Protector S.O.S. PROTECTOR S.O.S.
"Heroes Inc., Book 6"
Harlequin Intrigue® #814
Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0373228147
Publisher: Harlequin Books
Pub. Date: December 2004

Sandy waited for Travis to shout at her. To tell her how irresponsible she'd been. That Ellie's life was in danger because she'd led his little sister into a dangerous situation. She braced for him to yell at her for refusing to keep weapons on board, for accepting a commission from a stranger. But without saying one word, Travis flipped open his cell phone.

Arrogant as ever, Travis hadn't listened to her warning that if they contacted the authorities, Ellie would be killed. Sandy didn't wait for him to press the send button, she grabbed for the phone. "Don't!"

Travis pulled the phone away. He'd always had the most amazing reflexes, but she'd forgotten exactly how fast he could move. She'd also forgotten how he could drill her with one of his I-know-better-than-you-do looks that always made her furious. Anger at him chased back some of her fear, until she looked, really looked at Travis' face and realized he was more dangerous now.

He'd changed during the last eight years. The gaunt lines of youth had been replaced by the solid maturity of a man. If possible, he'd grown more handsome, more cocky. His shoulders had broadened, his chest had thickened with powerful muscles that tapered to a flat stomach. But his face with its bold nose and square jaw remained compelling. His dark hair that gleamed in the sunlight was still thick, but cut short. She didn't understand how his eyes, the exact same smoky gray as Ellie's, could convey such harsh disapproval with just a glance. "My phone call will bounce through four continents and five satellites. The message is encrypted with a code not even the Pentagon can break. You needn't fear anyone will listen in."

The Travis she'd known wouldn't have explained at all, but this Travis gave her the opportunity to offer an opinion. "Yeah, but when they can't break your code, do you suppose they'll think you're one of the authorities they told me not to contact?"

Sandy didn't know why she bothered to argue. Travis never listened to her. Now that he was thirty and undoubtedly more set in his ways, she was probably wasting her breath. The hard look on his face, the grim set of his mouth warned her to choose her words carefully—for Ellie's sake, she had to work with him. If she'd had any other choice, she'd never have called Travis. But with Ellie's life on the line, she'd do anything to help her—even put up with her brother again. While Sandy didn't know exactly what Travis did for a living, she knew it was high-tech, dangerous and clandestine work for a secret organization that worked with the US government.

Sandy had expected Travis to come charging in to save Ellie. She'd known he'd be full of himself, but she needed his expertise. So when after considering her words, he pressed the off button and said, "Good point," her lower jaw dropped.

The Travis she'd known would never have admitted that she had a good idea, never mind let her suggestion change his mind. Perhaps along with his body's maturing, his mind had also grown wiser. Or perhaps his fear for Ellie was making him consider other options. Whatever accounted for the change in him, she hoped he'd learned to control the temper that fueled him.

If Travis' temper had been a motor, it would have run on high octane. If his temper had been a boat, it would have been a sleek racer, raring to go and easily tipped. And if his temper had been a storm, it would have been a Northeaster—powerful, raging and disastrous.

Years ago, Sandy had decided she didn't want to drown in one of his storms. And yet, she'd always been drawn to the passion that fueled his temper. There was a turbulence to Travis that made him the most exciting man she'd ever known, but that attraction came with a cost, a price so high that being around him was dangerous to her well being.

After the most passionate of flings, Sandy had concluded she couldn't live in the chaos that always surrounded Travis. Their breakup had been painful, but necessary. She'd cut her losses and gone on. And as a means of self-protection she'd avoided Travis' during his infrequent trips to visit Ellie. For her own sanity, she didn't want to risk falling for him again. Incredible passion wasn't worth the accompanying heartache.

"We need help. I'll wait until I can use a land line and a pay phone."

She couldn't believe her ears. Travis, the original Mr. Go-It-Alone had become a team player. Stunned by his transformation, Sandy realized that the man she was sitting beside must have gone through more than she'd imagined to have changed so much. Ellie had hinted that Travis's stint in Special Forces had taken a toll, but Sandy hadn't wanted to discuss him—not when the subject was so raw and painful. So Ellie had honored her wishes and rarely mentioned his name.

She peered at Travis over her sunglasses. "I'm all for getting help, but if there's any chance of a leak . . ."

His eyes snapped with the old temper, but he kept it caged. "We need help with Vanderpelt. The Shey Group, the people I work with, will get me Vanderpelt's history—everything from where he was born to where he keeps his money. I need to know whom Vanderpelt trusts. Where he's from. What other property he owns. Everything about his business to make the right decisions."

"You have access to that kind of information?"

He nodded. "We also need blueprints of the island. Satellite photos might tell us if Ellie is there. We may need an assault team to land. Or a secret approach might be better, depending on the number of men and defensive positions. I need expert military analysis. We don't have the time, expertise or equipment to do this all alone."

Travis sounded as if he knew what he needed, as if he was an expert. And a stranger. Instead of responding emotionally, he'd laid out a plan in a logical progression that had clued her into the fact that the organization he worked for must have extraordinary resources. "Okay. But Vanderpelt expects you and me to deliver his boat. We've got to find it, repair it, then sail it to his island."

"The Shey Group can help us there, too."

Travis spoke as if he had no doubt his organization would help them. She didn't question his judgment, because one thing hadn't changed. Travis had always loved his sister. And Sandy had no doubt he would do whatever it took to rescue her. Making the decision to call Travis had been difficult. She'd worried that his hotheaded temper would hurt her chance of rescuing Ellie, but now she was very glad to have Travis at her side.