Monday, July 18, 2016

Series Spotlight: Black Ops: Automatik

One Minute to Midnight
Black Ops: Automatik 2
by Nico Rosso
a Military Romance / Suspense novel

AMZ Link    B&N 

Former navy SEAL Ben Jackson knows that sexy "Mary Long" is nothing but a cover; that beneath the stylish clothes and flirty smile is a stone cold super-soldier no one ever gets close to. Until her kiss hits him like one of her sniper rounds. But Morris Flats is no place for a hookup—menace hums through the town, and the more the two operators keep pushing for answers, the more deadly the current seems to run.

For former Special Forces sniper Mary Kuri, flirting with her muscular teammate feels like playing with fire. It's hard to tell where the cover ends and the real feelings begin. What she does know is they can't afford to lose focus. Their mission is to gather evidence, and with the gunrunners watching their every move, a single mistake could prove fatal.

It's two against the world, and Ben and Mary are about to discover that not only do the lives of innocent people hang in the balance, but they're also fighting to save the rare connection they've found with each other.
Review by pearls
I Love this author!  Each book is a stand-alone, but features the same cast of military men and woman.  This storyline tackles the corruption that divides a small town while at the same time showing two individuals that they are stronger together.  The small town plot and the military operation to take it down is well plotted and thought ought.  The growing connection between Mary and Jackson is steamier with every page.  Lots of action with two strong individuals, but when they come together, a town of drug runners doesn't stand a chance.  And neither does their heart.  This book is just as great as the first one in the series, and I can't wait for more. 

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Excerpt from Chapter One

Mary Kuri reached past the loaded .38 Special in her purse, found her lip gloss and touched up her color after having left too much of it behind on the rim of a glass of red wine. She preferred to drink whiskey. She also preferred a .40 automatic as a pistol backup. But she was on an operation and had to look more like a real estate developer than a former black ops soldier.
“How’s that Pinot?” The other customers’ drinks sat dry while the hotel bartender paid her too much attention.
“Nice.” It wasn’t, but it was the best the Sycamore Inn could offer. “Perfect end to a travel day.”
“Where from?” He put his hands on the bar and flexed a little. The guy, in his late twenties, filled out a dress shirt fine. Blond hair, clean features.
“Dallas now, but the boss has me scouting so much, I’m like a vagabond.” She sipped the acidic wine and checked the mirror behind the bartender for who might be listening. Two men sat down the bar, paying more attention to the basketball game on the high TV than her. A man and a woman slouched at a table, both looking at their phones and weary from business travel. Slow weeknight at the Sycamore Inn.
The bartender’s nametag hung awkwardly from his chest pocket, purporting him to be Will. “You drove up here from Dallas?” He asked it as if recording it to memory and ready to repeat it to the next interested local.
“Anything under ten hours is a dream.” Which wasn’t part of the act. She’d spent forty-eight hours or more awake during many ops in the Middle East. “I’m just glad to have a little wine and a roof over my head.” She glanced about the small bar off the hotel lobby. One security camera looked down from a corner, but it had a blind spot all the way on the opposite side of the room. “The Sycamore Inn is looking mighty fine.”
Will topped off her wine with a conspiratorial wink. “The best we got in Morris Flats.” A troubling thought brought his brow down. “You’re not here to develop another hotel, are you?”
The remote town at the southern tip of Illinois seemed like it could barely support the one four-story hotel.
“Not to worry. We do multi-use spaces. Businesses on the bottom, apartments on the top. That kind of thing.” The manufactured shop talk prompted her to fish her phone from her purse and check over the notifications. Her gut tightened as she glanced over Ben’s account of the gas station activity. They’d barely started their op, and her new partner had already sparked against the local cops. Not that she blamed him. She blew out a breath and justified her frustration. “Really, Helen?” Her fake boss sending a fake afterhours email. Will started to drift away, but she caught his attention while still looking at her phone. “I just got here, and she’s asking about prospects.”
“That’s the problem with the phone.” He patted his back pocket. “They can always get you.”
“Well—” she placed her phone facedown on the bar, “—I’m not going to run around an unknown town after dark. You should see the places they send me.” She’d been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and other locations her service records would deny. “How’s Miller Flats? I’ll find stuff out here, right?”
Will dialed up the charm with a small smile. Hometown hero. He might get lucky with a guest passing through. “Yeah, you will.”
Not with her, though. This intel-gathering trip didn’t warrant any extra special investigative techniques. And Will was a lightweight. The kid probably hadn’t lived beyond the radius of the local pizza joint delivery. Mary had survived a career in Special Forces and now worked for Automatik. It would take a man with a lot of gravity to move her. Which meant no man these days. Not even a fling with a stranger.
“Looked like a lot of land past the train yard.” She took another sip of wine.
Will dismissed the idea with a shake of his head. “Stay away from the east side. There are busted-up warehouses and stuff on the west side, past the high school. That would be good for town.”
He’d flinched when he said “east.” A small twitch of the neck and shoulder, as if defending himself against a taller attacker. The bad territory was to the east, and for her job, she always headed toward the bad territory.
“Thanks for the tip.” She toasted Will with her wine. “Maybe I can make Helen happy for once.” After a meager sip, she resumed reading Ben’s account on her phone. From the way he described it, it wasn’t just a matter of bored cops and reckless teens. The police were using force to maintain control. The sense of trouble continued to tense her stomach. A town on edge and a brand-new partner.
Will watched her read over her phone for a bit, then finally left to attend to the other patrons at the bar.
Past the bartender and the men talking sports, beyond the door to the bar, a new presence stalked into the lobby. An African-American man. Confident, strong and balanced. Trained for combat.
He was trouble for everyone there except her. Ben Jackson was her Automatik teammate. The former navy SEAL was a solid operator, and she trusted him in a fight.
But maybe he was trouble for her. That easy sway of his shoulders as he removed his coat. Thick muscles in a polo shirt. An even gait and a comfortable smile. And a keen awareness that didn’t miss a detail around him. He wheeled his bag into the bar, and an unusual thrill climbed up her spine. She understood him and his past. The way he’d talked to her when the Automatik teammates were hanging out made her think he might understand her history, which had left her exposed and vulnerable. Sensations she wasn’t familiar with. But they intrigued her. Like playing with fire, feeling alive at the border of pain.
“Check-in can wait,” he said to no one. “I’ve been on the road too damn long to pass up the bar.”
He eased onto one of the stools between her and the men. She’d been polite to him before, but had never revealed more of herself than he needed to know, soldier to soldier. For the first time, she took a long look at him. As if he was a stranger in a bar. Would she have been able to tell he was an elite operator? Fit, yes, and athletic. Sharp eyes. A sexy butt in jeans.
Will came over to him, and Ben held up his fingers, measuring different amounts. “Bourbon. Soda. No ice.”
“Got it.” The bartender headed off to make the drink.
Ben also used the mirror behind the bar to scope the area. He appeared relaxed, elbows on the bar, but she knew he was as poised as she was. His report of the police encounter had been detailed, yet she’d still felt, and understood, his frustration coming through the curt words. In the bar, he managed to keep the reverberations from the conflict with the cops suppressed without even a line of strain at the corners of his eyes. They’d completed quite a few ops as part of the team, but she was a sniper and he was a close quarters man, so she’d only observed him from a distance.
Will returned with his drink, and Ben opened a tab. The bartender was much less interested in chatting Ben up than he had Mary and moved back to the men at the other end of the bar. Ben sat still for a moment, looking into his drink with an unreadable expression and a new, surprising depth to his quiet.
They’d never been assigned to a recon detail together. The unprecedented arousal spun up through her again. She tried to shock it out of her system with some of the bad wine. Automatik operations weren’t the place for liaisons. And Ben wasn’t the guy for them. Not if any of the rumors of his exploits were true.
They’d operated on the same team for quite a while, but their current cover stories hadn’t met.
He changed that with a crooked smile. “Cheers.” He lifted his drink from the bar.
“Cheers.” She tipped her glass toward his, and they both drank while watching each other in the mirror.
He had such a casual way of gazing at her. Appreciating but not leering. It could’ve been disarming, but she never let someone take her weapon away.
“See that?” He set his drink down and scrutinized the basketball game. “Number seventy-three. See that bracelet?”
She, Will and the two men at the bar paid closer attention to the TV.
“Yeah?” Will challenged him.
“It doesn’t do anything. It’s got the wrong magnets.” Ben leaned from his stool and rummaged in an outside pocket on his luggage. “These work.” He held up two sporty-looking bracelets made of rubber and fabric cords.
Will came over and took the black one offered to him. The men at the bar waved off Ben’s other bracelet, so he held it out to her. And fell into a sales pitch. “Reduces joint pain. Better range of motion. Less fatigue means more focus.”
She let him down easy. “No, thanks.”
Will already had his on and flexed his arm to test the effects. “Not feeling anything.”
“Keep it.” Ben curled a strong bicep, showing off his physique and his own bracelet. “You’ll thank me in a few days.”
“Yeah, I’ll let you know.” Will kept tensing a fist and shaking his head.
“You in a rec league?” Ben continued the soft pitch to the bartender. For a former SEAL with a quick trigger finger, and he was slick with the line. “I’d love to get more of the regular guys and not super athletes involved to hear what they think.”
Will absentmindedly turned the bracelet. “There’s a police and firefighter gym.” That small flinch returned. Trouble to the east. Trouble with the police. Did Ben see the tell? “Everyone else plays at the park across from the high school.”
“Good to know, buddy. Thanks.” Ben was able to keep his temper down when talking about the cops. He placed the second bracelet down between him and Mary and returned to his drink. “And don’t worry, I won’t tell them you sent me.” Yes, Ben had picked up on Will’s body language. Ben had some chops for espionage work, and that just added to his intrigue.
She skimmed her fingers along the bar and picked up the bracelet. Ben deliberately didn’t turn to watch, though she knew he could see from his peripheral vision.
“Does this really work?” She rolled the cord between her fingers. “Really?”
He leaned an elbow on the bar and turned his back on the men and Will. All his attention warmed her like a comforting blanket. “There’s one good way to find out.” He blinked slow and licked his lips. “Try it.”
She put the bracelet back on the bar.
He laughed and nodded. Was it all an act, or was it this easy to sway back and forth in a flirtation?
“Road warrior?” He took the bracelet and pocketed it.
“Does it show?” She checked her phone to give her something to do.
“You’re tempered like steel.” He didn’t sound like he was flirting. “All those miles, they make us hard.” He was telling the truth.
“Hard up?” She flashed her own smile.
He laughed louder and toasted her. “Just spinning a little conversation.” He took a sip, collected a stripe of condensation from the glass and rubbed it on the back of his neck. His blunt fingers scratched behind his ear and in the tight curls of his hair in a hypnotic little dance. He knew she was watching.
“Sorry.” She angled more toward him. “I’m just a little worn-out from the road.”
“I hear you.” He glanced away from the bar. “I’m going to get a table so I can stretch out and not be bothered by the terrible free throw shooting on the TV. Join me?”
He picked up his drink. She hesitated.
Will came over, warily eyeing Ben. “Everyone good here?” His concern extended to her. Even in a hotel, strangers weren’t that welcome. Especially someone as active as Ben. This town didn’t trust. They had a secret.
Which was why Automatik had sent her and Ben.
She reassured Will, “It’s all good, thanks.”
Ben eased away from the bar. She collected her wine, phone and purse and joined him. They took the table farthest from everyone else. The security camera would still see them, but they both knew better than give any visual clues as to who they really were.
The vinyl-covered chair squeaked under Ben as he sat and stretched his legs out under the table. He sighed long and took another drink. She took the seat to his side so she could watch the front door and still see Ben. Her hands rested at the base of her glass.
No one was close enough to hear them and she still kept her voice low as if the flirting continued. “Is this how you get your bed warmers?” Most of what she’d heard of Ben’s reputation with women had come from his SEAL teammate, Harper’s, razzing.
“Don’t think of them like that.” He shook his head. “They’re women.” He thought for a moment. “We both get got, then we both get gone.”
“Romantic.” She faked a smile.
“Satisfying,” he corrected her. His volume rose, more public. “So I’m going to guess…corporate sales. Big-time stuff. Millions. Billions of dollars.”
“Close.” She leaned toward his glittering rich brown eyes. “How’d you get that?” He smelled of spiced soap, bourbon and a hint of gasoline. Flammable.
“You’ve been on the road for hours, dedicated, but not disassembled. Hair’s in place. No wrinkles on your blouse.” He studied her face. “Lips are perfect.”
His attention made her very aware of her mouth. She’d fired thousands of rounds in combat training. Her unit had drilled in anti-interrogation techniques with Korean Special Forces soldiers. She resisted the urge to lick her lips and gave Ben no indication of the rush of excitement the flirting charged through her. But she was impelled to test it. Usually if someone came on this strong, she shut him down. But with Ben there was the foundation of trust. She knew he wouldn’t take it too far because they had to stay on task and couldn’t let any personal strife affect the mission. It allowed her to tease herself with the very real excitement that came with the fake flirtation.
She kept her hands on the table. His were close. Scarred knuckles. Purposeful fingers.
“We know you’re pitching those magic bracelets.” If all these lies were true, would she reach out and touch his hand now? “But you didn’t say anything about being passed over for a promotion.”
He blinked, surprised. “I’m sitting with a damn psychic.”
“Your watch.” She lifted a finger to point at it. “You bought it in anticipation of the promotion, but instead you’re back out on the road.”
“Bull’s-eye.” He shook his head and chuckled. “If I’d gotten that promotion, I could’ve hired you.”
She lifted her glass in a small toast. “You can’t afford me.”
“Whoever you’re working for isn’t paying you enough.” He toasted her back and they both drank.
A couple of salespeople on the road, in a hotel and no responsibilities until the next day. If she hadn’t joined the Army. Or if she’d left after six years and gone into a day job rather than covert special forces. If she was just a woman flirting with a man. How far would the night go?
Ben took another slug of his drink and dropped his voice. “This is a whole hell of a lot better than the detail in the Mexican desert.”
“Good bourbon?”
“The bourbon is trash.” His gaze took in her face again. “I’m talking about the company.”
Was he still flirting with her saleswoman front, or was this warm attention for the combat sniper and undercover operator?
She maintained a cool exterior. “Good to know I’m a step up from a scorpion.”
He gave her a slow, deliberate wink. “And more deadly.”
“Damn right.” She couldn’t resist a carnivorous smile. “With me, you don’t even feel the sting.”
His honest laugh came from deep. The table became more intimate as he slid his hand closer to hers and dropped his voice. “You see my video?”
She shook her head. “I read the report.”
His finger drew a spiral on the tabletop. “We’re in the right spot.”
She nodded. “Something ain’t right under the asphalt.”
“Locals are hunched under a secret.” He glanced at the business travelers at the other table. “Instinct makes the strangers bunker until they can get out.”
“East side.” Their hands were only inches apart. “Train yard.” Hands that had fought to survive across the world. Being this close made her body hum with restraint. Touching him would just be part of the act. Hands like hers, like his, couldn’t feel pleasure anymore. Couldn’t give pleasure anymore.
“It’s a start.” He didn’t test the distance and leaned away. With a more public voice, he flirted brazenly, “I haven’t checked in yet. Otherwise I’d give you my room number.”
She took a last pull off her thin wine and smiled over the rim of the glass. “I’m sure I’ll see you at the free breakfast.”
He finished his drink and indicated to Will that he wanted another. His gaze moved up and down her as she stood. “I’ll save you a bagel.”
Was it for the benefit of their covers so the others in the bar could see? Or did she want to feel the heat rise as she put her hands on the arm of his chair and brought her mouth near his ear? “Don’t burn it,” she whispered.
He licked his lips and turned toward her. Close enough to kiss. The light in his eye promised a lot of pleasure. But it wouldn’t be real. She leaned away and left the bar without looking back. The mirror revealed that he watched her with growing intensity. Part of the act again? Will and the other patrons also tracked her departure, but with the more common male gazes that tried to consume her.
She passed through the lobby and waited for the elevator. The brass doors reflected any activity behind her. The space was safe for the moment. This assignment was going to be difficult. She and Ben had to pry at the seams of a very defensive environment in order to trace the gunrunning. That kind of armor was familiar. She used it to survive. Not just her body, but her mind, her soul and her heart. But something in the manufactured flirting with Ben had felt too real. He knew a truth of her few others did. She understood how to protect herself from bullets, but what was she supposed to do when her most hidden self stirred in his warm gaze?

The first book, COUNTDOWN TO ZERO HOUR, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews.

Countdown to Zero Hour
Black Ops: Automatik 1
by Nico Rosso
a Military Romance / Suspense novel

AMZ link    B&N 

Fans of Maya Banks's KGI series will love this explosive new romantic suspense series from Nico Rosso, featuring black ops agents and the women they'll do anything to protect.


Former Special Forces agent Artem "Art" Diaz is tattooed, muscular and undeniably dangerous. He's also deep undercover, posing as mob muscle for a deadly bratva boss. His mission: gain the Russians' trust. Then lead the strike team that will take them down.

Chef Hayley Baskov knows better than to get involved with someone with such close mafia ties, but the handsome bodyguard who brought her to this sprawling estate full of ruthless mobsters is inexplicably kind. A little flirtation may keep her safe amid the growing menace.

As Art's timetable for action escalates, so do his encounters with Hayley. Stealing what illicit pleasure they can keeps them both sane in the face of evil. But when things get dangerous, Art has to tell her about his assignment, bringing her deeper into the shadowy world of black ops…and putting her life on the line.

Now Art has a new objective: protect Hayley from the men who'd see them both dead.

Review by pearls

I was given this ARC by the author for an honest review.  I am so glad that he contacted me.  I love this series!  The Black Ops: Automatik crew is a group of former military operatives now operating on American soil.  This first book tackles the issue of Russian mafia and Mexican cartels taking over inner cities.  When a Russian chef is hired to cook at a Russian mob boss meeting, the mission just became even more dangerous.  Walking a tightrope, Art has to figure out how to protect her without appearing weak to the other bosses and their henchmen.  But armed with her cooking knives and her routine, Hayley is no shrinking violet.  She can stand up to their maneuvers just fine on her own.  And doesn't that just make Art love her more and more.  As he watches over her, his love and respect for her grows.  That is what I love most--getting to see him fall in love with her, not just her body.  Plenty of violence and explosions to keep you on your toes, and steamy tensions to light your fuse. 

About the Author
Nico Rosso was a writer in search of a genre until his wife, Zoë Archer, brought romance into his life in more ways than one. He’s created sci-fi and post-apocalyptic romance worlds, as well as working with his wife on the steampunk Ether Chronicles series. His paranormal Demon Rock series brought you satyr rock stars and the Muses who fed them. With the romantic suspense Black Ops: Automatik series, he takes you into the deep dark world of secret operations designed to protect the innocent.

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