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Candace Irving

IN CLOSE QUARTERS (PAPERBACK)

IN CLOSE QUARTERS (PAPERBACK)

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Book 3 in the Mission Undercover Military/Undercover Agent Romantic Suspense Series.

New to the Mission Undercover Series? Start Here

He's finally earned her trust; now he's after her heart.

The moment Navy Dr. Karin Scott met Special Agent TJ Vasquez, she mistook him for a womanizer. But when Karin stumbles across a deadly plot at the naval hospital that’s killing young girls in San Diego, she has no where else to turn. She’s forced to put her trust in TJ’s hands. Will she realize TJ’s holding her heart as well before it’s too late?

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.

What readers are saying:

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"I couldn't put this book down. Wow! It's hot and delicious and keeps you in suspense right up until the very last page. Lieutenant Karin Scott had been about to make a commitment to the devastatingly handsome TJ Vasquez when something happened to change it all. Her ship left and now she's back after six months at sea. However, she has a serious problem since she received a note saying that drugs have been 'walking'. She is not sure whom to turn to and leaves a message for Reese, but TJ turns up instead. Before long their undercover mission is placing them in too close quarters. This is one guy I wouldn't mind being in close quarters with either, and my guess is that the sexual tension created between this pair will keep you glued to the pages. There are a lot of twists and turns in this one, and in addition, their lives are at risk, as the drug thieves won't think twice at murdering them. Hang on tight as it gets quite rocky. Ms. Irvin's writing is right and tight and whisks you away on a wild ride with some knockout characters that are quite electrifying In Close Quarters! You'll be crying if you miss this one." —Suzanne C., Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"This is a fantastic book. I especially enjoyed the hero because he never took the easy way out, and neither did this author with her plot. It's just a great follow-up to Ms. Irvin's debut, FOR HIS EYES ONLY. If you love strong heroines and complex...heroes thrown into intense situations, you will love IN CLOSE QUARTERS.—RK, Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Another, simply put... AMAZING, story by Ms. Irvin that will keep you glued to page after page of heart stopping, adrenaline pumping suspense! And the romance ain't bad either!—Shiela S, Amazon

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Beautiful moving story of finding love and compromise. Suspense of finding who is stealing the drugs and finding their way back to their parents. Loved it." —Amazon Customer

A DANGEROUS ENGAGEMENT (PAPERBACK) 5 Star Review

"Intense passion, dangerous enemies, screwed up emotions, sorrow and regret, finding the right priorities, definitely love wins in the end. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED You won't want to pass this book up." —MH, Amazon

READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER

Chapter 1

Her career was over.

Karin slumped down into the swivel chair at her desk, staring at the single typed sentence screaming up from the sheet of paper in her hands. Class twos are walking. Oddly enough, she was stunned more by what the words didn’t say than what they did. She flipped the sheet over and examined the back.

Nothing.

No name, no signature.

Not a single identifying mark on either side to even hint at the sender’s identity. Against hope, she grabbed the matching envelope off the stack of manila folders on her desk and slipped her index finger into the torn end as she tipped it upside down.

Empty.

She slapped the envelope back down, sucking in her breath as her own name stared up, mocking her. Lieutenant Karin Scott, MD. Good God, why her?

And why now?

Rap, rap, rap.

Karin shot straight up in her chair as the knock on her door reverberated through the office. Who…? What…?

No time.

Her heart hammered against her ribs as she wrenched up the cover of the ten-pound Physician’s Desk Reference she’d dumped beside the files and crammed the incriminating note inside. She heard the door to her office swing open behind her just as she slammed the cover down.

“Eric?”

She knew that voice. God, no.

She couldn’t help it. Her stomach bottomed out. Nausea surged into its place. She staunched the wave in the nick of time. Of all the officers she had to run into on her first day, why him? Come to think of it, it was actually fitting. After all, the bastard had taken a crack at ruining her career himself. Two deep breaths, a quick glance to make sure the note was firmly hidden, and she was ready.

She twirled the chair smoothly about and nodded. “Doug.”

“You?”

Judging from the disgust darkening the man’s eyes, Doug Callahan was even less thrilled to see Karin than she was to see him. Funny, she wouldn’t have thought it possible. But as Doug’s tan bleached down to rival the collar of his white Navy uniform, she realized something else, and she smiled. “You didn’t know.”

The sleaze recovered quickly, slicking his hands through the barely regulation surfer waves on his head before locking his arms across his chest. “Sure, I did.”

Karin ignored the blatant lie and smoothed the skirt of her own whites as she tipped back in her chair. “Of course, the fact that you didn’t just proves you’re not the golden boy you think you are.”

A shrug, followed by a sneer. “I just figured you’d fall off the side of your ship on the way to the Persian Gulf and save yourself the humiliation of washing out.”

“Liar.” She offered up her own shrug. “Not that I’m surprised. You do have a knack for it. Or rather, you did…until me. Tell me, Doug, how many other women have you had to stoop that low with? Five? Ten? Every woman you’ve ever dated or, rather, tried to date?”

He didn’t answer.

But the color was revving back into his face, only to stall at his taut cheeks. He tried covering by stepping into the office and stalking down the line of steel bookshelves on her right. It didn’t help. Mottled fury was still riding high on his cheeks as he bypassed the pair of file cabinets and the X-ray reader to hook his hind end onto the edge of the desk cater-corner to hers.

She couldn’t help it.

She grinned.

Hell, maybe the next two years of residency wouldn’t be as bad as she’d expected. Not if she’d be able to break up what were bound to be eighty-hour workweeks with an occasional jaunt down to the pharmacy just to irritate the hell out of— Pharmacy?

The note.

Panic slammed back up her throat, strangling what was left of her smirk. She sucked in the remains, damn near choking on them as she fought the urge to double-check the armload of reference books and files she’d lugged in from her car, and the envelope Mr. Anonymous had secreted into the stack of paperwork already awaiting her arrival.

She needn’t have bothered.

Doug jerked his chin toward the teetering pile on her desk. “Already in over your head, eh?”

He couldn’t see the damn thing, could he?

The nausea returned. It must have shown.

“By God, you are.”

She stared into his now-gleaming gaze, at the blue rapidly turning black with triumph. Or was that satisfaction? Almost as if… Oh, Lord, why hadn’t she thought of it before?

Had he sent it?

The mere thought was worse than petty. It was cowardly and underhanded, as well as thoroughly reprehensible.

And it was right up Doug’s alley.

She drew herself up in the swivel chair and stared right back at him. “Don’t you have someone else to harass?”

Triumph or satisfaction—whichever had caused his own smirk—went up in flames. “You were ordered not to use that word in connection with my name ever again.”

Despite the panic still thundering through her veins, she relaxed enough to let her eyes widen. “Oh, did I mention your name? You probably misunderstood me. A nasty habit of yours. Then again, maybe it’s your guilty conscience— Oops, I forgot.” She leveled an equally steely gaze on his. “You don’t have one.”

“Lieutenant Callahan, please dial seven-five-three-two.”

She could have sworn that was relief edging out the fury in his eyes as he jerked off the edge of the desk to respond to the hospital’s page. He turned toward the door.

She couldn’t help it. She grinned again. “Leaving so soon? There’s a phone right here.”

Idiot.

Why was she still baiting him? She needed Doug out of here so she could think. When she’d first opened the envelope, she’d assumed the accusation was true. Now she wasn’t so sure. Yeah, she definitely needed to think.

Alone.

Doug’s sneer was firmly in place as he turned back. “No thanks, it’s a bit too frigid in here for my taste.”

She caught herself a split second before she stiffened. Didn’t matter—he’d already turned to the door. She waited until his hand was on the knob, the door halfway open.

“Doug?”

He glanced back as he stepped into the hall. “Yeah?”

“I should have gelded you when I had the chance.”

His sneer evaporated as the door slammed in his face. She didn’t even pause to savor the victory but spun the chair around to her desk to stare at the telltale strip of white poking out from the cover of the desk reference, instead. It didn’t matter that the words weren’t visible. They were burned into her brain.

Right along with the implication behind them.

Class twos are walking.

If that note was right, someone at the hospital was stealing prescription narcotics. She raked her fingers through her newly cropped curls, groaning as she slapped her forehead onto the tome’s cover. Yup, her career was definitely over. There wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.

Unless…

She stiffened. No way. She was not calling him.

Anyone but him.

As if TJ Vásquez would even care.

Okay, so he might. But it would be on a purely professional basis. She’d nipped anything personal in the bud too hard and too long ago. Hell, TJ hadn’t even dropped by to see her ship off. And he certainly hadn’t been around when it had come back.

That only left one option.

Her best friend’s husband, Reese.

Reese and Jade shouldn’t have left for the airport yet. She snapped her gaze to her watch, hoping the time hadn’t gotten away from her in her shock. It hadn’t. In fact, Reese might still be at work. Technically she didn’t begin her anesthesiology residency for another two weeks. Her friends would be back from their belated honeymoon by then. If Reese thought he could help, she could take two weeks leave and pretend she hadn’t read the note until he and Jade returned.

Call him.

And do it now, before you’re forced to crawl to TJ.

That image made up her mind.

A quick glance over her shoulder assured her the door to her office was still sealed shut, before she reached for her wallet to rummage through for the number Jade had given her the week before. A number she never thought she’d use, let alone need. She grabbed the phone and stabbed the buttons, only to wait through four excruciatingly long rings.

The line was finally picked up. “Drug Enforcement Administration. How may I direct your call?”

She took a deep breath and just did it. “This is Dr. Karin Scott. I need to speak to Special Agent Reese Garrick.”

*****

“Yo, Vásquez!”

TJ did not bother glancing up from the stack of files splayed across his desk. He simply raised a hand and waved his fellow agent over as he continued to read. But moments later, as two more folders landed atop the report he was studying, he was forced to sever his concentration.

“Gracias.”

“De nada.” Joaquín’s wide grin greeted him as he cuffed the black motorcycle helmet from the spare chair, his gaze sweeping the DEA office discreetly as he sat.

TJ knew full well whom his friend was seeking.

She was not here.

Joaquín covered his disappointment well. “What are you still doing here? You know what they say—while the cat is away, the mice should—”

“Stay.” TJ chuckled as his friend’s grin wilted. “A joke, my friend. Go home. Your assignment tomorrow will make up for this.”

The grin was back. “A finer temporary boss I have never had. But what of you? You should be taking off as well, no? You are last to leave—again.” His smile faded once more as he leaned forward to tap the preliminary autopsy reports he had dumped onto the desk. “The girls are dead, Tomás. Much as I dislike admitting this, a few hours more will not make a difference.”

TJ’s swivel chair groaned as he leaned back to stretch his legs and rub his eyes. Joaquín was right. The girls were dead. A few hours more would not change this. But he had already dropped Reese and Jade at the airport. If he left now, there was naught left to do but go home and listen to his phone. A phone that had refused to ring.

For six days.

Once again he suppressed the sigh he had been holding throughout the week. “Soon.” He tapped the new folders. “I must review these first.”

A frown. “She has not called then.”

It was not a question. It also required no response.

“I am sorry.”

TJ shrugged.

“Have you eaten?”

He shook his head.

“There is this new seafood spot on the Embarcadero. Perhaps we should visit a club after?”

“Joaquín, I thank you, but no.” The San Diego waterfront would not be wise tonight, nor would it be for some time. Dios mío, had he not gazed his fill of the empty ocean these past months?

And a club?

He sighed. Joaquín knew full well he did not do this anymore. But then, for all his friend’s attempts at distraction, neither did he.

Another sigh. This one belonging to his fellow agent as he thumped the helmet onto the reports, then leaned back to withdraw a slip of yellow paper from the front pocket of his jeans. He flicked it beside the helmet. “Gina handed this to me on her way out, said to give it to you.”

TJ retrieved the message slip and unfolded it, sucking in his breath as the neat script ripped into him.

Madre de Dios! It was not possible.

Or was it?

He tore his gaze from the memo to stare at the now-taunting folders scattered across his desk as his mind raced his heart. It was a tie. He shot up from his chair. “When did Gina take this?”

“I do not know. Why?”

He grabbed his leather jacket from the back of the chair and shoved his arms into the sleeves. By the time Joaquín had shot to his feet, as well, TJ had cuffed his motorcycle helmet.

“Tomás, what is wrong? Is it—”

He did not hear the rest, because he had already left.

*****

Karin stared at the LED clock on the back of the stove and frowned. Seven-fifteen. If Reese didn’t return her call soon, he wouldn’t get the chance. Not for two weeks, anyway. In half an hour the flight he and Jade had booked to Hawaii would be leaving. Come to think of it, the plane was probably already boarding. She plunked the copper teapot onto the rear burner and sighed. Now what?

What about—

She might have a remaining option or two, but calling TJ Vásquez was not one of them. She’d just spent six months purging the man from her mind. There was no way she was letting him back in. Not until she was forced to, anyway.

Damn, it wasn’t even fair.

She’d never even dated the man.

All she’d done was spend two lousy months planning a wedding for their best friends with him. Unfortunately, it had been enough. The man’s pull was that steady, that strong.

That inescapable.

Hell, who was she kidding? TJ had hooked her the moment they met. Charming, smooth and way too sure of himself, Special Agent Vásquez had arrived aboard the USS Baddager as Reese’s backup at the tail end of an undercover operation designed to flush out a heroin dealer on the ship—and he’d damn near left with her heart. Except, it wasn’t her heart he’d been interested in, was it?

At least not permanently.

The proof had slapped her in the face less than a week later. TJ had thrown a party at his weekend place just south of the Mexican border to celebrate Reese and Jade’s engagement. She’d been leery about attending, mainly because she hadn’t been able to get the party’s host out of her head in the preceding days, but Jade had begged her. Not one for parties to begin with, her friend had been nervous about being thrust into a house full of DEA agents with whom she had absolutely nothing in common except that she was marrying into their tight group.

She should never have succumbed to Jade’s pleas.

In the hours that followed, she’d gleaned more about the DEA in general than she’d ever wanted to know…and about one special agent in particular. While TJ was showing her the courtyard, she’d overheard two of his fellow agents laying odds that she was his next conquest. Even more appalling was that they couldn’t agree on what number to assign her. Both held an opinion and both exceeded civilized comprehension. Humiliated, she’d turned to TJ and asked if there was any truth to his reputation.

To her horror, he’d said yes.

Of course, he’d promptly sworn it was behind him.

Right. Under him was more like it.

Either way, it didn’t matter. She wasn’t into one-night stands. And even if she was, she was no match for that level of experience. No match at all.

And yet…those eyes.

Six months and the mere memory of that dark smoldering gaze could still send smoke whispering through her body. Worse, even now, knowing the man for the hound he was, deep down she still wanted to believe the shame and regret she’d seen on his face that day in his courtyard had been real.

But of course, they weren’t.

Nor was the promise that had come with them, that insidiously magnetic pledge that always came with those eyes. One sultry look and TJ could pull her right in, have her believing that no matter how many women he’d had in his past, she was the only woman he wanted in his future.

But that was a lie.

His behavior at the wedding had proven that, hadn’t it?

She dragged the copper teapot to the front burner of the stove and toggled the corresponding switch to high. Okay, so there was no way she was calling TJ. Next option?

For the life of her, she couldn’t think of one. Not one that would preserve her career, anyway.

Music. It always helped her think.

She spun back to the breakfast counter, dodging the pair of white heels that matched the uniform she’d yet to remove as she snagged the radio/CD remote from the counter. She aimed the remote past her mother’s latest gift to the wall unit beyond. A saucy voice she hadn’t heard in months filled the apartment.

“—hoping to get to the airport on time, it’s not looking good. I-5 north is still backed up from the Coronado bridge to Hawthorne due to a serious four-car collision earlier this evening. Ambulances have cleared the scene, but it could still take an hour or more to sit through the cleanup. Seek an alternate route. That’s it for now. In the traffic center, this is Country 99.5’s Candy O, saying—”

Karin punched the remote again, slapping the remote on the counter as a jazz CD kicked in. At least now she knew why Reese hadn’t returned her call. He and Jade had obviously heard about the accident and left early. Maybe it was for the best.

Chances were, the note was all some stupid joke.

Someone at the hospital was probably trying to get a rise out of her. Maybe Doug Callahan, maybe not. Heck, for all she knew, every other first-year resident would be getting the same note when they checked aboard. No doubt it was some sick rite of passage. Maybe even a drill of some sort. The Navy was big on them.

But what if the accusation was true?

She rounded the breakfast counter to scoop up the note.

Class twos are walking.

No. This had to be a prank.

If someone was stealing narcotics from the base hospital, wouldn’t she have been given a bit more to go on? Like a specific drug? Or a suspect? At the very least, a point of contact?

Well, she hadn’t.

And that was because this was a test. Someone obviously wanted to see if she was on her toes. Maybe even evaluate her integrity. Probably because of Doug.

Thump, thump, thump.

The knock on her door startled her so swiftly, she dropped the note. She grabbed the sheet of paper as it fluttered down, snagging it inches before it reached the cream carpet.

Reese?

Not unless their flight had been delayed along with the traffic. Hoping against hope, she refolded the note and slipped it into the breast pocket of her uniform as she headed for the door. Rising on her tiptoes, she peered through the peephole—and gasped.

Impossible!

But as she stumbled away from the door, she knew it wasn’t. Even from his backside, there was no mistaking that shock of straight black hair falling well below those broad shoulders. She had a special agent standing at her door, all right, but it wasn’t Reese Garrick.

It was his partner, TJ Vásquez.

She recovered quickly, creeping back to the door to tiptoe up and peer out. It was him all right. He still hadn’t turned around, but there was no doubt in her mind. That sleek six-foot-plus muscular frame could only belong to one man. As usual, he was wearing snug black jeans and his matching black leather jacket. The one that smelled just like him.

Half a year and a door between them, and she could still smell that jacket. The most incredible mix of leather and spice, with a tease of fresh air. Of course, the clincher was the equally black helmet cuffed under his arm. The one that matched the satin paint on his motorcycle. According to TJ, not just any motorcycle. A 1949 Indian Arrow. A classic.

All she knew was the bike was as dark and sleek and dangerous as he was.

Any hope she’d held out that it wasn’t him crumbled as he turned to glance down the hallway. At least he wasn’t facing the door. Six months was a long time. She blessed each and every one of those months as she re-acclimated herself to the sight of that dusky skin, proud nose and prominent cheekbones. She also doubly blessed the three inches of solid wood between them. It gave her something to hold on to. And then he turned.

In profile, Tomás Juan Vásquez was handsome.

Head on, he was downright devastating.

Even through the glass, the force of those deep-brown eyes and thick brooding brows punched her stomach straight through to her toes. She tried sucking in her breath one shallow gulp at a time, only to discover he’d knocked the air from her lungs, as well.

He stepped forward to rap on the door again, this time hard.

Damn. What the devil was she supposed to do?

If Reese didn’t know about the note, there was no way TJ could, either. So what was he doing here? And how had he gotten by the doorman? Peter had been known to turn away veteran cops, unless they had an official warrant—

Official?

Panic streaked through her as she zeroed in on the chilling explanation. But as TJ shifted the helmet to his left hand and raked his right through his hair, she realized the fear wasn’t irrational after all. It mutated to full-blown terror as she finally noticed the lines that had set in about his mouth, the tension threading through his gaze, as well as gripping his shoulders. It would take a direct blow to TJ’s heart to put that look there.

Jade. Reese.

The accident.

She grabbed the security chain and yanked it across the metal track, wrenching the door open as it popped free. “Oh, my God, how badly are they hurt?”

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