Riding the Storm

(ACRO Book 1)
Bantam Dell
September 2007
ISBN: 0-385-34080-X
ISBN-13: 978-0385340809

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A storm’s rage. A woman’s desire.

A man with the power to set them both free.

He can summon lightning at will. Emerge unscathed from the center of a tornado. Strip a woman down to her barest defenses through the sheer force of his sexuality. He’s gorgeous, dangerous, and the target of parameteorologist Haley Holmes’s latest mission. Haley has been dispatched to the Louisiana bayou to investigate the phenomenon known as Remy Begnaud – man with a gift he never wanted: the ability to control a storm’s fury. But even a woman trained in bizarre weather phenomenon has no defense against the electrifying power of the Ex-Navy SEAL…a power his enemies would kill to control.

With her agency monitoring their every move, Haley’s job is to seduce Remy, gain his trust — and help him harness his extraordinary gift. But who will protect her from this voracious lover who’s introducing her to a new world of erotic thrills – a man who grows increasingly insatiable with each new weather event? Haley knows a big storm is approaching –and with it will come unexpected delights. But, so, too, will the storm unleash her greatest fears: An enemy bent on destroying Remy. And her worst fear of all…falling in love with this magnificent man, then having to betray him…

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  • Sydney Croft Website
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    Reviews

    Riding the Storm will ride your every fantasy….A power punch of erotic heat, emotion and adventure. Remy takes you on an adventure you won’t soon forget.

    Lora Leigh, USA Today Bestselling Author

    Electric, a deliciously erotic thrill ride that will have readers on the edge of their seats!

    USA Today bestselling author Angela Knight

    “…a deft combination of erotic heat and page-turning story.”

    Jenna Black, author of Watchers in the Night

    “In this action-packed, inventive tale, each character’s strengths and weaknesses are more fantastic than the next. The various plots and characters ebb and flow together seamlessly…Croft redefines sizzle and spark with weather-driven passion.”

    Four Stars, Romantic Times

    “A a fury of electrifying passion and exciting action. RIDING THE STORM by Sydney Croft is a definite keeper for the readers of erotic romance.”

    TOP PICK – Romance Reader At Heart

    “Absolutely fabulous!! RIDING THE STORM has the perfect balance of action/adventure and hot, steamy sex.”

    Fresh Fiction


    Excerpt

    Chapter 1

    T-Remy, where you at? Sa va mal.

    “So what else is new, Dad?” Remy muttered, squinting through the darkness and rain the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with as he struggled to stay on the muddy road and redial his cell phone at the same time.

    For his old man to say things were bad meant one of two things: Either everything was business as usual and he was being dramatic, or the world was coming to an end. There was only black or white with his father, which is why Remy found himself comfortably in the gray most of the time.

    And really, things were always going badly for Remy Senior, and calling T-Remy, as he was known affectionately around these parts, was like calling in his own personal cavalry. Navy style. Except that Remy had resigned his commission last month and had taken his final leave from his SEAL team seven days earlier, something he was not looking forward to telling his father.

    Following in the old man’s footsteps, Remy Senior had told him proudly eight years earlier, then signed the papers allowing his son to enlist on his seventeenth birthday, right after he graduated high school.

    The Navy had been T-Remy’s way out of the bayou, and joining the SEAL teams had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done. Leaving them had been as well, but he’d always known, on every level, that he wasn’t meant to be a team player.

    So really, there was no excuse on God’s green bayou not to visit and check on his father. Family was family, and all that crap, even though this was the last thing he wanted to do.

    Still no answer. Not even a damned machine on the other end of either the house or cell line a full three days and seven hours since Remy Senior’s last call. He threw the phone down and pushed his truck forward on the muddy road leading to his old man’s house. Hurricane season had hit the bayou hard this year, and he couldn’t be sure if that’s why his father had called.

    Last night, Remy had been drawing again in his sleep – the same picture he’d been drawing since he was six years old, the same picture he’d been drawing every single night for the past six months, the fist against a background of clouds, clutching a handful of lightning bolts in a firm grasp – and he knew the hurricane that stirred from nowhere late last night was going to follow him inland from the coast. He’d always been a lure for storms. A human weather vane. Rumor held he’d been born during a hurricane, born and then left on the church’s doorstep while the night winds howled around him.

    There was no denying that there was something about him and weather. He could predict it, ride it out, always knew when Mother Nature was going to piss on his parade. His former teammates called him Storm, as more of a joke than anything and mainly when he wasn’t around to hear it, because Remy never did take well to jokes.

    Lately, Mother Nature had been working her magic overtime on him, necessitating the early retirement, and today was no exception. Especially when the bridge started falling away behind his truck. He tried not to look back in fascination as the heavy logs that had been there for as long as he could remember broke like matchsticks under the wailing wind.

    Yeah, this couldn’t be good. He didn’t feel like taking a swim in the murky water below. Or losing his truck. Never mind his aching ribs, freshly injured from an attempted mugging when he’d left his apartment in Norfolk for the bayou.

    He urged the accelerator slow and steady, not wanting to encourage the bridge to fall directly underneath him. Five more endless feet and he’d be crossed over into no-man’s-land and he could worry about getting back out later.

    Part of him wanted to stop the truck right then and there, stand in the middle of nature’s fury and let her try to kick his ass. But his feeling of responsibility nagged at him harder.

    No time for play, T-Remy.

    But that didn’t mean that Mother Nature couldn’t play with him in the worst possible way, and his cock hardened in painful reminder. He’d tried to ignore the urges that started last night while he slept, the ones that would normally drive him from his bed, hot, restless and prowling for anything to scratch his itch.

    That wasn’t going to happen tonight, and he forced himself to tamp it down, turn it off and, within fifteen minutes, his truck turned up the dirt path and pulled in front of the house he’d grown up in.

    The place was still a shithole.

    Three years away and a storm that split the heavens wide open over the bayou hadn’t softened the memories, and he was glad he’d made the drive at night. Broad daylight wasn’t going to be any kinder and he hadn’t been expecting much anyway.

    His truck moved easily over the pitted driveway and stopped just short of the ancient garage that had long since lost its door. He strapped his knife onto his left bicep with a black band of Velcro, because the local gators tended to get riled up during a storm, especially when they were displaced from their bayou home. More than a few times during his youth he’d been surprised by one or two lost ones that were just as pissed to see him as he was them. He’d learned how to alligator wrestle the hard way, a necessary survival skill around here.

    He got out, grabbed his bag and went toward the back door before he lost nerve and turned tail. And the more he thought about it, the angrier he got, until it balled in his gut and hung there as he reached the door.

    He’d lost the keys to the house, and tried to lose his way back too, years earlier. Of course, his father never locked the door. Hell, he couldn’t pay a thief to come through this place.

    The first thing he noticed when he flipped on the light was that it worked. Admittedly, he’d flipped it on out of habit, but he’d figured it was a sure bet the electric, and other bills, hadn’t been paid in months. The only thing he knew for sure was that his father had called him from the house and now there was no sign of the guy to be found.

    The next thing he noticed was that the kitchen was clean. Scrubbed clean. No dishes anywhere but in the cabinets, and there was even a cheerful yellow dish towel hanging on the stove handle.

    The third thing he noticed was the sound of water running. His thoughts immediately went along the lines of a broken pipe or a leak in the roof. He dropped the bag and moved toward the bathroom.

    A simultaneous burst of lightning and crack of thunder made the power flicker and then putter out as he reached the bathroom doorway. The storm illuminated the small bathroom briefly, just long enough for him to get a very good look at the beautiful, naked woman in the shower.

    Beautiful and naked, but not friendly. Screaming like a swamp cat caught in a coon trap, she hurled a bottle of shampoo at him. He ducked a split second before it could hit him, and it bounced off the wall behind his head.

    Welcome home, Remy. This was going to be worse than he thought.

    # # #

    Haley Marie Holmes loved surprises. She did not, however, love strange men surprising her in the shower. In the dark. That she’d been expecting the strange man at some point didn’t matter. He could have knocked.

    “Get out of my bathroom!” she shouted as she pulled the cheap plastic shower curtain around her. The clear cheap plastic shower curtain.

    “Your bathroom? This is my goddamned house, so I think you’re a little mixed up, lady.”

    The voice was a low, controlled drawl, the sentiment behind the words anything but, and the man she hoped was Little Remy stood outlined in the light from the storm, dripping wet in the middle of the small bathroom, wearing a T-shirt, cargo pants and flip-flops, like he was coming in from a day at the beach instead of the outer bands of a hurricane. Except she’d never seen any man wear a lethal-looking knife to the beach.

    She shivered, raised her gaze to the strong, masculine features of his face, then upward to his hair. She’d always been a sucker for dark hair, and he wore his short but longer than the ate-up military guys she’d known, and he’d slicked it back from his face, his fingers leaving wild grooves.

    This was definitely Remy, that uniformed SEAL in the photo from the dossier she’d been given by her agency. The knowledge should have put her at ease. Instead, his alert stance, the way he seemed primed for battle despite the casual clothes he wore, set her even more on edge.

    “Can you give me a minute here?” she snapped, then forced herself to not look away from his eyes, which narrowed into slits as he stared.

    “I don’t give intruders anything. And where the hell is my father?”

    She shut off the water, glad she’d already finished rinsing, and took a deep, calming breath of steamy air. “I’m not an intruder, and if you’ll get out of here I’ll explain everything.”

    Everything but the truth. He wouldn’t learn why she was really there. Or how, after her contact at the National Weather Service had forwarded Remy Senior’s letter to her, she’d bribed him into calling Remy to beg him to come home, something that turned her stomach because she knew firsthand how much power parents had to hurt their children.

    The old man had all the bad qualities of a used car salesman and only half the charm, and she hoped his son was different. Personality-wise, though, T-Remy’s charm wasn’t quite coming through the shower curtain.

    In the bright glimmer of nearly continuous lightning, he studied her, the rigid lines of his brows framing an expression as hard as the man himself seemed to be. “I don’t mind the view from where I’m standing. So why don’t you start explaining now – because I’m not all that patient.”

    God, she hated military men. She’d hated them even when she had been in the military. No way would she roll over in submission like some trembling, green recruit just because a big, tough ex-SEAL suffering from an excess of testosterone barked an order at her.

    “I’ll explain when I’m dressed,” she said in a defiant tone that was probably lost to the storm.

    She gathered the shower curtain more securely around her – for all the good it did — and stretched toward the towel bar, but Remy was faster. He snared the towel and dangled it just out of her reach. In the flickering shadows that played on his face, she could make out a smirk — a smirk that shouldn’t be sexy, but for some reason was. The storm must be getting to her.

    Or maybe the stories about Remy were true.

    Discounting that last thought because it was ridiculous, she made a grab for the towel, but he yanked it away. “Tell me who you are.”

    She hesitated, not because her cover identity was a secret, exactly, but because his military-clipped order chafed at several sore spots. Which was why she and the Air Force had been a disastrous combination.

    “My name is Haley. Haley Holmes. And,” she said, wringing water out of her long hair, “I’m not saying another word until I’m dry.”

    She shoved the shower curtain aside because it was useless anyway, the sound of the rusted metal rings scraping the equally rusted rod barely audible over the sudden roar of wind through the trees. Water trickled down her face, dripping off her chin and onto her breasts, and Remy’s eyes, glittering in the flashes of light, blatantly took it all in.

    The appreciation in his gaze made her swallow. Made her hot and tingly and feeling the need to shower again, but with cold water.

    She stepped out of the tub, and this time, when she reached for the towel, he held it out to her. Her fingers closed on the fabric; his fingers closed around her wrist. The man moved like a striking snake, and her heart stopped as though she’d been bitten.

    She lifted her chin, met his intense gaze. He looked down at her from his considerable height of at least six-foot-three and drew her a step closer to him, so close she could feel heat rolling off his large body. Her dad had always told her how her impulsive nature and utter lack of fear would get her into trouble someday, even as he encouraged those qualities.

    Now, as her stomach flip-flopped, she made a conscious effort not to tremble. Stepping out of a shower naked in front of a complete stranger wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done. Then again, after several weeks of studying the man right down to the name of his childhood dog, she probably knew him better than she knew the people she’d worked with for months.

    “You’ve got five minutes to dry off and get dressed, and then you’ll talk,” he said, his voice rougher than it had been a minute ago.

    The lights flickered, matching the quick-pounding of her pulse. Then they came on fully, leaving her standing bare-assed naked mere inches away from one of the best-looking men she’d seen in her life, with only a corner of the towel and a thin, swirling veil of steam between them.

    She tried to wrench free of his grip, but he held her for a moment longer, as though to prove he could, his gaze traveling slowly from her face, down to her breasts, to her belly, her pelvis. Her skin tightened and prickled, her nipples puckered and heat spread in a languid wave from her cheeks to the juncture of her thighs.

    His half-lidded, blue eyes smoldered, but a vein throbbed at his temple, just below his hairline, and she sensed more than saw the battle that raged within him, even if she didn’t completely understand it. And she felt certain he had no idea his thumb was stroking the sensitive underside of her wrist any more than he knew his fingers were digging painfully into that same wrist.

    Thunder sounded in the distance, and he flinched, snapped his gaze back up to hers. “Like I said, five minutes. And you can get dressed now.” With that, he released her wrist, pivoted with military crispness and stalked out of the bathroom.

    Cursing, she slammed the door shut.

    What. An. Ass.

    It didn’t help that her fingers shook as she held the towel to her chest as though Remy were still in the room, watching her with those intense, intelligent eyes that flashed even without the lightning.

    She waited until her heartbeat slowed, until the storm outside had ebbed — the outer bands of a hurricane moved out as suddenly as they came in — and then she dried off and, with the exception of her underwear, dressed in the clothing she’d worn into the bathroom before her shower. She hadn’t expected Remy to show up tonight, after all.

    She’d been here in his house for forty-eight hours now, and she’d figured she’d have at least twelve more to review the files her agency had given her one last time, the ones containing his military records and an impossibly detailed account of Remy’s entire life — including obscure information obtained by the agency psychics.

    Since accepting the assignment five weeks ago, she’d unearthed personal statistics, like how he ate anything with shrimp, had an allergy to chocolate and that he shared her May third birthday, though he was three years younger. The most fascinating details, though, the weather details, came from the recordings she’d covertly obtained while talking to Remy’s father.

    In any case, she’d expected more time to prepare tonight, and then, tomorrow, to have met the man who supposedly drew weather phenomenon like trailer parks drew tornadoes. Which was a myth, but a popular joke in her profession.

    She’d rented the place for a month, had a cover story worked out, and if all went as planned, T-Remy Begnaud would never know he was the subject of a scientific study sanctioned by the government but funded almost entirely through private sources.

    Unless the allegations against the man proved to be true, and then all bets were off. Her job would veer from research to recruitment, because the enemy could be knocking on his doorstep within days.

    Except Itor Corp didn’t knock. They forced their way inside, took what they wanted and destroyed what remained.

    Of course, she fully expected her investigation to quickly reveal that the stories were nothing more than fantastical rumors, or that Mr. Begnaud – junior or senior — was a charlatan. Either way, she’d have enjoyed the opportunity to observe a late season hurricane before moving on to her next assignment as a parameteorologist, something far more interesting – the possible existence of a weather machine.

    She’d balked when orders to investigate the seemingly nutty ramblings of a television weatherman had come down the pipe, but really, the military had been trying to control the weather for decades. Cloud seeding, Project Cirrus…so if the thing existed and could cause violent weather, ACRO needed to get their hands on it before the enemy did.

    First, though, she had to make it through the coming days with a man who, people claimed, could summon lightning at will. Who had emerged unscathed from the center of an F5 tornado. Who had supposedly screwed a woman insane during a storm that had made him insatiable.

    Naturally, none of those claims could be substantiated, but as she reached for the doorknob and the power went out again, she swore she’d get to the bottom of the tales. If anyone knew about extraordinary weather phenomenon, it was Haley. And after taking one look at her subject, she was more than willing to go wherever she needed to go to get the information she required.

    Even if that meant testing out Remy’s power in bed.

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