Rugged. Tall. Built to last. Linc Bannon has it all—and he’s there every time Kenzie needs him. Their mission is to serve their country stateside, Linc in high-level intelligence, Kenzie training combat dogs. Independent and sexy, Kenzie is definitely one of a kind—and the only one he wants. But if you ask her, she doesn’t need a hero in her life.
Until two of her friends, thousands of miles apart, are suddenly struck down. One, a soldier, is dead; the other, a civilian, is barely alive. Linc goes into action and uncovers a lethal web connecting the tragic events. A killer is at large, unhinged and with unfinished business. Now Kenzie has no choice but to join forces with the one man who can get past her defenses . . .
Praise for Janet Dailey and her novels
“Dailey confirms her place as a top mega-seller.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Evocative, flavorful . . . Dailey casts her spell.”—Publishers Weekly
“Romance and suspense blend seamlessly into the tightly crafted plot.”—Romantic Times
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BANNON BROTHERS HONOR
By JANET DAILEY
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Janet Dailey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAn immense oak shaded the Maryland mansion beneath it, casting sun-dappled light through thousands of leaves. The tree and the house were the same age, survivors from a vanished and more gracious past. The lowest branches of the grand old oak arched down to the green lawn, providing an ideal backdrop for informal photos of the Bannon wedding party.
It was a perfect fall afternoon. The landscape was touched here and there with the scarlet and gold of sumac and native creeping vines, bright dashes of color against the shimmering water in the near distance. This late in the day, the blue sky shaded to indigo where the slanting rays of the sun had begun to retreat across the vast expanse of the Chesapeake Bay. The plantation estate that had once surrounded the mansion had stretched to its shores, lined with marsh grass turning green into gold.
Linc Bannon, the best man, and his brother Deke, the groomsman, took their places and followed the photographer's directions. Turn this way. Smile. Best foot forward.
"Excellent," the man said, nodding to his assistant, who dashed off to fetch the next group to pose. "Thank you, gentlemen. Very natural. You two could model."
Linc shot Deke a doubtful look. "Him? Seriously?"
His younger brother chuckled and slipped off his jacket, throwing it over his shoulder. "That's what I was going to say about you."
The resemblance between them was unmistakable. They both had dark eyes and dark brown hair that the breeze was ruffling, and both were tall and well-built, with a rugged physicality that the formalwear didn't hide. But the faint scar on Linc's face was one difference that stood out. His authoritative stance marked him as the more responsible of the two. At the moment, Deke had other things in mind.
"Here come the bridesmaids," he said, looking at several young women in taffeta whose gowns brushed the lawn as they ran over it to the oak.
Linc glanced at them. "You can turn on the charm."
"I may be younger than you, but you could learn something," Deke said solemnly. "Observe the master."
A lovely brunette reached them first and singled out Deke with a flirtatious look. The shawl she'd thrown on over otherwise bare shoulders slipped down a strategic inch or so. She adjusted it with a graceful touch of her hand. "Hi, Linc. Are we next?"
Deke smiled down at her. "I believe you are. We're heading back to the party."
He nodded toward the striped tents set up for the reception where more than two hundred guests were circulating, eager to enjoy the social event of the season.
An hour or so later the celebration was in full swing, kicked off with several toasts. To the newlyweds, Erin and RJ Bannon. To the Montgomerys, Erin's family, reunited at last. To RJ's two brothers and their mother Sheila. To true love.
Waiters dashed around with artfully composed plates and napkin-swathed bottles of champagne while guests chatted animatedly and laughed and flirted and caught up on old times. Then the dancing began.
Linc leaned back in his chair and watched, fiddling with the stem of his narrow glass and thinking about who he wanted in his arms right now.
Kenzie, of course. Not that she was here. He wondered where she was and what she was doing. Not that it was any of his business.
At the moment, she considered him a friend. He was working on an upgrade, but she'd been busy lately. He'd invited her to the wedding as his guest, but she'd begged off, saying something vague about a previous commitment on the day. Professional, not personal. That was something. Anyway, he had no intention of giving up. She was definitely worth waiting for.
There was no shortage of gorgeous women at the reception, but not one was in her league, in his opinion. Kenzie was his definition of perfect. Smart. And sexy, with a super-fit, petite body that looked fantastic in a plain white T-shirt and camo cargos—her version of fatigues, now that she was no longer a soldier. Although Uncle Sam wanted her back.
A female guest strolled nearby, trilling a hello to a friend a few tables away. Linc looked idly at them as the woman stopped to chat, then realized she was holding a tiny dog wearing a ruffled collar in the crook of her arm. He'd taken it for a purse at first. Her pampered pet blinked and yawned as the woman moved away.
He shook his head, amused. Not Kenzie's kind of dog, that was for sure.
She'd been a K9 trainer for the army, on a fast track right out of basic. Kenzie wasn't one to brag, but Linc had been able to fill in the blanks from the bare facts she'd offered. Her knack for the work had gotten her quickly promoted to a position of critical importance: training military handlers assigned to new animals and developing new skill sets for the experienced dogs to keep up with what was going on in country.
Then something had happened—she wouldn't say what. She didn't seem to want to reenlist. She didn't seem to want to do anything but work. A lot.
Which was why he was solo on his brother's wedding day.
Two weeks ago he'd stopped by the JB Kennels and seen her out in the field with a half-grown shepherd. Their jumps and leaps looked like pure joy, but he knew she was testing the pup's reflexes and instincts. In time, under her tutelage, the young animal would learn to turn play into power. The sight of the two of them, twisting and turning in midair in mock battle, was something he would never forget.
Hell, Kenzie looked good even in thick bite sleeves and padded pants. But he let himself imagine her in something closefitting and classy, her hair brushed to a silken shine and her head tipped back to gaze up at him as they danced to a slow number. Like the one the band was playing right now ...
"Linc. You with us?"
He snapped out of his reverie and looked up at his younger brother. "Just thinking."
Deke took hold of a bentwood chair, spun it around with one hand, and sat on it backward, resting his arms on the curved top and stretching out his long legs.
"About what? Or should I say who?" he asked shrewdly.
"Give me a break, Deke." Linc took a sip of champagne and set the glass aside.
His younger brother wasn't done ribbing him. "You've got someone on your mind. I can see it in your eyes."
"What are you talking about?"
"That moody, romantic, distracted look is what I'm talking about."
"You're imagining things, Deke."
His brother only laughed. "Am I? Just so you know, one wedding per year is all I can handle. I'm not ready to see you walk down the aisle."
Linc smiled slightly. "If I found the right woman, why not?"
Deke was tactful enough to quit at that point. He surveyed the crowd. "Look at all these gorgeous babes. How come you're not dancing?"
"I'm waiting for a song I like," Linc parried.
Deke gave up, shaking his head. "Okay. Have it your way." He returned the inviting smile of the brunette on the other side of the dance floor. She brightened, but stayed where she was, smoothing the brilliant folds of her taffeta dress. "There's my girl. I think she likes me."
"Go for it. You're not taken."
"Neither are you."
Linc only shrugged.
Deke turned his head and studied him for a long moment. "C'mon, bro. You can tell me. What don't I know?"
Deke didn't seem to believe that reply. "Wait a minute—there was someone. Her name was—it's coming back to me—Karen, right?"
For a second, Linc drew a blank. Then he remembered. Months ago Kenzie had used that name when she'd showed up at Bannon's door with a guard dog to loan him as a favor to Linc.
"Karen," Deke said impatiently. "You know who I mean."
Linc smiled. "Oh, yeah. Her. Ah, we're just friends."
Deke shot him a knowing look.
"If it changes, I'll let you know," Linc said calmly.
His brother lost interest when the brunette seized her chance and swept across the dance floor as the band paused. "I do believe she really is interested." Deke ran a hand over his brown locks and asked, "How's the hair?"
"Looks great. Very natural," Linc teased, echoing the photographer's comment.
"Shut up." Deke straightened his lapels.
The two brothers rose at the same time, but Linc turned to go before the brunette arrived.
A group of younger guests, including Deke and date, decided to keep the celebration going when the reception formally ended, paying the limo drivers to take them to a nearby hotel for an impromptu after-party.
Linc took the red pickup he'd had since forever. He was sentimental about it, though his brother had nixed the old truck for the procession from the church. The car he drove every day was sleek, black, and not particularly noticeable.
Everyone except him headed straight for the noisy lounge to dance into the wee hours. He wandered away down a carpeted corridor, feeling a little lonely. Without intending to, he ended up in the hotel's bar. It was mostly empty. There was only one other customer, an older man having a beer, but no bartender. The pounding music in the lounge was barely audible in the dim, luxuriously furnished room.
He slid onto a stool, folding his arms on the counter and looking around idly while he waited to be served. The liquor bottles arrayed in ranks behind the bar reflected blue light coming from an unseen source. The bar was dark otherwise, but he didn't mind.
The bartender appeared from a door at the end of the polished counter and took his order, exchanging a few words with Linc as he put the drink on a napkin. Then he turned away to set up, setting clean glasses of various types on trays and filling up a compartmented container with slices of lemon and lime and bright red cherries.
Linc barely noticed. He took one sip and set the drink down, intending to make it last. He had nothing to do and nowhere to go except back to the lounge.
Later for that. He was truly tired, and it was catching up with him. Being the best man was serious work. Linc had rolled out of bed at six A.M. and barely had a chance to catch his breath since.
Zoning out over a cold drink felt fine. The TV over the bar offered the usual ten thousand stations via cable. Right now it was tuned to local news, on low. Good. He didn't really want to listen. The weatherman was saying something about clouds rolling in.
So be it. The perfect day was over.
Linc undid his black silk bow tie, taking a deep breath or two as he eased the collar button open next. He wasn't made to wear a monkey suit.
He half heard the reporter going on and on about an accident just outside of a town with a name he wasn't going to remember. Not a pile-up, not a jackknifed semi, just a solitary car.
Filler. News shows made a huge deal out of a fender bender when there wasn't anything else to yap about.
Then the live feed crackled and filled the screen behind the guy and Linc winced. The accident wasn't minor. It looked like a rollover. Smashed frame, crumpled black chassis scraped to the gray undercoat in a lot of places, back wheels high in the air.
Linc could just make out an ambulance, a red and white blotch in the background, and activity around it, a stretcher being loaded. He got a glimpse of what looked like a head-and-neck stabilizer frame attached to the stretcher.
Fatalities got a body bag, not that rig. He automatically wished the injured person well—he or she was lucky to be alive.
He scowled when the cameraman evaded the highway patrol officer's gaze and moved around for a close-up of the nearly totaled vehicle. The reporter on the scene dogged him, trying to stay in the frame and not always succeeding. They both knew what would get on TV: a dramatic shot, preferably with blood.
Good thing there were a few seconds of lag time before any broadcast, Linc thought. Imagine the shock of recognizing a victim of a bad accident or seeing some identifying detail—
He pushed away his barely touched drink. Apparently that rule didn't apply to the film crew of this two-bit TV station. Linc knew that license plate. There was only one word on it.
Jesus. The realization that he was looking at Kenzie's crashed sports car hit him like a hammer blow. He'd parked next to it at her apartment more than once. The yellow racing stripes on the damaged black paint were half-hidden by wisps of smoke, but he could just make them out now. His glimpse of the license plate clinched it.
That had to have been her on the stretcher. Right now she must be inside the ambulance. He heard the siren kick up to a wail as the reporter kept on talking, one hand placed awkwardly on a back wheel, spinning it until a highway patrolman yelled at him to stop and got in front of the lens. A dark blue uniform filled the frame and someone at the TV station cut to a commercial.
Linc swore under his breath. He yanked a ten out of his wallet and tossed it on the polished wood of the bar, running out of the hotel to the parking lot.
Trying to think.
He'd only seen one stretcher—she must have been alone in the car. How bad were her injuries? He had to find her, and more importantly, help the cops and hospital personnel get info they might need.
Where the hell had he parked? He stopped, looked around wildly, and finally saw his truck, half-hidden by a catering van. He raced to it, unlocked the door, slid behind the wheel, and started the engine, shifting rapidly into reverse, backing out a little too fast. Somebody honked.
He didn't care. He had to do something. Talk to the cops, find out who'd been notified. Her folks, of course—they'd make that call first. He could get the word out to others. After he was sure she was in a hospital with a top-notch trauma team.
His thoughts were spinning faster than his wheels. It came back to him that Kenzie's parents were in Germany, her dad's last posting before retirement; they'd just moved into base housing. The new phone number might not be in her emergency contacts. She had no brothers or sisters. He only knew a few of her friends. By name. Not well.
Linc found his smartphone and jammed one end of a charger into the cigarette lighter and the other end into the phone so it wouldn't die on him.
The name of the town—the reporter had said it. He cursed himself for not remembering. Summerton. Summerville. Something like that. It hadn't rung a bell.
Then it came back to him. Summer River. Yeah, that was it. It sounded small. He hoped it wasn't too far away.
Once he was west of the bay and back on roads he knew, he pulled over for a few seconds to get a locator app on his phone and tagged the nearest big hospitals to Summer River that qualified as trauma centers. With mangled wreckage like that, she could be critically injured.
Setting the phone to GPS mode, he gunned the truck out onto the road again. Navigating the turns at top speed took concentration, but it still gave him too much time to think. He and Kenzie had barely gotten to know each other in all the months since they'd met. The universe wasn't fair.
He drove faster, keeping an eye on the rearview mirror for following cops. The federal ID he carried would get him waved on about an instant after it was requested, but he didn't want to waste even that much time with John Law.
Where had she been going?
She never was home much, out of town on training gigs more often than not while he'd been cooped up in a featureless building near Langley. His CO had him tracking a worm inside a secret government blacknet. Some hacker five thousand miles away didn't like democracy.
He'd gotten rid of it. Damage repaired and bait left for the perpetrator. The free world would never know, but a couple of four-stars had come over from the Pentagon to personally shake his hand.
All that time. Gone. He shouldn't have been so patient. He shouldn't have waited for her to make the first real moves.
A few drops of rain hit the curved glass of the windshield by the time he raced down the bay road that would take him to I-95. Five minutes later, it was pouring. The glass was obscured by thick, spattering drops that made everything blurry.
An eighteen-wheeler overtook him on the left, throwing blinding spray back against his windshield. Linc swerved to the right, wondering if a rig that size had done in Kenzie's car. Could be. But she'd been driving under clear skies.
Just let her be all right. That didn't seem like too much to ask.
Merged into six fast-moving lanes, he headed straight for the largest hospital of the four he'd tagged, a few miles from the highway. The emergency room entrance was brightly lit, marked by a red sign. He screeched the truck into a parking spot and jumped out, barely noticing the pounding rain.
Excerpted from BANNON BROTHERS HONOR by JANET DAILEY Copyright © 2012 by Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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