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Candace Irving

AN UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER (PAPERBACK)

AN UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER (PAPERBACK)

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Book 1 in the Mission Undercover Military/Undercover Agent Romantic Suspense Series.

How much would you risk to save the one you love?

Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Jack Gage would’ve done anything to avoid his ex—until fate thrusts Army Capt. Danielle Stanton into the clutches of a slave trader and terrorist half a world away. When Jack sees Dani clothed in little more than bruises and shackles, he'll do anything to save her. The two are forced to work through their past problems to complete their present, critical mission. Jack won’t rest until he gets his man—and the unconditional surrender of Dani’s heart.

*Please Note: this book is a 33,000-word novella. Books 2, 3 & 4 of the Mission Undercover series are full-length. 

Written by a former US Navy Lt. 

If you like strong, female protagonists mixed with intense romance and page-turning suspense, you'll love this story by Candace Irvin.

Here's what readers are saying:

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"New fan of Candace Irvin! I found a new romantic suspense author and series. This book sucked me right in and I could hardly put it down. I enjoy stories with tough heroines and devoted heroes, with action and suspense, and this story delivers." —Alibi, Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Full of suspense & sizzling chemistry! Jack and Dani spent a night together after they completed an undercover assignment. But due to miscommunication, they spent the next 11 months apart...until they accidentally meet up again on undercover assignments. Jack Is posing as an artillery sergeant and Dani is posing as a worker for the International Red Cross. When they meet up again in a terrorist camp, she is being held captive by Rurik and Jack has to negotiate to "buy" her. There is lots of suspense as they work to get out of there with their lives and without Dani being subjected to any more torment by Youssef. In addition there are some twists as to what Jack thought he knew was going on that turned out not to be the case." —lovemonkeys, Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Action-Packed Love Story! Sometimes fate will work out in your favor when you least expect in a place you could have never imagined. For Special Agent Jack Gage, that means being reunited with the love of his life and having the ability to rescue her life. Danielle had resigned herself to the fact that she was going to have to figure out a way to escape from her captors and hopefully complete the mission she was sent to do. Both are given answers to questions that were left unsaid when they parted. Plenty of suspense, action & romance, as well as a surprise HEA. Definitely a great read." —R. Mclain, Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Don't Let This One Slip By! OMGosh!! I loved, loved, loved this book! Jack & Dani—the way these two think and the way they get through this nightmare is something else. Even though it is a novella, it is a must read. I am trying to convince Ms. Irvin to please write a sequel. I want to know more about Jack & Dani!" —MMTX, Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Jack and Danielle were together and then Jack went away. They meet again when they are both on undercover assignments in Sarajevo. Dani gets captured and Jack is working with the opposing side while undercover. He offers to purchase Dani from them. A nuclear war head and human trafficking. Can Jack and Dani rekindle their romance they once had? A very thrilling romantic suspense." —Kenneth Lingenfelter, Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Dark Suspense! Special Agent Jack Gage, is willing to risk everything for the one he loves, when he left Danielle and their relationship behind, he didn't realize fate wasn't quite done with both of them, and when Danielle is taken, and Jack finds himself in the world of human trafficking, he will do anything to save Dani even if it means risking everything. This is one of my favorite books of the year. Definite must read!" —AngelFire, Amazon

READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER

Chapter 1

If the road to hell was paved with good intentions, Jack Gage figured he ought to be banging on the devil’s door any moment now. Despite his imminent welcome at those fiery gates, Jack condemned himself to remaining motionless in the southernmost corner of Rurik Teslenko’s dank, claustrophobic hovel. Not an easy task given the force with which the stocky bastard dragged his current “crop” of Croatian slaves into the room before shoving them up against the opposite wall. According to Rurik, the trio of terrified girls were fresh in from Sarajevo the night before. What kind of man preyed on women from the city of his birth, much less his own ethnic group?

Unfortunately, Jack knew the answer all too well. Rurik Teslenko was not the only Bosnian Croatian, much less the only man, lining his pockets through the kidnapping and selling of young women. Nor was Rurik’s impatient customer the only “peacekeeping” United Nations soldier out shopping for his personal, shamefully young, sex slave. Even if the Swede opted not to purchase a girl from this dark-haired collection, someone would. Jack could only hope he’d be able to accomplish his increasingly dicey mission before the next batch of salivating bastards showed up. For the moment, his relief eased out as the camouflaged giant across the room shifted his scowl from the girls to Rurik.

“I told you, I want a blonde.”

Rurik shrugged his shorter but equally burly camouflage-clad shoulders. “I had a blonde. Unfortunately, there were…complications.” Rurik dug his fingers into the snarled mane of the closest girl. The final, muted rays of day bled through the window behind them, highlighting the fresh surge of terror in the girl’s eyes as Rurik dragged her close. Eyes that had already been blackened by someone’s eager fist. Eyes that had seen sixteen, seventeen years tops. Old, by Rurik’s criteria.

Bile roiled through Jack’s gut, magnified by the soft whimper that escaped the girl’s swollen lips as Rurik thrust her pale face toward the Swede.

“For you, sixteen hundred markas.”

Eight hundred US dollars. For a sixteen-year-old kid. As vile as the transaction was, Jack kept his trap shut. Too much depended on his silence. Too many lives.

American and Bosnian.

Dust kicked up as the Swede spat on the concrete floor.

The gold cross Rurik wore around his neck flashed along with his gaze as he shoved the girl back to the line. “Fine. Come back next week. I will have another blonde. Fourteen hundred markas for your trouble.”

Dark-blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. “No more than fifteen years—and a virgin?”

Rurik nodded. “I give you my word.”

Any man who knew the Bosnian slave-trader well enough to warrant a private showing at his country compound also knew that, despite his unsavory profession, Rurik Teslenko was worth his word. Still, the Swede held Rurik’s gaze for a good ten seconds before he jerked an answering nod. A moment later, the Swede spun about and strode across the stifling room. The four Bosnian thugs flanking the entrance to the hovel stiffened as his scuffed combat boots reached the bullet-riddled door.

“Let him go.”

Jack eased out his breath as two of the flanking thugs followed the UN soldier out. One less customer along with two less goons in the room just might allow him to ease Rurik out of this scorched hovel and across the dilapidated dairy farm-turned-terrorist compound he’d arrived at less than an hour ago. If he was really lucky, he and Rurik would return to their now cooling mugs of coffee in the main house along with their discussion concerning another illegal transaction Rurik had also expressed interest in.

Weapons.

“How about a trade?”

Jack turned to his Bosnian contact, once again standing at the trembling line of girls, nudging them several steps forward, one by one. Jack had no idea if any of them spoke English. Not that they needed to. Rurik’s body language was universal enough.

“No, thanks.”

His distaste must have shown because Rurik grinned, showing off a quarter of a century of non-existent dental work as he chuckled knowingly. “You did not tell me in Mostar that you preferred boys, my friend.” That damned decaying grin widened. “Since you have joined us, however briefly, I suppose we can send someone into Sarajevo to accommodate you.”

The hell they would. “I like women just fine, Rurik. Women. Not boys.” Jack flicked his gaze to the nauseatingly battered trio, careful to keep the true extent of his disgust from showing. “And not barely pubescent girls. Women.”

“Women, eh?” Another inch and that smarmy grin would split the man’s ears. Apprehension snapped along Jack’s spine as Rurik turned to the door once more, to the burly goon who served as his right hand. According to Army intelligence reports, Youssef Ben Adnan had endured the siege of Sarajevo along with Rurik a decade before. Once again, Rurik opted for body language—unfortunately, this time in a private dialect only Youssef seemed able to translate. Until Youssef turned and left.

Damn. The cook.

Sullen, subdued and up to her dark, dour bun in her master’s illegal activities, the compound’s cook was not his type either. But she was definitely a woman. Still, from the brief glimpse Jack had gotten of the kitchen earlier, she also appeared vital to keeping the rest of the slaves in line until they were sold. Surely even Rurik wouldn’t degrade the one woman he seemed to trust simply to ingratiate himself with some shady American artillery sergeant? But then, “Sgt. Jackson” wasn’t just any shady American artillery sergeant, was he? Not to Rurik. Jackson was the sergeant who’d saved the bastard’s life in Mostar by knocking him out of the way of an incoming bullet. Was Rurik looking to repay the debt now?

The odds grew as Rurik turned his back on the girls completely, motioning the remaining thug to take over as he crossed the room. The odds quadrupled as Rurik slapped him on the shoulder and nudged him toward the bullet-riddled door.

“Come, my friend, join me in the kitchen.”

Despite the dread congealing in the pit of his stomach, Jack allowed Rurik to guide him out of the hovel and down the grassy knoll. He forced himself to focus on the ancient farm, instead, once again cataloguing the dilapidated buildings as discreetly as he could. A cluster of four more bombed-out crofts lay to the left, two leveled to their permanently blood-stained foundations. The compound’s main but singed two-story thatched house lay directly ahead, backlit by a now fiery setting sun. A huge pocked and scorched concrete slab still divided into cattle stalls lay to the right. But it was the massive intact dairy barn to the left and slightly behind the main house that captured Jack’s attention. And the armed thug standing guard.

What he wouldn’t give to knock that guard aside and slide those enormous double doors apart. But as Rurik turned to shove the significantly smaller door to the house open and gesture him inside, Jack knew what he wouldn’t give. His integrity.

This might be his first assignment with Diplomatic Security, but it wasn’t his first time undercover. Hell, this wasn’t even his first time selling to Rurik. The fact that this particular cover had survived their last brush four years before had been too perfect to pass up. But while Jack had been forced to abuse his fair share of unsavory tactics during his previous career, he’d never come close to raping a woman. He wasn’t about to start now. If it came down to it, he’d accept a complimentary night with the taciturn cook—and hope to hell she didn’t spill the beans regarding his sudden case of erectile dysfunction the following morning.

But what if she did?

Adapt and overcome. The motto slammed through his brain as it had so often during his seven years with Delta Force. Rurik had yet to consider that like the Swede, he might have his own list of preferences. Jack considered voicing them as he and Rurik turned into the narrow hallway that led to the kitchen at the rear of the house. He changed his mind at the last moment, unwilling to allow the thug that far into his head, much less his heart. Despite the fact that eleven months had passed, it was still too raw. Unfortunately, the insidious ache had locked in by the time Jack stepped into the humid, oversized kitchen.

She locked in. For a split second, Jack was terrified he was hallucinating. Even as the wave of instant, blinding rage swept through him, along with the punch of sheer, gut-wrenching terror, he knew he wasn’t. This was no dream, it was a living, breathing nightmare.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, no! That woman was not Dani.

But she was.

Jack blinked, struggling to take in the matted, light-brown waves tangled halfway down her back, the deep purple bruise marring the curve of her left cheek. The shredded, once-white shirt with its sweat-stained tails tied now between her braless breasts—because the buttons and sleeves had been torn completely off. The matching sets of goddamned rusted shackles that were clamped about the cuffs of her jeans and slender wrists. It was her all right, Captain Danielle Stanton, US Army.

The woman he’d loved and then lost was in Bosnia. And she was Rurik Teslenko’s slave.

For the first time in his career Jack had no idea what to do, much less what to say. If he opened his mouth, God only knew what would come out. Given the fury still blistering through him, the odds were overwhelming it would be something that would get Dani killed. For her sake alone, he managed to slow his frantic gaze—but not before he spotted the mottled bruises roping Dani’s throat as she turned away to hide her own stunned reaction. She’d been choked. From the twin blood-red, almost black, splotches at the base of her neck, damned near to death. By whom? A split second later his stomach bottomed out. Ice-cold terror surged into its place. Sweet Mother in Heaven…had she been raped?

Acid seared though his gut once again, eating a path straight up to his heart. Before Jack could move—hell, before he could think—Rurik flicked his gaze to his right-hand man. Youssef responded immediately by shoving Dani and her brimming pail of water toward the cook and the stove at the far side of the kitchen. The force caused her bare feet to tangle with the rusting links of her shackles, sending water sloshing over the rim of the plastic pail and onto the immaculate stone floor. The flat of Youssef’s hand swung up—

“Wait.”

Youssef, Rurik, Dani, even the cook froze. Unlike the others, Dani didn’t turn to face him. Thank God. At least one of them was thinking clearly. Adapting. If he didn’t get his brain in gear within the next two seconds, they’d both end up dead. Given her military specialty, he could only assume that like him, Dani was undercover—or had been before Rurik and his bastards had gotten ahold of her. And if he blew that cover…

Fortunately, Rurik had chalked up his stunned reaction to something else. Lust. Once again that decaying grin split wide. “You are interested in this one then, yes?”

Interested? He’d been interested in General Stanton’s daughter since he’d been a green, twenty-one-year-old cadet at West Point. Since Dani had been as young as the girls out in that croft at the time, he’d wisely nailed his mouth shut. Admitting the extent of that interest to General Stanton a decade later had damned near ended his career. Admitting that interest still existed now to Rurik could well end Dani’s life.

Somehow, Jack managed to hook his elbow on the island counter. “Personally, I like redheads, especially if they come with green eyes.” He stared at the light-brown waves for several moments, then shrugged. “The length of her hair might be a plus…if it didn’t look like a family of rats had moved in.”

“Agreed. But it can be combed, even dyed. Besides, she speaks English. You would be able to understand her.”

“You trying to drive your own price down or what?”

Rurik laughed at that. Loudly.

Figured. Somehow, none of the goons he’d met this evening seemed the type to engage in bedroom chatter. Not that he and Dani had engaged in much conversation themselves the one and only night they’d spent in the same bed. Perhaps if they had—

Don’t go there, buddy.

Not here and not now.

Rurik flicked his gaze to Youssef once again—and, again, Youssef lurched forward. But this time the thug had wrapped his fist around Dani’s hair, using the bulk of her matted mane to drag her to the island, directly in front of him. Both Rurik and Youssef ignored the sloshing bucket as it hit the floor, focusing on him, instead. Dani did not. She kept her gaze welded to the shackles at her feet as if she still didn’t quite trust herself to look at him. He knew the feeling.

Given what they both knew he’d have to do to pull this off, he wasn’t sure he trusted himself. Jack pushed off the counter, risking his cover more than he’d ever thought possible as he slid the fingers of his right hand about Dani’s painfully slender neck, directly over those bruises. Using his thumb, he pushed her chin up, frowning as she finally met his gaze.

“She stinks.”

The criticism earned him another grin—from Rurik and his deadly sidekick. “We may not have running water restored yet, Jackson, but we do have baths. I will send the other girls up with water for the tub.” Rurik waved his hand. “And, no, before you mention it, her eyes are not green.”

True. But neither were they basic brown like his. Instead, they were the most incredible shade of light, translucent blue he’d ever seen. That first year after his dad’s death, not much had succeeded in burning though the fog of his grief. But these eyes had. Even then, he’d noticed the color shifted depending on Dani’s moods. It wasn’t until this past year—during their first undercover assignment together—that he’d discovered just how dark and stormy these eyes could become when Dani was aroused…or royally pissed. They were storming now. And she was definitely not aroused.

Rurik chuckled. “I do not think she likes you.”

No bombshell there. “You said she speaks English. Where’s she from?” To Jack’s surprise, silence greeted the question.

Son of a bitch. For all the evidence of abuse marring her body, Dani Stanton hadn’t even given up her nationality. If only her father could see her now. Jack masked the surge of fierce pride and swung his gaze to the men in time to catch Rurik’s shrug.

“Based on her accent…Canada, perhaps. Though she may be American. You all sound the same to me.”

Jack ignored the dig. “Did you at least catch her name?”

Again, silence. But this time, he swore Youssef flushed.

Jack covered the second surge of pride with a taunting chuckle as he returned to Dani. “Damn, Rurik. This must be some woman if neither of you have been able to get so much as a name out of her, despite your impressive—” he managed to smooth his thumb casually down her battered neck “—persuasion.”

Youssef growled a string of base Arabic and stepped toward him. Right then, Jack knew whose hands had left these marks on Dani’s throat. Who would pay. Unlike the pride, Jack embraced the rage. He released Dani and stepped forward, not stopping until he was squarely within Youssef’s personal space.

“Enough!” Rurik jerked his chin toward Dani. “You want the woman or not?”

He kept his gaze fused to Youssef’s. “How much?”

“Four hundred. But I keep her when you leave.”

The amount slapped Jack back to reality, as did the rest. There’d be time for vengeance later. Right now his only concern was getting Dani out of Rurik’s possession and into his—and there was only one way to accomplish that. That bullet in Mostar notwithstanding, Rurik was first and foremost a businessman. Though there was a chance the debt would help with the price.

He hoped.

Jack forced a snort and took his first step away from her. “I hope that’s four hundred markas, not dollars.”

“Dollars. For that, the woman will be at your sole disposal for the duration of your stay.”

“Four hundred dollars?” He shook his head and took another step. “Christ, Rurik, it’s not as if she was beauty-pageant material, even before your buddy Youssef got ahold of her.”

Dani stiffened. From the renewed steel in her gaze, she was ticked. Good. But if she didn’t pick up on his unspoken request soon and get downright pissed, they’d be hip deep in kimchi. He only had three hundred bucks on him. Given the beating Dani had already suffered, he couldn’t risk a trip to Sarajevo and a bank to collect the rest. And there was still his mission.

“Three hundred…and if I like her, I take her with me when I leave.” He’d already told Rurik he’d recently arrived for a mythical two-year rotation with a UN artillery unit. If he was lucky, Rurik would simply assume he preferred to keep the same sex toy around the entire time he was stuck in Bosnia. Relief flooded Jack as the bastard nodded.

“Six hundred, and maybe you take her—if I am pleased with the other work you do for me.”

“Six hundred? You offered the Swede a virgin for seven.”

Rurik shrugged. “You wanted a woman, not a girl.”

“A woman, yes.” Jack stalked forward and grabbed the curve of Dani’s chin, using it to twist her face beneath the stark light shining down from the bulb at the ceiling. “A battered and bruised hag, no.” He jerked his fingers from her jaw and shoved them down the V of her shirt, determined to ignore the heat that gusted through him as Dani’s breasts filled his hand. He almost succeeded—until the memory slammed in.

Her, him. On his bed. That torrid, late-August night. These same sky-colored eyes damned near smoke-blue with passion. Her gently bowed lips, swollen and slick from his greedy kiss. Dani’s fingers sliding through his hair, down his neck, digging into his shoulders. Her husky moan swirling into his ears as she urged him up and over her. Him—hot, hard and excruciatingly ready as he plunged deep inside her.

The memory shattered beneath Rurik’s crude chuckle.

Red-hot rage blistered though Jack, incinerating his body’s instinctive reaction to Dani’s flesh after all these months. He tucked his free hand behind his back and clenched his fingers to keep from shaking from the renewed fury. To keep from throttling them. God as his witness, Rurik and his goon would pay for tainting what until then had been a precious, private memory. But most of all, the men would pay for what they’d done to the one woman who for a brief night had been the very center of his world. Jack allowed the barest breath of his roiling disgust to show through as he forced himself to fondle Dani’s breasts in front of the bastards.

“Hell, she’s already sagging.”

She spat in his face.

Thank God.

Jack wrenched his hand from her shirt and backhanded the good side of her jaw. A fraction of his strength, the smack was ninety percent noise and show. Fortunately Dani had worked undercover long enough to know it was coming. She rolled with it, allowing the illusion of force to send her slamming into the whitewashed wall behind her. The solid whack to the back of her skull left no doubt in Jack’s mind, that groan was real. He stalked forward and grabbed her hair, using it to pin her as Youssef had done. Unlike Youssef, he sealed his lips to her ear as he seized the shackles at her wrists, spinning her with him—toward the island counter and away from the men as he asked, “You okay?”

“Finish it.”

For a split second he was afraid the cook had caught on. But the woman turned to the stove and busied herself with a large iron pot. His breathing still raw and much too shallow, he wrenched Dani around with him as he faced Rurik.

The yellow grin split wide. “Three hundred to keep a hag it appears you, too, will have to persuade?”

Jack shot his own grin toward Youssef. “Unlike your lackey, I’m up to the task.” He was rewarded with another Arabic curse.

Rurik ignored it. “Three hundred it is.”

“And if I like her, I take her when I leave.”

“Agreed.”

“Done.” Jack shoved Dani toward the bucket. “Bathe yourself, woman. Then wait for me in my room.” He forced himself to turn away and shift the Beretta at his hip to tug his wallet from his camouflaged pocket. Pulling out the three largest bills, he tossed them to Youssef, earning another scowl as the man caught them. “Now, you two ready to discuss why you brought me here?”

Another of those blasted, decaying grins. “Tomorrow.”

“Damn it, Rurik, I—”

The man tsked softly. “You Americans. Everything must always be your way, in your time. Our business can wait. Tonight is for pleasure, my friend.” Rurik clapped him on the back, chuckling as Dani snatched the bucket off the floor and stalked across the kitchen, slamming the wooden door smartly behind her. “Though I do not think your new slave appears pleased with the change to her sleeping arrangements.”

Now there was an understatement. He might not have a clue as to what Dani was doing trapped on this bombed-out dairy farm in eastern Bosnia, much less how he was going to get her safely off, but Jack did know one thing. No matter how many times he’d relived that torrid summer night in his mind this past year, she sure as hell hadn’t. Nor did she ever intend to repeat it. In fact, he was the last man Danielle Stanton ever intended to sleep with again.

She’d told him so herself.

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