Lexi Blake Dungeon Royale.jpg

Dungeon Royale

Masters and Mercenaries, Book 6

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About the book

An agent broken

MI6 agent Damon Knight prided himself on always being in control. His missions were executed with cold, calculating precision. His club, The Garden, was run with an equally ordered and detached decadence. But his perfect world was shattered by one bullet, fired from the gun of his former partner. That betrayal almost cost him his life and ruined his career. His handlers want him to retire, threatening to revoke his license to kill if he doesn’t drop his obsession with a shadowy organization called The Collective. To earn their trust, he has to prove himself on a unique assignment with an equally unusual partner.

A woman tempted 

Penelope Cash has spent her whole life wanting more. More passion. More adventure. But duty has forced her to live a quiet life. Her only excitement is watching the agents of MI6 as they save England and the world. Despite her training, she’s only an analyst. The closest she is allowed to danger and intrigue is in her dreams, which are often filled with one Damon Knight. But everything changes when the woman assigned to pose as Damon’s submissive on his latest mission is incapacitated. Penny is suddenly faced with a decision. Stay in her safe little world or risk her life, and her heart, for Queen and country.

An enemy revealed

With the McKay-Taggart team at their side, Damon and Penny hunt an international terrorist across the great cities of Northern Europe. Playing the part of her Master, Damon begins to learn that under Penny’s mousy exterior is a passionate submissive, one who just might lay claim to his cold heart. But when Damon’s true enemy is brought out of the shadows, it might be Penny who pays the ultimate price.

Dungeon Royale is yet another amazing Masters and Mercenaries story from the incredibly talented Lexi Blake. This series just keeps getting better and better, with more mystery, more suspense, and a whole lot more kinkiness to go around. When Lexi Blake gives us a story, you just know it’s genuine and from the heart… Dungeon Royale is one of those stories that you will forever keep handy, not only because the cover is fucking gorgeous and drool-worthy, but the storyline is solid and so damn entertaining that you will probably want to go back for more.
— Shayna, Shayna Renee’s Spicy Reads
Dungeon Royale will take you on a dangerous mission filled with action, intrigue, espionage, and bondage. Master Damon is the most fierce and hardcore Dom in this series thus far.
— Kelley, Smut Book Junkie
Each time I finish a Masters and Mercenaries novel, I think to myself this is Ms. Blake’s best one yet. With each new addition to the series, Ms. Blake improves her storytelling. She is a master at threading suspense throughout the story without sacrificing any emotion or romance. I’ll be counting down the days until her next installment.
— Robin, Sizzling Hot Books
Lexi Blake is one of those authors who makes you want to reread her books as soon as you are finished with them. Dungeon Royale is no exception… The book is well written with hot sex scenes and edge of your seat suspense. It also features the author’s laugh out loud humor.
— Purest Delight, Shadow, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
Fast paced and complex, this is a perfect adventure story as well as an awesome romance. I can’t think of anything that I would have wanted to change in this story. From the settings to the characters to the interactions to the sex scenes, everything came together in a natural way flowing into the next part seamlessly. I absolutely loved this book and now can’t wait to read the next one.
— Terri, Night Owl Romance
Sex, secrets, humor, intrigue, DOMS....What more can you ask for? Do it again Lexi Blake!!! Do it AGAIN!
— 5 Stars, T, T and A After Dark
Gotta love kick-ass characters and Ms. Blake gave us that and more with the latest addition to the Masters and Mercenaries series.
— 5 Shooting Stars, Luna, Redz World


Chapter One

MI6 Headquarters

“What are you trying to say, Nigel?” Damon Knight looked across the wide, solid desk at the man who had been his handler for the last ten years. The very air seemed to have stilled around him.

Nigel sat forward, his graying hair perfectly coiffed and his eyes serious. They had come up through the ranks together, but Nigel had taken the analyst route while Damon liked to be in the field. He was rather afraid his wishes weren’t going to be taken into account now.

“Have you looked at the reports from the medical team?” Nigel asked.

Fuck. A hole was opening up in front of him and he wasn’t even close to being ready. He didn’t need to read the medical reports to know what was in them. “I’m perfectly fit.”

It had been seven months since his partner, his best friend, had walked into his office at The Garden and put a bullet in his chest. He’d sat there, bleeding out at his desk, visions of murder and revenge running through his dying brain.

And a deep regret that no one would miss him.

It had only been luck that one of the Doms at his club had dropped by to set up a scene for the evening. Otherwise, he would be dead.

“Not according to these reports you aren’t.” Nigel set the folder between them. “According to this, you’re permanently incapacitated. You lost an enormous amount of blood. There was some question about how long you were technically dead.”

He couldn’t help but answer through clenched teeth. “I’m not brain damaged.”

“Of course not, but it had to have affected you.”

“I’m not suffering from bloody PTSD.” He’d gone through every counseling session they’d forced on him. When the bloody hell had the Secret Intelligence Service become a bunch of psychobabbling, talk-about-their-feelings wankers?

He might have spent too much time with Ian Taggart, but the man had a point. Spies should have nerves of steel. If they didn’t, if they required weekly hour-long sessions to discuss their feelings, they bloody well shouldn’t be spies.

Nigel frowned. “Fine, let’s talk about the physical damage then. That bullet tore apart your left lung. The doctors were forced to remove a portion of it.”

“The good news is, I have a spare.” They had only been forced to remove a small portion of his left lung. Unfortunately, MI6 preferred its agents to have full lung capacity. No matter how hard he worked out, he always hit a wall.

He didn’t mention the other problems he was having, the problems the doctors in Dallas had discovered with his heart. If Nigel knew about those, he wouldn’t be sitting here talking about assignments.

Nigel sat back. “Damon, you know how much we all want this to work. No one on the team wants to see you out of the field. You’ve been our most effective agent since the moment you walked through the doors.”

Ah, there was a “but” coming. Damon could feel it. He just didn’t want to hear it. “Excellent. I’m very glad to hear it because I am ready to get back in the field. I have some thoughts about information building on The Collective.”

Seven bloody months. He’d spent seven months recovering, waiting, thinking. And plotting his revenge. He was ready to start again, ready to do just about anything that brought him one step closer to getting his hands around Basil Champion’s throat.

“Yes, I found your file on them very interesting.” Nigel’s fingers drummed along the thick file folder he’d turned over.

Damon had spent his recovery time in Dallas with Adam Miles and Charlotte and Chelsea Dennis, using their brilliant computer skills to find absolutely everything he could about the shadowy organization known only as The Collective. As far as he could tell, they were a secret organization run by some of the world’s largest corporations and richest men. They used secret agents culled from intelligence agencies across the globe to manipulate the world economies to suit their companies.

He’d put together everything they’d been able to find, and none of it was completely solid. It was all conjecture, and he was pretty sure Nigel was starting to think he was a conspiracy nut.

“Perhaps it’s not concrete, but you know that an operative has to listen to his gut. This is me. I’m listening to my gut and my gut says this is real and Baz is involved.”

“You know the chief is fairly certain that Champion was a double.”

It took everything Knight had not to groan. “He wasn’t working for MSS.”

The theory was that Basil Champion had turned and started to work with Chinese intelligence.

“It would explain the influx of cash you found.”

“But it does nothing to explain why he left when he did. He chose to blow up his career because he realized that Ian Taggart had found out about The Collective. Hell, the man practically told me he was offered Nelson’s job.” Eli Nelson had been a CIA operative recruited by The Collective. He’d run guns where it suited the corporations involved to keep civil wars going in order to spike prices on oil and other resources. He’d stolen technology plans from non-Collective companies. As far as Damon could tell, Nelson had planned and carried out a couple of terrorist plots that had aided the corporate bottom line. After the Taggarts had sent Nelson to his just rewards, Baz had become their go-to guy.

“The CIA believes Nelson was also working for MSS,” Nigel explained.

Damon slapped a frustrated hand against the desk. “Tennessee Smith wants you to believe that. He’s hiding something. Damn it. You don’t have to believe me now. You just have to give me some tech staff so I can prove it. I’ll find him, Nigel. I’ll find that bastard if it’s the last thing I do.”

“How do you feel about moving into training?”

“I feel rabidly, violently opposed to it.” He wasn’t going to be relegated to the training gym. No. He didn’t want to spend his time training recruits for the life that should have been his. He damn straight wasn’t going to invest in a bunch of idiots who would likely get themselves killed. “I’m not a trainer. I’m never going to be a trainer, Nigel.” He stood, his head swimming just a tad because it really was rather hard to breathe in this building. He couldn’t imagine being chained to a desk day after day. It would be a living purgatory. “You’ll have my resignation on your desk by noon.”

He had absolutely no idea what he would do. The decision he needed to make about his future was here, and despite having seven months to think about it, he wasn’t close to being ready for the outcome. Somehow he’d always thought he wouldn’t be forced to face it.

He’d been sure he would die in the field like a good double 0 should, not get retired like a useless object.

He was thirty-nine years old and he had absolutely no idea what to do with the rest of his bloody life.

“Damon, please sit down. I might have a solution.”

“What? I grow a new lung? Has tech managed to do that yet?” He could hear the bitterness dripping from his voice. Maybe he’d end up being one of those old men in a pub, barking at the world around him.

“We’ve had a situation come up, and you might be the only one who can take over.”

He stopped, pulling his hand back off the door handle. “Is it an operation?”

Nigel gestured to the seat in front of him. “Yes, though it’s not as dangerous as you’re used to. It’s fairly simple. We have intelligence that a known terrorist will be attempting to come into England using a cruise ship.”

He snorted a little, settling back in his seat. “Even cruise ships require passports.”

“Not in every port they don’t.”

He hadn’t thought about it like that. A cruise ship required proper documentation to get on the boat. It depended on the port of call from there. Damon wasn’t knowledgeable about their security protocols. He’d never been a holiday-type chap. If he went to a country, he wasn’t sight-seeing. He was hunting. If Damon had been running a cruise ship, he would have required proper identification, including thumbprint scans, facial recognition, and routine pat downs for everyone getting on board.

There was a reason he didn’t get invited to a lot of parties.

“What exactly do you mean? You think he’s going to wander up from the beach on some island and make his way to London?”

“We believe he’s targeted a very specific cruise. Cruises are usually full of children. This particular cruise is going to be all adult. It gives the target more of a chance to find someone he can change places with. We believe he intends to target someone with a legitimate passport, wait until he gets off the boat, and then kill the man and take his place. All he needs in most ports is a card the ship requires to get back on the boat.”

It could work. “He would have to have someone on the inside.”

“Yes. We believe he’s got an English woman working for him, but we haven’t figured out a name yet. Our source isn’t particularly close to the heart of this group.”

“What’s the group?”

“It’s a bit odd. We think this agent is working with Nature’s Core.”

He groaned. Nature’s Core was an all-encompassing lefty group who thought the world would be a better place if the banking system was shut down. They fought against everything from new technology to CEO pay scales. They were normally quite peaceful, just obnoxious. “Then it’s not a terrorist group. What are they going to do? Protest us to death? I will admit the smell they get after a month camping out in Hyde Park can be rather noxious.”

“They’re using Nature’s Core as a screen to throw us off. Our source is absolutely certain that this operative is going to attempt to enter England with biological weapons.”

Nigel was trying to send him on a wild goose chase. “How is he going to do that? Surely they have some security.”

“They do, but if he got small amounts in every port, he might be able to either sneak them on board or claim that they’re medicinal. Security won’t know the difference between a biological agent and a vial of insulin if it is done properly. And no one will check his bags as he gets off the ship in Dover.”

“If you know which ship it would come in on, why don’t we just lock it down and search the place?”

“It’s a two thousand passenger ship, Knight. And all he has to do is toss the package overboard. We need to catch him in the act. I want you to go on board, identify the target and his assistant, get control of the package, and bring everyone in for questioning.”

It didn’t sound too difficult. “Fine. Why does it have to be me?”

“Because the cruise ship is the Royale. It’s the top of the line ship in the VIP Cruise Line. They’re known for their specialty cruises.”

“Like a GLBT cruise?” He’d heard of the company. They were a party line, very adult-experience oriented.

“Yes. Or their new alternate lifestyle cruise.”

Damon sat forward, arching his brow. Seriously? “Are you telling me there’s a bloody BDSM cruise running out of Dover?”

“ldquo;Yes. I know you keep your lifestyle private, but I think you can see why you’re perfect for this job. We have very little time to prepare. No more than a week and a half before you need to have a team on board.” Nigel glanced out his window and then refocused on Damon. “If you can prove yourself here, perhaps I can convince the higher-ups to disregard the medical reports. The truth is you wouldn’t be considered for this job except the two agents we had working it were involved in an auto accident. Harris broke both legs and Keller’s face looks like one big bloody bruise. I obviously can’t send her in as a submissive.”

Nigel knew about his lifestyle, but they hadn’t talked much about it besides Damon being forced to prove it didn’t impact his security clearance. Other than that, Nigel hadn’t wanted to know much.

“Why wasn’t I brought in on this operation? I can’t imagine you have anyone who understands the lifestyle better than I do.” He reached for the folder Nigel was pushing across the desk. He ran through the particulars including the fact that the cruise was a twelve-day Baltic tour that went across Northern Europe.

He spoke Russian, but he would need a partner who spoke German at the very least, Danish and Finnish preferably.

“We began the operation before you were cleared for duty,” Nigel explained.

It seemed a simple enough operation, but he would need more than one set of eyes. And he only had a week to prepare, so he would need his own people. He wasn’t close to anyone here. Well, anyone who hadn’t turned out to be a traitorous bastard. “Do you already have support in place?”

“This was Harris’s operation. He wanted to do it quietly.” The tightness of Nigel’s voice told Damon he didn’t agree.

Which was good because Harris was a bloody idiot. How did he expect to watch over an entire ship without backup? But then Harris had always been an arrogant prick who couldn’t find his head because it was usually shoved up his arse.

“I’d like to bring in my own team. I’ll want to put a couple on staff. Have we made contact with the cruise line?” It was a piece of shit assignment, but if it got him back in the field, he would work it with everything he had.

“We’re stretched a bit thin, Knight. With Harris and Keller out of the picture for a bit, I was thinking about sending in a couple of analysts.”

Good god. That would be perfectly dreadful. He needed operatives. He needed people who would take the shot when they needed to. Analysts would sit down and go through all the reasons why they shouldn’t fire the gun before maybe taking the shot.

“I believe I have a friend who owes me, and he won’t need to be brought up to speed about the lifestyle.” He’d done Ian Taggart a favor by not hauling his information broker wife back to England. Ian and Charlotte would be perfect as long as he could keep them from having sex all over the ship.

And Taggart came with a whole crew he wouldn’t have to train.

“Does he have a woman you can take in as your sub?”

Damn, it was weird to hear Nigel say the word “sub” and not mean something nautical by it. Damon ran through the women of McKay-Taggart. If he had to spend any amount of time playing in public with a sub, there was the chance of sex, the possibility that they would look odd if they weren’t sexual in some fashion. He rather thought Ian would protest if he used his wife, and Alex would just shoot him first and ask questions later once Eve’s name left his mouth. The rest all recently had babies.

Chelsea? She was smart and a bit ruthless and so uncomfortable with her own body that she would never work.

And it would be so much better to have someone who spoke a couple of languages.

“What about the blonde?” He tossed it out casually, not wanting Nigel to know how anxious he was. Penelope worked in translations. She was an analyst. Pretty, petite, perfectly round with nice-sized breasts and an ass that he could squeeze. Sweet. Submissive. His groin, dead since the accident, gave a good flare of life.

A quizzical look crossed Nigel’s face. “Blonde? We have a few.”

How did he not give himself away here? “She’s a translator. Not sure what she translates. German, maybe. Curly blonde hair. She’s complete shit at dressing herself. Pretty girl, but she doesn’t know it.”

“Are you talking about Penelope Cash?” Nigel’s mouth practically hung open.

Penny Cash. God, her parents must have hated her. “I believe so. She would work.”

“You want to take Penelope Cash on a fetish cruise? Well, uhm, she actually speaks German, Danish, and Finnish and her Russian is fairly good.”

“She sounds perfect.” She was a mouse, a cute little mouse who obviously needed a very good fuck. She was kind and sweet and a bit of a doormat. He might be able to teach her a thing or two. And he might be able to break out of his rut. Seven months and not a single erection. He was a bit worried that it didn’t work anymore.

“All right. I suppose it’s your team, but she’s very quiet. I don’t know that she’ll suit you at all.”

She was quiet, submissive. She wouldn’t give him hell in the field. He should be able to control her. He didn’t need a woman he had to worry would disobey him. He needed a sub, and from what he’d seen, Penelope fit the bill better than anyone else in the office. Coupled with the fact that she spoke the languages and he could halfway see himself fucking her—she was practically perfect.

It wasn’t that he was really attracted to her. It was just that she was his type. That was all. He would have to keep an emotional distance from her. No, the fact that he’d thought about her when he’d almost died had been random. She’d simply been kind to him and he liked to reward kindness. In this particular case, he might reward her kindness with multiple orgasms.

“She’s not married, is she?” He hadn’t seen her in seven months. A lot could happen. He’d heard she’d been engaged at one point. That wouldn’t suit. He really would likely have to screw her and possibly in a public setting. It didn’t bother him at all. He could fuck with an audience all day, but some husbands might object.

He didn’t like the thought of her having a husband.

“Penelope? No. I don’t believe she even dates.”

Excellent, then no one would get in the way. “Perfect.”

“Well, you have to convince her first.”

Damon huffed, allowing a bit of his arrogance to show. He might have lost a step or two physically, but the bullet hadn’t taken his charm. “I think I can handle one small female.”

She wouldn’t turn down the chance to serve Queen and country. Of course, in serving Queen and country, she would find herself serving him. His cock stirred for the first time in forever.

Yes, going back to the field would be good for him.

* * * *

“I’m sorry. What did you say, sir?” Penny asked because she couldn’t possibly have heard him right. No. He hadn’t said what she’d thought he’d said.

Nigel Crowe hadn’t just told her he was partnering her with Damon Knight and putting them in the field together where they would pose as lovers. He hadn’t said that because that would be utterly ridiculous.

And she really wished Damon Knight wasn’t standing behind him, looming over the proceedings like a gloriously dark angel. The man was far too big, too grim, too gorgeous for her to be able to breathe in the same room with him.

The head of the double 0 program shook his head. “I seem to be having an enormous amount of difficulty making myself plain today.”

She was screwing up. She was a bloody translator. She understood words and their nuances in many different languages, but nothing was computing today.

“He meant what he said.” Knight’s voice was like rich dark chocolate. It seemed to flow from those gorgeous lips of his to caress her skin as though he was talking only to her, and no one else in the world mattered. She’d never had that deep voice turned specifically on her. Oh, he’d said the occasional hello before and once he’d thanked her for baking him a cake—though he hadn’t eaten it—but she’d never held an actual long conversation with him.

Which was good because apparently she struggled with the power of speech around the man. Their whole relationship involved him asking her to translate things and her acting like a drooling idiot.

“Miss Cash, this is an operation of the highest priority, though we believe there is very little risk to your person,” Nigel explained.

“I’ll take care of you.” Knight had his arms crossed over his chest, those stark gray eyes pinning her to the chair.

“I don’t understand. I’m a translator.” She didn’t go into the field. The entire idea was silly.

“You passed your physical.” Knight seemed to have taken over the meeting. Though he didn’t move an inch, there was something active about the way he stood and stared at her. He was like a large predatory cat just waiting for her to make the wrong move so he could attack.

So he could jump on her. His body on hers. Her body under his. He was so big, would she even be able to breathe if he gave her his full weight? He had to be sixteen and a half stone, and every bit of it was pure muscle. She’d seen him without a shirt once. He’d been in a training room, running on a treadmill, sweat glistening off his perfectly formed chest. He looked a bit like she suspected Greek gods would have looked.

She’d heard all the horrible stories about his injury seven months before, but, god, he looked healthy today. Good enough to eat.

“You didn’t pass your physical?” Knight asked, one dark brow rising.

God, how long had she been sitting there staring at him like an idiot? “No, I passed.”

Barely. Though she had been hitting the gym a bit in the last several months. Exercise was supposed to be good for lifting the spirits. It had lifted her rear at least.

“Excellent. And you passed the firearms courses. I don’t expect that you should have to actually use one, but you’ll be issued a sidearm.” He moved suddenly, his big body uncoiling as he reached for a file folder. “This is the basic information about the operation. Obviously, it’s for your eyes only.”

She stared at the folder like it might bite her. “I’m a translator.”

“Who seems to be having a bit of trouble with English today,” Knight quipped. “Yes, you’re a translator. That’s why I need you. This operation is going to take us to Germany, Denmark, and Finland. You speak the languages.”

She was freakishly good with languages, and she’d been raised in a home where several had been spoken. Her grandmother had grown up in a small town in Finland and spoke Finnish around her constantly. Her father’s family was German. She’d picked up the language in summers spent in Bavaria. She’d learned Danish because her brother had bet her she couldn’t. But there was a problem with the scenario Knight laid out. “Almost everyone in those countries speaks English, you know.”

A superior huff came out of Knight’s mouth. “Yes, darling, they do. They are spectacularly well educated. So smart, in fact, that they tend to speak their own languages when they don’t want the idiot Brits to know what they’re saying. I don’t suspect that they’ll switch to English when they discuss their nefarious plans. We have twenty suspects. We’re going to bug their rooms. I doubt those conversations will conveniently take place in English. And there’s the fact that if we need to follow the suspects into the countryside, the farther you get from the cities, the more likely I’ll need a translator.”

She finally took the file and flipped through it. “I thought you said this was a potential terrorist. Shouldn’t you be looking for someone who speaks the Middle Eastern languages?”

“Yes, because all terrorists are Middle Eastern.”

God, she sounded like a complete idiot. “I know that. Uhm, you think this is tied to Nature’s Core?”

“Yes,” Nigel said.

“Not at all,” Knight interjected. Then a smooth smile crossed that perfect face of his. He was a hard-looking man, his face all angles and roughhewn planes, but when he smiled he damn near took her breath away. “I mean, yes. Yes. The files explain it. And Nature’s Core is a German group. So you can see why I need a woman who speaks German.”

“To pretend to be your lover.” The words sounded dumb. He was gorgeous and sophisticated. The suit he was currently wearing likely had a designer label attached. She was wearing a shapeless skirt and a cardie that she’d probably picked up at a car boot sale. She had kinky blonde hair and wore glasses. She was a bit overweight. Just a bit.

She set the file back down on Nigel’s desk. She couldn’t read it when all her brain was thinking about was Damon Knight.

He moved again, walking around Crowe’s desk and coming to stand right in front of her. She was taken by how he seemed to occupy the space around him. There was no way to ignore Damon Knight unless he wanted her to. He reached out and took her hand in his.

And her heart rate tripled.

“I think it won’t be such a challenge, love.”

Dear god, she’d actually become quite…excited. She could feel herself getting moist and hot, her female parts softening right up the minute he touched her. It was deeply disconcerting since she hadn’t actually had that reaction to a man in…ever.

She hadn’t had sex in several years. She couldn’t even pretend to be the type of woman who would share a bed with Damon Knight. And if she was right, she actually would be sharing a bed with him. They would be going on this cruise together, and he would likely insist on keeping up all appearances and that meant one bed.

One bed that she would share with him, lying beside him, feeling the heat of his body.

Not being alone for once.

“What do you say, darling? Let’s go on a cruise.” He was using charm on her now. He should have stuck with the grim reaper act because she could turn down charm.

She pulled her hand from his. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not a field agent, Mr. Knight. I’m a translator. I listen in on conversations and translate them.”

He got to one knee in front of her so they were almost on the same level. He took her hand back, sliding it palm up between both of his. She was suddenly surrounded by warmth. “I know it sounds a bit frightening. We’ve lost agents in the past, but this is going to be different. I promise you. I’ll take care of you in every way. While the operation is a priority, I will put your safety and security above everything else. Do you understand? I’m going to make sure that nothing bad happens to you. It’s going to be my goal to ensure that you have a pleasurable experience. It’s a cruise, Penelope. For the most part, we’re going to relax and let the support staff do their jobs. You’re going to be there in case I need your talents, but your primary job is to give me a reason to be on that boat. I can’t go on without a female. You’ll be my girl, you see. You’ll be with me and that means that I’ll always be around to protect you.”

His every word seemed to sink into her skin, drawing her into those eyes. If he kept it up, her tongue would be on the floor or trying to get into his mouth because he was so close, all she could think about was kissing him.

She couldn’t. She couldn’t kiss him because it was ridiculous and she would look like an utter twit. No. She wasn’t this person. She wasn’t the girl who took on assignments and pretended to be a double 0’s girl. She was the type of girl who went home at night and had tea and watched telly.

Penny stood, unable to be close to him a moment longer. “I’m sorry. You’ll have to find someone else.”

His face hardened, eyes going dark. He’d gone from charm to menace in an instant, and Penny had to wonder which one was the act and which was the real Damon Knight. She rather thought she was looking at him now. “There isn’t anyone else. I’m out of time. I need at least ten days to get you properly trained and ready to go. We need to start by Monday, so I’m going to give you the weekend to think about this and come to the proper conclusion.”

“Juliet speaks German.” He hadn’t moved an inch toward her, but she suddenly felt stalked. She took a step toward the door, wanting to flee. If Nigel Crowe hadn’t been in the room, she likely would have, but she needed to keep her job and that meant showing some small amount of backbone.

“No.” Knight gave no explanation, just a sharp shake of his head.

Crowe stood with a sigh. “Unfortunately, I’ve looked into this, Miss Cash. You really are the only one with the proper credentials. We are in a bit of a bind here. Perhaps you could reconsider. I understand that it might seem distasteful to you…”

Knight snorted, an oddly aristocratic sound. “She’s scared out of her mind, Nige, and I rather think it isn’t about taking a bullet. She’s not stupid. She knows I’ll keep her safe. So that makes me wonder what really frightens her. I think she’s a prudish chit and she’s worried I’ll get her knickers off.”

Now there wasn’t any thought to backing off. There was the real Damon Knight, and she was so happy he’d finally shown up. Arrogant. A bit mean. Yes, that she could handle. “Did you ever stop to wonder if perhaps I’m simply not interested in even pretending to sleep with you?”

“No. Not once.”

“Maybe I don’t like men, Mr. Knight.” The minute she said it she wanted to take it back, but it wasn’t the first time her stubbornness had gotten her in trouble. If SIS wanted to fire her for being a pseudo lesbian, let them.

“Oh, you like men, love. And you like me. Why do you think I got so close to you? Why do you think I slid my thumb over your pulse? Because I needed to know how I affected your heart rate. I needed to see how your eyes dilated the minute I touched you. And I definitely wanted to know if I could get a whiff of arousal coming from between your thighs.”

“You bastard.” She could feel her cheeks flushing, shame threatening to overtake her because she knew just how aroused she’d gotten. Still was. God, she had to be sick to still find the man attractive.

His face softened slightly. “It’s all right. It’s nothing at all to be ashamed of. I know we tend to devalue sexuality in this country, but I think it’s a lovely thing. If it makes you feel better, come here and bump up against me. You’ll find I’ve got a hard-on.”

She couldn’t help it. Her eyes went there. Sure enough, his slacks had tented. Impressively.

“I had the same reaction.” His voice was all seduction now. “It’s all right. Let’s go somewhere and talk about this. I was wrong to approach you in such a crass manner. I’ll be honest. I’m usually much smoother than that. Give me a chance to take you to lunch and we can be civilized.”

But it was all an act. He could wear a thousand pound suit, but there was a predator underneath it. One she couldn’t handle. If she walked out with him, he would very likely smooth talk her in to agreeing and she would be underneath him by the time the boat left Dover.

And what the hell was wrong with that?

What was wrong with having an adventure? What was wrong with having an affair? She’d lived her whole life serving the people around her. What exactly was wrong with doing one completely insane thing?

“Knight, back off.” Nigel was standing, his face a grim mask. “I believe you’ve done enough damage for the day. Let the girl go.”

Knight’s face went a polite blank. “Of course.”

He stepped around her, making sure he didn’t poke her with the erection that was still obvious. He opened the door and closed it behind him without saying another word.

“You’ll forgive him. He’s not himself.” Nigel smoothed his tie down. “He’s struggling with the fact that his career is changing. This operation was important to him.”

“I’m sorry.” Her heart was still racing.

Nigel held a hand up. “I’ll attempt to find someone else.”

She nodded and turned, her hand on the knob, the same place he’d touched just moments before. “How likely is it that you’ll find someone in time?”

“Highly unlikely. We’ll have to figure something else out. But you don’t need to worry about that. Just continue your work. And it would be nice if you didn’t mention Knight’s state of…well, perhaps you could pretend he didn’t proposition you in my office.”

“Of course.” She wasn’t about to bring him up on sexual harassment charges. She had no illusions who would win that battle.

Or would he? He’d been injured. His career was changing? That could only mean that SIS wasn’t sure of his status. He’d been shot. Everyone had talked about it, but no one in her department knew exactly how bad it had been. He’d been gone for months. She’d been so lost in her own grief after her mum died that she hadn’t thought about him in forever. Well, not in anything but a fantasy way. She probably had never really thought about who he was as a man. Beyond his gorgeous face and his amazing body, there was still a man under there.

How hard would it be for a man like Knight to know that his whole career depended on one translator?

“I’ll give you my answer on Monday.”

Crowe sat up straighter. “I rather thought you’d already given me your answer.”

“Do you really think you can’t find anyone else?”

“I believe we won’t find anyone as qualified as you, but Miss Cash, you should understand that this is going to be a very, how should I put it, a very intimate operation. This cruise that the target is on is a cruise for people in what many would call a sexually deviant lifestyle. I really didn’t think Knight should even ask you, but he insisted.”

She had to work to make sure her jaw didn’t drop open. “What sort of sexually deviant lifestyle? Is it one large orgy? A swinging thing?”

“No. Not at all. I’ve rather heard many of these men are deeply possessive of their partners. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t see public sex, but Knight certainly wouldn’t ask you to sleep with anyone, well, anyone except him, very likely.” Crowe, who had overseen more bloody missions than Penny could even count, seemed deeply awkward talking about sex. She thought he’d rather be discussing the terrorist plot. “It wasn’t well done of him to ask you. I tried to explain that to him.”

It wasn’t well done of him to ask her on the mission or to ask her on an operation that might include having sex with him to keep up their cover? She wasn’t sure she liked the sound of either. It was perverse. Crowe was supporting her position, but now she felt a well of stubborn will rise up. “Well, I am a member of this organization. I do have security clearance. And I knew that I could be asked to go into the field if I was needed.”

“Yes, of course, but this isn’t the type of operation you should be on. You’re a nice young lady. You certainly shouldn’t be exposed to that sort of thing.”

That sort of thing? Sex? He thought she shouldn’t be exposed to sex? Well, it wasn’t like she hadn’t thought the same thing, but it hurt. “Is the lifestyle situation detailed in the report?”

He picked up the file. “There is information on it, yes.”

“And Mr. Knight knows about this lifestyle?” She had to admit she was curious. Curious about everything.

And she owed it to Mr. Knight to at least read the file. She couldn’t do it herself, but perhaps they weren’t thinking of everyone. Maybe she could help them find someone who would be suitable. “I’ll take a look at it.”

“If you’re sure.” He let her take the folder. “But obviously no one expects you to accept.” He emphasized the “you.”

And she felt that deep sense of completely unrealistic outrage again. “We’ll see.”

Before she turned, she thought she caught just a hint of a smile and wondered if Nigel Crowe wasn’t playing her for everything she was worth.

And she suddenly wondered if it just might work.

Copyright Lexi Blake 2014