracked. His latest mission had him in Mexico, deep inside a Spectra IT sex slavery ring gathering intel. Holding back when he wanted to blow the joint sky-high was bad enough, but turns out someone in the camp was poisoning him, too. The torture of being unable to act, along with the physical toll of his illness, sent him to Hank Smithson’s headquarters to put himself back together.

Eli’s sudden departure caused trouble for a Texas PI, Stella Banks, whose movements put her on Spectra’s radar. Now Eli’s back in camp, just as Spectra’s henchmen are debating how best to do away with her. The only way to save her life is to get her to trust that he’s there to help. That means revealing his true identity. And Stella needs to trust him because without him, she has no way of freeing the girls Spectra is holding hostage.

Watching Stella sacrifice to take care of the girls gets to Eli in a big way, and soon they find that spending time in each other’s arms is the only way to survive the brutal assignment. But survive they must if they expect to save the innocent young lives in their care. Besides, Eli is not about to let Spectra get away with what they’ve done to him, to the girls, or to the woman who’s salvaged his very broken heart.

   

THE MCKENZIE ARTIFACT
Kensington Brava
SG-5 #5
ISBN 0758206763
February 2005

DEEP TROUBLE
Brava Mass Market
The Beach Alibi
The McKenzie Artifact
Wal-Mart exclusive reissue
August 2008

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BOOKLIST

The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

Eli sensed movement just as he pulled the lock free. He dug the edge of his boot into the ground at the base of the gate, braced his thigh and hip against the galvanized aluminum frame, and held on.

The impact of her shoulder with his ribs sent her stumbling backward with a loud grunt. He grit his teeth against the pain from the blow to his mid-section and opened the gate to step inside the cage. He didn’t bother locking up. She wasn’t going anywhere if she wanted to stay alive.

Walking toward her, he bounced the heavy lock in his palm once, then curled his fingers around it making a fist. “Are you done acting like you don’t have a brain in your head? What the hell did you think you were going to do if you got by me?”

“Run,” was all she said.

He backed her up into the center of the cage, halfway to the wall of the structure Ramon’s men had thrown together and called shelter.

“Run,” he echoed, shaking his head. “You have a particular destination in mind?”

“Yeah,” she spat out. “Across the border and into the country where we both belong.”

“Assuming a lot, aren’t you?”

“What? Are you denying that you’re American?”

He wasn’t denying anything, but he wasn’t yet ready to reveal who he was.

And so he lied. “Ramon knows who I am, where I come from, where my loyalties lie.”

“What a load of crap. The fact that you’re here doing what it is you’re doing proves you don’t know diddly squat about loyalties.”

Her hair was a silver blonde mess of wind-blown strands beneath her hat of crushed straw. Her cheeks and the tip of her nose were pink from the sun. The jeans and boots she wore were filthy from the dust blowing through the compound.

The fact that she’d mashed her lips together to seal in her hatred didn’t stop him from thinking about her mouth. And her eyes weren’t giving him any easier of a time. They were a crystal clear green and as sharp and smart as he’d seen outside of the SG-5 or Spectra ranks in a very long time.

She had the same snap he and his partners relied on to get out of scrapes. The same snap Spectra used too often to elude the Smithson Group’s grasp.

“The only thing here suspect is you. Trespassing and unlawful surveillance aren’t going to earn you more badges for your Girl Scout sash,” he said, spouting nonsense but with a reason.

“I’ll cop to the trespassing, but unlawful surveillance? According to what law? The one you’re using to keep me in here? Or the one giving you the right to snatch those girls out of their homes and sell them on the streets?”

She shoved her index finger into the center of his chest and poked hard. “Let me tell you this, mister. There’s no chance in hell your make-believe laws will hold up in any court.”

She’d advanced on him while she spoke, her hat pulled low, her chin held high. Her eyes burned with zeal and brimmed with tears. And in that moment, that very moment, he felt the slow oozing return of the disgust that had made him an easy target for annihilation all those months ago.

This time, he was the one who advanced, the one who sent her retreating until her backside hit the wall of her shelter and threatened to take it down. “I’m going to tell you something, sister.

“I am your one and only hope of getting out of here without becoming the prize in a game of roulette. Now, is that what you want? To let the men in this camp take turns with you until you can’t walk for a week?”

The moisture that had been welling in her lower lids spilled. She shook her head, her fists balled tight at her sides. She refused to lift a finger and wipe the trails of tears cleaning the dust and grit from her cheeks.

The show of defiance, of will, of strength was Eli’s last straw. This woman had been a holy thorn in his side from day one. But he was not about to sacrifice her to the compound staff of ruthless, amoral, cruel men to facilitate his own mission’s success.

He stepped even closer. Inches separated their bodies, but he still felt her heat above that which hung in the air. When he reached up with one hand, she flinched; he shook his head to still her and settled his palm at her nape.

She shivered, and he absorbed what he could of her fear, calming her as Hank Smithson would a filly, settling his lips at her temple, breathing in her scent, learning the feel of her hair, her skin, while gathering up his words.

“Okay, then. You listen to me. You do as I say. Exactly as I say. And maybe, just maybe, we can save your virtue and get these girls back to their families before the next transport arrives to take them away.”