Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Heart of Stone: A Mercenary's Romance #RomFantasy

5.0 out of 5 stars No Emotion Left Untouched!

This review is from: Heart of Stone (Kindle Edition)

I've been a huge fan of Denyse Bridger's work for years now. This is one author who knows how to touch upon every human emotion and bring them to the forefront of your own mind and soul. Heart of Stone will make you feel as if you're center-stage with the characters Denyse has created. Better yet, you BECOME the characters. She weaves worlds with such rich detail and characterization you can't help but enjoy her books. Be prepared to laugh, cry, sigh, and swoon as you read this sexy tale.

Randall Stone is the stuff of heroes, a mercenary given a discharge from the army he has served with his life. But the government is still interested in using the skills they've taught Major Rand Stone, and he continues to work with his hand-picked team. Into his shadowy world a light has come, and in her love, Stone discovers unhoped for joy, and, perhaps, unbearable sorrow?


“How many messages do you think he’s got waiting for him?” Blake asked as they trailed after Stone.

Rand heard Jennifer’s laughter, and suppressed a smile at his team’s banter.

“Well, we’ve been gone three weeks, and he said to call in three days. By now she might not even be talking to him.”

“That don’t look promising,” Nick Holloway, a temporary team member selected for this particular mission, noted when they entered the military hangar and spotted Brookman waiting for them. On loan from the CIA, Nick had been an unofficial presence on many missions organized by Donald Brookman over the years. He’d worked with Stone’s team several times before, and was giving serious thought to making the move permanent.

“Listen, Brookman,” Rand began when they reached the International Security Director, who was their unofficial boss. “We’re tired, and I am not going anywhere for at least a couple of days.”

The rest of the team had stopped at his back, and his assertion was echoed by muttered affirmatives. When Donald said nothing, the silence settled, a strained, tension-laden quiet that was both ominous and unnerving.


Donald ran a hand over his silvery hair and looked Rand directly in the eyes.

“She’s dead, Rand,” he said with no preamble or cushioning words.

“Who’s dead?” Rand responded automatically, his weary brain sluggish. But his body grew taut with contained panic. He knew already. He really didn’t want to know at all.

“Robin Bourne died three days ago,” Donald stated softly. “Her car went off the road. She was killed in the explosion.”

The silence held for several seconds.

“What?” It was an expulsion of air, disbelief the only emotion present in the whispered word. Rand’s smile faltered. His gut told him it was true, but his head wasn’t ready to accept it.

Behind him, he felt shock radiate from the other members of the elite mercenary team. Jennifer touched his shoulder, but he shrugged her off, not willing to accept the comfort she was clearly trying to offer him.

“What the hell are you telling me, Brookman?” Fury rose like a tide, blotting out the pain he wasn’t ready to face. “She was on her way to New York for that bastard Ethridge when I left. Is that where this happened?”

“She went directly from New York to Butte, stayed with Lucky for nearly a week then came home. She was back five days before her death,” Brookman said.

“No!” Rand closed his eyes and rubbed them as his thoughts raced at warp speed. “There’s been a mistake—”

“Forensics gave them positive identification from dental records,” Brookman told him, visibly reluctant to impart the details. “When they couldn’t reach you, they contacted Lucky. He called me.” He reached into his jacket pocket and held out his hand.

Rand lifted the charred necklace from Donald’s palm. The silver dog tags with Rand’s name engraved into them; Jennifer had given them to Robin as a birthday gift, and she’d worn them from that night on, telling him that they made her feel just a little bit more his. That lack of feminist in her was one more complementary trait to Rand’s chauvinistic nature. She was happy to belong with him and to him.

Rand’s fingers closed over the tags, and he walked a few paces away from the group, pulling himself under control as he accepted his friend’s news. He turned to stare at them, dazed.

“Lucky and D.J. arrived this morning,” Brookman told them. “They’re at the club.”

Jennifer went to Rand’s side. “I’m so sorry, Rand.”

He nodded. He had no words.

“My car’s waiting,” Brookman interjected in a quiet voice.

“Who’s in charge of the investigation?”

“Detective Eric Karmac.”

“He’s our first stop,” Stone said, mentally distancing himself from the grief he knew he’d be living with for a long time. He’d grieve later, when he could tell himself he’d done something about her death. About the death of the first woman in much too long that he’d allowed himself to love and need.

Brookman gazed at the others, worry and uneasiness evident in his wary expression.

“We’ll go back to the club,” Jennifer assured him. Nick nodded his silent agreement.

“We’re here for you, Major,” Eddie said.

“Yeah.” Rand smiled a little. “Thanks.”

* * *

“Robin’s mother, Clara Shelton, is waiting for access to Robin’s house,” Donald said, once Rand had changed into civilian clothes and they were on their way to LAPD headquarters.

“Who the hell—” He shook his head. “Never mind. Where’s she staying?”

“Nowhere, yet,” Brookman replied. “She flew in a couple of hours after Lucky and D.J. arrived. Lucky wouldn’t grant her admittance to the house until you got back.”

Rand managed a small laugh.

“I gather Robin and her mother weren’t close?” Donald noted dryly.

“You could say that,” Rand responded with a hint of bitterness. “She hasn’t seen Robin since just after her father’s death. That was back in ’92.”

Brookman’s eyebrows rose, but he didn’t comment.

“And there’s been no contact since then? Is there any other family?”

Rand swallowed the threat of real tears as he fought to contain the raging emotions that battered his heart.

“A sister,” he answered after a few moments thought. “Aureena.”

“Should I find her?”

“From what Robin said, if Clara is here, Aureena won’t be far behind her.”

When Brookman would have asked more questions, Rand turned away and stared out the window.

“Later, Donald,” he whispered, his voice thick with too much pain.

The light squeeze of Donald’s hand on his shoulder was almost his undoing, and he closed his eyes for a moment as he forcibly put the grief aside to think about what he was going to do.

* * *

Brookman wasn’t convinced taking Rand into the morgue was a course of action that would do anything but cause more pain to the younger man. But Rand wouldn’t be dissuaded from seeing what little remained of Robin’s body. Maybe it was the only thing that would make it real for him, Donald decided, and followed him into the cold, antiseptic room.

“This isn’t necessary, Rand,” Donald ventured for what he knew would be the final time.

“Have your people done the follow-up?”

Brookman shook his head. “Is it really necessary?”

Stone smiled, an expression that was a world away from the casual devilment the shift in features usually conveyed. There was nothing, only the cold mask Donald knew hid the more lethal aspects of Rand’s personality. “…He’s a stranger in so many ways. Like there are two different people living in the same body, and I only know one face in many…” Robin’s voice whispered the words in his memory, and he began to understand the statement with new clarity as Rand stared at the blackened remnants of the woman he had loved much more than he’d had time to realize.

“I want everything double-checked,” Rand said softly. “Triple-checked, if necessary. I don’t want any doubt, Donald,” he finished as he turned to leave.


“Because I have to know!” he snarled before Brookman could finish the query.

At the police station Rand was given the reports to read, and he questioned Eric Karmac thoroughly on each piece of evidence the police had collected.

An hour later, they were headed for the Western Star Health Club. The health club had been established a couple of years earlier as a convenient cover operation for the government affiliated mercenary team. Rand had an apartment above the club, and his fortress-like command center was below ground. He conducted most of his life from the confines of the club, when he wasn’t trotting all over the world for Brookman.

“What are you going to do about her mother?” Brookman asked.

Rand’s eyebrow rose. “Why?”

Donald decided to wait for a few minutes, until they were inside the club and he knew if he’d have to make an announcement in front of Robin’s family.

As (bad) luck would have it, both mother and sister were present, sitting well apart from the members of Randall’s mercenary team. Clara’s hostility seemed to be directed at Lucky.

“You must be Randall Stone,” she said, rising from her seat the instant Rand came through the door.

“Yes, ma’am, I am,” he replied, shaking her hand.

“I want to see my daughter’s home, and I’ve been told that will be impossible without your consent.”

Rand glanced at Lucky and resisted a smile when the other man merely shrugged.

“There may be a slight problem there,” Donald interjected.

Clara’s icy gaze moved. There was little resemblance between Robin and her mother, and the lack of warmth that emanated from the well-groomed, chic woman who glared at him was as striking as Robin’s earthy, easy-going manner.

Aureena Shelton was a mirror image of her mother—tall, slender, fair. “What type of problem?” she asked, her annoyance clear to everyone.

“Robin’s left very specific instructions on how things are to be handled, and who is to handle them,” Donald told them, feeling the various levels of surprise his words evoked. “All decisions are to be made by the person she’s left in control of her estate.”

“And that would be?” Rand prompted.

“That would be you, Rand” Brookman said. “The will is straightforward, and the executor assigned.”

“Are you telling us that Robin has cut us out entirely?” Aureena snapped.

“Of course she hasn’t.” Clara’s voice rang with impatience. “We’re her family. All the family she had.”

“Wrong again,” Lucky spoke into the lull, his smooth voice unexpectedly chilly. “We’re Robin’s family. Look around you, Mrs. Shelton. The people your daughter cherished most are right in front of you.”

Clara’s stare moved from face to face, seeing strangers who grieved more visibly than she ever would. Her gaze stopped on Lucky, and would have unnerved a lesser man. When Lucky simply stared back, she was forced to look away.

“I want to see the paperwork,” she said.

“It’s all here,” Brookman assured her.

Rand left them to fight it out. He was tired, and there were too many things he needed to look into. When he closed his office door, he looked around, feeling Robin’s presence in the room with him. His gaze went to the photograph on his desk, and he had to close his eyes to clear them of sudden haze. Eddie had taken the picture here in the office. Robin was seated between his legs, surrounded by the remnants of her birthday party.

Rand crossed the room and lifted the receiver off the phone.

A half hour later, the door to his office burst inward, and Clara Shelton stormed in.

“I want to see my daughter’s house,” she informed him, anger blazing from her entire manner.

“I can arrange that,” he said. Having just spent twenty minutes on the phone, gratefully accepting the comfort of his grandmother’s warmth, he could more readily appreciate Robin’s rancor toward her own remaining parent. Some of that hostility dimmed a second later when Clara picked up the photograph he’d been looking at minutes earlier.

“She loved you,” Clara murmured after a lengthy hesitation. She sounded surprised.

Rand nodded. “She’s… She was an amazing woman.”

Clara’s momentary softening vanished. Harsh laughter sprang from her as she placed the picture back on his desk.

“Robin’s capacity for indifference was her most amazing quality, Mr. Stone.”

“You didn’t know her very well, did you?”

“Quite the opposite.” She smiled bitterly. “I knew her too well. She was her father’s child from the day she was born, and, like Edmund, she cared for no one’s needs but her own.”

Rand shook his head. “I’m not going to discuss this with you, Mrs. Shelton.” He rose. “I’ll have one of my people take you to the house.”

“That won’t be necessary. Just give me a key.”

Rand smiled. “I’m afraid it’s not that simple, ma’am. The house has a security system. Without one of my team, you won’t be able to walk in.”

“What on earth did a man like you see in her?” Clara murmured, after a thorough and insinuating appraisal of Rand.

“Everything you didn’t, apparently,” Rand commented dryly. He didn’t give her time for further conversation. He returned to the main area of the club, Robin’s mother only a few steps behind him. “Jennifer, would you take Mrs. Shelton to the house and stay with her?”

“It’s Clara,” Robin’s mother said.

Rand ignored her.

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