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Diana Kenyon is a beautiful, successful doctor with her own practice and her own life. But the occasional work she does for the DC-based Stanton Group thrusts her into the dark world of political refugees, kidnapping and torture. Her boss, Jack Stanton, runs an organization that rehabilitates victims of political torture, giving them new faces, thanks to Dr. Kenyon, and new lives, thanks to The Stanton Group. When Jack thinks Diana might be at risk herself, he forces her to attend a seminar that will hopefully give her the skills she needs to keep herself safe.
As the company owner of VRS Securities, Valerio Rios knows his subject well, and his seminars are well-attended by top executives from top companies who do not want to pay huge ransoms for their executives’ safe return. Val has seen firsthand what these victims go through. When Diana turns up missing, Val is hired to find her and bring her home safely. But rescuing the beautiful doctor is not the end of Val’s work. Someone is after her, and Val is determined to keep the independent and strong-willed lady safe. As he tries to find out who is after her, and why a successful doctor was taken in the first place, lies, deceit and mistrust hinder his efforts. Val Rios is a no-nonsense man, and Diana Kenyon is stubborn, willful and independent. Sparks fly as Val grows more determined to see her safe, and in his bed where she belongs, even if it takes a couple of trips over his knee to do it.
*** This book is a suspenseful romance containing spanking of an adult female***
Diana Kenyon sat at the back of the hot, stuffy room. Her attitude about ‘seminars’ was surly on the best of days. Today, with temperatures in the 90’s and the humidity level not far behind, she was downright apoplectic. Who the hell has seminars in Miami in August? Damn him! She recalled the conversation she had with her boss, Jack Stanton, vividly:
“Things aren’t good out there right now, Diana. I want you…I want all of us…safe.”
“Save the paternal act, Jack. I’m not going.”
The handsome, middle-aged man stood abruptly. “This is no act, sweetheart. You handle one thing and one thing only for this organization, and you are not trained at all for this type of thing. K & R is huge business. You will attend this seminar so that you can be prepared. Am I clear?”
Diana had glared at him defiantly.
He raised a finger—paternally. “Don’t dig your heels in with me, kid.”
It was her turn to stand. “Oh, I’m not, Jack,” she huffed. “I haven’t had a day off in six months, and now I have to go to this?” She almost sounded whiny.
“Uh huh, yes you do. Two days. Then you take some time off. You’re down in Miami, anyway. Take a few days, go down to the Keys.”
“Shit,” she growled, pacing around his stark white sofa, in his stark white office.
“Hey.” He thrust his hands on a pair of still-sturdy hips that held his six-foot frame quite nicely after 65 years. “Don’t force me to deal with you like a recalcitrant eight-year-old.” He paused, a twinkle in his eye. “I won’t like it, but I’ll do it.”
She had no doubt he’d keep his word. Jack Stanton was a good friend of her father’s, and stood godfather to her oldest brother, Rick, an attorney in Palo Alto. Brother Tristan was a detective with the San Francisco PD, and a third brother, Tom, was a congressman. At thirty-two, she was the baby of the bunch. Doted on and spoiled by an alpha-male household after her mother was killed in a car accident when she was eight, she got away with a lot—but not as much as when Dad’s pal, Jack Stanton, was around. She could not remember a period of time in her childhood that Jack Stanton was not a part of. He’d tug at a strand of her white-blond hair as a warning to behave when she was little, and threaten to answer the door with a stick when her dates would come calling. He became a surrogate father to her after James Kenyon died of cancer ten years ago, and he was there when she graduated from medical school at the top of her class in less than the average time of eight years. When Jack asked her to bring her expertise to work for him, she did not hesitate. It beat working on the grandes dames and doyens of Beverly Hills and New York, and it paid twice as much.
“Am I clear, Dr. Kenyon?”
She blushed, and then met his cool grey eyes with a sneer. “Grrrr.”
The air conditioner kicked on, but she felt no cooler. She huffed and looked around the stuffy conference room, on the top floor of a posh Miami hotel. A man stood behind a podium and spoke. He spoke in a voice she didn’t find too offensive, occasionally using a laser pointer in case his audience had trouble following his dull Power Point presentation.
“For many years,” he droned on, “kidnappings have been commonplace in Latin America, Mexico, and even in some European countries—the victims are usually wealthy Mexicans and Latin Americans, and now we can add wealthy American businessmen to the list. The stakes are high: Companies are paying millions in ransoms, and I, or people like me, are then hired to find them.” He paused dramatically. “Some are not found alive.” A gasp went up in the room. She rolled her eyes.
“A victim can become just that, in the blink of an eye, and not have to travel to Mexico or South America to do it. Now, the kidnappers are coming to us.” His tone and accent rolled off her ears like warm chocolate.
He looked up and removed his glasses. “I’m sorry?”
“Why? Why are…kidnappers coming here?” She sat up straight.
His eyes narrowed. “You are…?”
“Not at risk.”
His mouth curled at one end. “I wouldn’t be so sure. Every American is at risk.” He looked around the room. “Everyone in here, and everyone who works for everyone in here.”
“So…? Why are they coming here? It’s like a bad movie, masked men sneaking across the border and kidnapping our unsuspecting citizenry.”
A few snickers went up in the room, but the man behind the podium was not amused.
“Because they can, lady. They come because they can.” He stared at her longer than was necessary, then replaced his glasses and continued, “There are precautions you can take to keep yourself from becoming one of the statistics.” He paused and glanced toward the back of the room. “Don’t be predictable. If you travel once a month to Dallas, don‘t take the same flight every time. If you are picked up by a livery service, don’t have them holding up a cardboard banner advertising your name and company logo. Look around you, be aware of people around you.” He paused. “I know how hard these things are to think about when you are busy. But if you are looking around, and you make eye contact with people, you will cut your risk of becoming a victim in half.” He shuffled papers. “If you do fall prey to kidnappers, there are a few things you can do.”
Jab them in the eye with a well-manicured nail. Diana studied hers.
“…within the first five minutes…run like hell…” Laughter. “…change of location…good time to try…” He looked toward the back of the room again. “Pay attention to landmarks, things around you…” She was studying the ceiling. “You might see something that will help your rescuers.”
Once I find cell service, you mean? Seriously.
“How likely is it that a hostage will be hurt or killed?” a man in the first row asked.
“Depends. Can your company pay the ransom? Can your family? What are you willing to give up for your freedom?” He scanned the room and his eyes locked on hers. “Something to think about.” He shuffled some papers and tapped his computer, turning the screen blue. “We’ll break for lunch. See you back here in one hour.”
Diana heard enough. She would not be returning.
* * *
Valerio Rios sat at a table under a canopy and sipped a virgin Mojito. He scanned the pool area with discerning eyes, hidden behind a pair of Ray-Bans. Miami was certainly not short on beautiful women, and Val Rios had known a few in his life. Most of the women walking around the pool area might as well have been naked for what they were wearing, but that was what Miami was all about. Leaving so little to the imagination left him disinterested in a hurry, despite the smiles and winks he received from every woman under sixty who passed him. Many were under eighteen, if his guess was accurate. He shook his head.
Valerio Xavier Rios was born in the United States, an only child to a Chilean father, and an English mother. He was raised with modest privilege, never fully appreciating it until he left home for college and saw what his father’s wealth could buy him—an education. He graduated at the top of his class with a law degree he never used. The kidnapping and murder of a DEA agent twelve years ago led him to form his own company, VRS Security. The agent, a close friend, was grabbed as he dined in a restaurant in Mexico City. Val realized that a law degree was not enough to save his friend—in fact, he found that it saved no one of value. He did not like the way the drug cartels used and spat out human beings for sport and money. He vowed he would not see another good man lost on the whim of rogue governments and vigilante groups who funded coups and drug trafficking with ransom money.
He glanced at his watch, growing impatient. A life was at stake—a man was missing. An important man, according to the phone call he received earlier that morning. They agreed to meet here, by the pool of the swanky hotel. They were late. Val didn’t tolerate late. He would give them five more minutes and then he was gone. The man must not be all that important.
And then he saw her.
She stood out with what she was wearing, opposed to what she was not—a simple white tank suit that set a off a gorgeous tan. Her long legs were toned and strong, and seemed never-ending. A beautifully curved bottom served as the gateway to a narrow waist and perfectly sized breasts. Her neck, long and proud, carried a pointed but strong jaw and high cheekbones. Her smile came easy and was dazzling. Sunglasses covered eyes he knew were light, bright and mischievous. Her honey-blond hair was tousled and unkempt, due, he figured, to the south Florida wind and humidity. She walked proud and elegant, completely unaware that every eye was on her.
Diana Kenyon, Consultant, Stanton Group. Age, 33; home, Los Angeles. When she didn’t return after the lunch break he made a point of finding out more about her. She sat through the morning session with a smirk and a can’t-possibly-happen-to-me attitude that pissed him off. Her tone, body language, and countenance were that of a spoiled, pampered brat who probably experienced minimal discomfort in her life. She sat at the back of the room, bored and out of place, and he had no idea why she was sent to his seminar in the first place. And it angered him that all of this bothered him so much.
She passed him and turned in recognition. She took her glasses off and set them on top of her head. Val watched the turmoil play on her face—should I keep going, or stop? Val sat back in his chair, rested an ankle across his knee, and waited.
“My twin sister would like to apologize for not making it back to your class, Mr…”
“Rios.” He pierced her with a dangerous stare.
“…Rios.” She swallowed hard. “She, unfortunately, was taken hostage by a band of monkeys intent on great amounts of ransom. Sadly, Mumsy and P’pa are dead broke and will be of little help.”
Her skin was peaches and cream, without a drop of makeup. Her eyes were cerulean.
“That work for you a lot?”
A blush rose from her chest and spread across her face like a stain. “Pardon?”
“Joking to get yourself out of trouble—does that work for you a lot?”
Diana slipped an errant tendril behind her left ear and looked down at her feet. Then she looked up at him, a wide mouth with a generous bottom lip that could do with a good kissing, curling at one end.
“More often than not.” She allowed a beat or two to pass, then she said, “Am I in trouble?” Her voice was even, pitched on the low side, and slightly raspy.
“I think maybe you are.” He stared at her for a long time. “You ditched my class.”
“So,” she began, looking off into the distance, then back at him again. “The jokes. Not working for you?”
Val arched a brow. “Hubris,” he said, not taking his eyes off hers. “Not the best choice here.”
She shrugged. “I’m out of tricks then. I’ll give Sissy your best.” She slid the glasses down over her eyes, and Val had the privilege of watching her walk away.
“You do that, dama braguillas.” Lady brat. A jolt of recognition niggled him for a moment, then quickly disappeared with the uncontrollable urge he had to put the lady across his knee and teach her some manners. While the idea was good, the execution proved impossible just now. Instead, he would call her employer tomorrow morning. He usually wasn’t fond of revenge, but the idea of embarrassing her, even if just a little, sat well.
“Mr. Rios?” A well-dressed, middle-aged man stood in front of him, blocking the sun. Val Rios turned his attention away from the beautiful bubble-headed blond.
He had lives to save.