Note from Susan
In UNDER FIRE, the following scene is told from Minnie’s point of view. I thought you might like to see it from inside Big Mike’s head instead. He and Minnie are at a charity gala in a penthouse apartment.
Big Mike is senior management at Vitruvius Security, but as an ex-soldier, he’d rather be out in the field. However, he has just discovered that he can’t switch back to an undercover operational role because his relationship with Minnie, a supermodel, has made him famous. As a result of paparazzi shots of him and Minnie necking in an alley, he is famous. His online fans call him Beasty! On top of that, he hates living in the city, and he’s jealous of Johnny Ivashin, a guest at the gala, who might or might not have had a relationship with his woman in the past.
This scene occurs just after Big Mike lost his cool and told Minnie he quit his job. He then ejected a stockbroker, who was plying an underage model with alcohol, from the penthouse. Now that he has built up a head of steam, he’s not going to stop at just one stockbroker…
A smooth-faced woman in a shiny dress clutched her diamond necklace as if Big Mike might snatch it from her scrawny neck. She was part of a small crowd of partygoers that had gathered to watch him eject the broker from the charity gala. Well-bred horror was on their faces. People like this outsourced their violence to men like him, so they didn’t have to see it or hear it. Minnie glared at the woman who clutched her diamonds. Minnie was loyal to him. Is she?
“I’ve been thinking of dangling Johnny off the building. Want to watch?” he said calmly. People near them gasped. Minnie’s big blue eyes got bigger. She got between him and his audience, her red peignoir swirling about her legs, and held her hands up. She was tiny compared to him but his woman expected to control him with a gesture.
“There are witnesses,” she said, wrinkling her nose like a naughty angel. Lucifer.
“I’m not planning to drop him. Probably.” He watched her closely. Did she care for Johnny Ivashin? He flexed his shoulders.
“I saw Johnny and Rocco outside, near the catwalk, only minutes ago,” Minnie said, as innocent as a kitten. “We can all talk calmly about whatever is bothering you, Sweetie,” she said, nodding encouragingly.
“Talk,” he said with contempt. She didn’t seem unduly worried that he might drop Johnny Ivashin off the building, but with Minnie, what you saw wasn’t what you got. Those gold curls hid a scheming mind. Those limpid blue eyes and fluttering lashes hid the soul of a general. If she had been born male, she would have inherited her father’s criminal empire and run it well.
Ms. Previn appeared suddenly with a gray-haired gentleman in tow. Orville. “Anything we can help with?” Orville said, which was brave under the circumstances. Everyone else kept their distance.
“No. Who are you?” Minnie asked Orville. Her gaze took in Orville’s hand on Ms. Previn’s arm.
“Orveel, this is my darling Meenie. Meenie, this is Orveel,” Ms. Previn said. Her yellow bangles tinkled on her thin wrists as she pushed the sleeves of her yellow peignoir higher on her arms.
“Orville,” Orville corrected, “although I really like the way it sounds on Mila’s lips.”
“I got him for her,” Big Mike told Minnie. He was seeking her approval like a puppy. He had introduced Ms. Previn to Orville because Minnie had asked him to find a man for the older woman. Arf.
Minnie’s gaze inventoried Orville, his simple navy suit and his plain watch.
“We both like Richter,” Ms. Previn said, pushing her caramel hair from her shoulder in a very feminine gesture. Orveel winked at her. Ms. Previn colored prettily.
Minnie smiled. Orville had passed muster. “Big Mike ejected a man who was trying to get Tayla drunk. She’s barely sixteen,” Minnie confided to the older couple.
“Tchat,” Ms. Previn said.
Orville applauded vigorously and looked about as if expecting others to join him. They did. Soon that side of the room was applauding Big Mike without knowing why. The scrawny woman in the shiny dress finally took her hand off her diamond necklace. Big Mike scowled at her. She set her hand back on her necklace and backed away. He was not to be trifled with.
“Wait ’til they see what I’m going to do with Ivashin as an encore.” Big Mike sidestepped Minnie. He strode toward the balcony. People dived out of his path. Minnie ran after him, her peignoir flaring out behind her, alarm on her beautiful face. “If I’m not working in the city, we can spend more time at my place.” It was time to lay down the law.
“Lovely.” Minnie scampered to keep pace with him. His house outside the city reminded her of her childhood home — a bunker — but with more trees. Tough luck, Baby.
“Quiet weekends,” he said.
“Wonderful,” she simpered as they exited the apartment onto the large patio designated for her fashion show. A breeze lifted her hair. Big Mike closed the glass door behind them, dampening the buzzing chatter of the gala attendees instantly. The patio was deserted. A long, still pool dominated the space. A white catwalk arched over the water like a white bridge over a canal. Lit candles floated in swathes in the water. At the end of the catwalk, the city was spread out, as sparkly as the diamond necklaces that adorned the scrawny throats in the penthouse. A banner with its print of a joyful, drenched child flapped in the wind. They were raising a fortune for children tonight, but why couldn’t these people just write a check for charity? Why did they have to be courted for their cash?
“It’s everything I hoped for,” she murmured, staring at the white, tiered seating the event planner had built alongside the catwalk. The VIPs would crowd those seats to watch her strut down that catwalk bare except for a few feathers.
“I’ll build a deck under your hammock. You can have lanterns and stuff. And an in-the-ground pool.” Like him, she did not belong here. She was the entertainment. He was the muscle. They belonged together. In his house outside this hellish city.
“I think Rocco and Johnny went that way.” She pointed to the most distant, darkest corner of the patio. The wind stirred her peignoir. “There’s a peepshow view of Johnny’s building from that corner. Rocco is probably pointing it out to him.”
Johnny. He had almost forgotten about him. Minnie’s blue eyes addled him. “Most of my work will be outside the country,” he said. “I’ll try limit it to a few months at a time.”
“What? No.” Those beautiful eyes got shiny.
“Can’t be helped. I’m famous now. With fans.” Disgust. Big Mike took off for the dark corner. His hands flexed at his side. Minnie kept pace, her heels tap-tapping.
There was nobody in the corner. “You lie to me, Baby?” he said, turning to her. “Again.”
She blocked his exit. “We need to talk—”
“I’m done talking.”
She stepped close, butting up against him. Her soft breasts pushed into him. His arms circled her automatically. “Are you done talking to me?” Tears trickled from the corners of her eyes.
His big thumbs brushed them away gently. “Are these real?” She could cry at will.
“Mostly.” She was woebegone. Soft.
“Minnie…” He wanted to resist her, but he couldn’t. Her mouth trembled. He bent to kiss her. It was a fleeting caress but when he lifted his head, she stretched for more of him. She grabbed his shirt with both hands to trap him close.
“I kissed Johnny a lifetime ago,” she confessed. “There was maybe some light groping. Some expensive flowers. I can’t remember. I’ve never seen him naked. Definitely not. He looks like he’d be furry, don’t you think?” Her small hands smoothed his shirt front as if trying to smooth away his dark mood. His inked skin lay hidden beneath the crisp white cotton. She had made the mistake of forgetting it.
“You kissed Johnny?” he said. “Like this?” He took her mouth. This time, it was an aggressive plunder. She opened to him, meeting aggression with sweetness. He rumbled deep in his chest and turned the dominating kiss into a smoky seduction. She melted.
“Nothing like that,” she said when he finally let her up for air. She framed his face in her hands. “You have zero reason to be jealous of Johnny. You can work for Rocco, and Johnny will just be another client.”
He spun her away from him. “I can work for Rocco and Johnny, can I?” he said softly, his mouth brushing her ear.
She faced the city. All that lay between her and a plummet to the street far below was a plexiglass barrier. He crowded her, pressing her into the cool-to-the-touch barrier. She flattened her palms against it to steady herself. Pushed back against him.
“Do you see those people across the way? In their offices,” he said against her ear. The wind lifted her gold hair, so it tickled his cheek.
The building opposite was lit. There were rows of empty offices, each with a window to the world. Several were still occupied by figures hunched over desks. “They’re working late.” She sounded breathless. He eased away from her, so she wasn’t pressed against the plexiglass. She thought he was letting her go free, but his hand cupped her breast through thin silk. His fingers plucked her nipple. It puckered obediently. Minnie arched into his hand the way she always did.
He ran his mouth down her neck. “Typing. Reading reports. Going to meetings. Stuck inside,” he said.
She nodded. Her breath quickened. She made a sound as if she were having trouble thinking of anything beyond his touch.
“That’s never going to be me, Minnie.” He was hard. She shifted restlessly against him. “You like this, don’t you, Baby?”
“Yes.” She tipped her head against the cool plexiglass.
“You’re not one of them either, Minnie.” His fingers reached around to raise her chin an inch. “Look at them while I touch you.” An order.
She watched a woman in a red skirt and white blouse leave her office and reappear in the office next door while he pushed her nightie and peignoir high on her thighs. “We’re nothing like them,” she said, her breathing uneven. She spread her legs. “You can have this. All of this. And me.”
“What? A penthouse?” His fingers slid under her panties. “Helipad?” They drifted through her wetness. “Rooftop pool?” A surer stroke made her moan. Her head dropped forward to rest against the glass.
“Eyes up,” he ordered. He nipped her earlobe with his teeth.
She lifted her head so she could keep her eyes on the people across the way. “More,” she demanded, moving against his fingers, against him.
He laughed softly against her ear. “You don’t care if they look up and see you?”
She didn’t give a damn. She just wanted more of that touch. Of him. “Coolidge-wild,” he whispered. There was something familiar about this. About her response. He frowned. A memory pinged. He turned her in his arms and pressed back against the glass. He loomed over her.
“Up,” she demanded. She expected him to lift her. “More?” she suggested throatily and shimmied against him. “Touch me, damnit.”
He bent until his head was level with hers. “This reminds me of another night. Outside. Away from people. A cool breeze.”
He could see her mind working. Scheming. She was trying to get ahead of him, but she had no idea where he was going with this.
“After your balloon event at the gallery,” he said. “I had you in the alley up against the wall, moaning. You were wet for me. Hot. You wanted me inside you. And you’re a Coolidge. You didn’t give a damn that we were in the street because we were private. But you stopped me.”
Her lashes swept down and cloaked her eyes. “I remember I had a headache.”
She had been wearing next to nothing under a big white, winter coat. Hot for her, he had dragged her into a darkened doorway on a deserted street. She had urged him on but had suddenly changed her mind. “You knew there was a photographer positioned on that street to take photographs,” he said. “I would know if someone followed us. The only way they could have gotten all of those pictures was if you told them when and where to wait.” He slapped the barricade with the flat of his palm. “You set me up as Beasty.”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t like that.”
“A woman ambushed me at the grazing tables for a selfie. She squealed. Then some women from the National Gallery Museum board invited me to lunch next week. I think I’m the red meat part of their lunch.”
“Rocco wants me to charm Claire Ivashin. Me. Charm.”
“How could I predict one arranged photo, after the balloon event, would cause this? Nobody could.”
He reared back. She had just confirmed his suspicions. She had ruined his career for a publicity shot. He stepped back from her. Minnie hung her head and locked her hands together as if contrite.
“Problem?” came a familiar male voice from behind them. Minnie angled her head past him as he turned his head. Her brother, Crash, and his fiancé, Mary, stood behind them. Crash was tall and blond. Like his sister. He held his fiancé close. She was short, dark and rounded. His opposite. But they fit better than he and Minnie did. They were pulling in the same direction.
“Go away,” Minnie told her brother.
“Get lost.” Big Mike’s command was clipped and angry.
Crash and Mary didn’t move. Neither took instruction well.
Big Mike stared down at his woman. His impossible, brave, reckless, big-hearted, ruthless, scheming woman. “I can’t do ops work if people recognize me, Minnie,” he said. “What do I do now?”
“But you’re the Operations Director of Vitruvius Security,” she said. “Being famous will help you.”
“It will help you, not me.”
He watched her fumble for understanding, but her head shake was automatic. A general dismissing collateral damage? Starlight silvered her curls and gilded her perfect face. He loved her. All of her.
“I’m done.” Her eyes widened at his quiet words. He was quitting. He turned and pushed past Crash and Mary. He needed to get away from Minnie to clear his head. Behind him, he heard her make a sound of distress. He walked away, squashing his instinctive response to that sound.
Behind him, he heard Crash tell Minnie to “Stop. Just stop.”
Stop, just stop.
DEAR READER, THERE’S MORE…
First, a request — if you enjoyed Under Fire and this bonus scene, please leave a review for Under Fire. Nothing sells books more than good word of mouth, and I so appreciate it!
Second, if you haven’t read the first three books in the Lethal in Love series, you can get the box set here.
If you want to read the next book, which is about Rocco, you will find it here.