K. Bromberg Hard Beat: A Driven Novel

ISBN 13: 9780451476814

Hard Beat: A Driven Novel

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9780451476814: Hard Beat: A Driven Novel

From the New York Times bestselling author of Sweet Ache comes a blistering new novel filled with danger, secrecy, and a desire that can’t be sated...
Foreign war correspondent Tanner Thomas is addicted to living on the edge. Needing the adrenaline rush of his job to help him cope with a personal loss, he throws himself back into the game, concentrating all his energy on getting the next big story. But when he meets his new photojournalist, Beaux Croslyn, he can’t help but feel like he’s losing his focus—and maybe risking more...
With secrets she won’t address, Beaux is far from your ordinary woman. Determined to keep her distance, she’s willing to pull Tanner in closer and hide behind the sparks flying between them. But as Beaux’s past begins to put their relationship—and their lives—at risk, Tanner’s determination to find the truth puts them both in jeopardy. 
He's ready to chase her to the ends of the earth to find out if what they had was real, or if the danger surrounding them was just an exquisite heat fated to burn out....

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About the Author:

K. Bromberg is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Driven series, including Sweet Ache and Slow Burn. K. lives in Southern California with her husband and three children. When she needs a break from the daily chaos of her life, you can most likely find her on the treadmill or with e-reader in hand devouring a good, saucy book. 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

A hand slaps me firmly on the back. It’s one of many in an impromptu celebration in the bar of the hotel to greet me.

“Welcome back, you crazy fucker!”

Burn out, my ass.

I turn to see Pauly’s familiar face: broad grin, hair falling over his thick glasses, and belly leading the way. “Man, it’s good to see you!” As I turn to shake his hand, I’m instantly pulled into his arms for a rough embrace.

He pulls back and cuffs the side of my cheek. “You okay?” It’s the same look that everyone has been giving me, and it’s driving me fucking insane. Pity mixed with sadness. But Pauly is allowed to look at me like that since he was there before all the shit hit the fan; he loved her like a sister too. And coming back here, I feared this moment—meeting him face-to-face—as if he’d judge me, think it was my fault . . . but all I feel right now is relief.

It feels so damn good to be back here, with people who get me, who understand why I’d return to work when so many others think I should have given it up to stay home for good. They don’t get that once you’re a nomad, you’re always a nomad. Or that home isn’t where your house is necessarily; it’s where you feel comfortable. And yes, that comfort can alter over time—as your needs shift and wants change—but in the end, I feel more like myself right now than I have since Stella’s death.

I pull my thoughts back to the here and now, to Pauly, the stale cigarette smoke that hangs in the air around me, and the pungent scent of spices coming in through the open windows of the bar.

“I’m better now that I’m back here.” I motion to the barstool next to me for him to sit down.

“Thank God for that. Took Rafe long enough.”

“Almost four months.”

“Shit,” he says in sympathy, knowing what a big deal that is to someone like me.

“Yeah. Tell me about it. The first two months were a mandatory leave of absence. Then once I threatened to go to CNN, he said he was speeding things up . . . but then, fuck, they made me take another Centurian course.” It’s a course for foreign correspondents about what to do in a hostile environment and how to handle the multitude of things that can go wrong at any given time. “And then I was told they couldn’t find a photographer who wanted to travel to this paradise. . . . It was one damn thing after another.”

“So in other words, he was dragging his feet so he could get you back here on his time frame.”

“Exactly.” I nod and tip my bottle up to my lips. “He thought I needed a break, said I was going to burn out.” I motion to the bartender to bring us another couple of beers.

“We’re all going to at some point. In the meantime . . .” He taps the neck of his beer bottle against mine. “Might as well get our fix.”

“Amen, brother. So, tell me what the hell has been happening while I’ve been gone.” The need to change the subject is paramount for me right now. I know Stella is going to be everywhere here, but I need a way to make her not so present in my mind so that I can focus on doing my job.

At least it’s a good theory.

“I’m hearing that some new players have moved into the game and that there’s a high-official meet in the works, but we can talk shop later. Right now, we need to welcome you back properly.” Pauly raises his voice to shout the last few words. In agreement, the crowd of people around us, mostly men, raise up a glass and call out a few aye, ayes.

The excitement around me feels palpable. It doesn’t take much in this place to give people a reason to celebrate. We all live on that razor-thin edge of unpredictability, so we take the chances we get to party because who knows when we’ll get another one. For all we know, tomorrow we could be on air-raid-siren lockdown in the hotel or out in the field in an embedded mission with a military unit.

When I turn back around, the bartender is busily filling the row of shot glasses on the bar top in front of me with Fireball whiskey. History tells me that this row is the first of many in tonight’s welcome-back celebration. My inclination is to chug back the first shot and then slowly work my way out of the bar and to my room.

It’s been a long ass few days. Between flights through multiple time zones and then a transport into the heart of the city, plus trying to reconnect with my sources to let them know I’m back in town, and grease their palms some, I’m exhausted, exhilarated, and feeling a little more like myself back in the thick of things, doing exactly what I love.

“C’mon, T-squared,” Carson yells with a slap of his hand on the counter. Hearing the nickname referring to the initials of my first and last name is like a welcome mat laid before me, and right then I know there is no way in hell I’m skipping out on this party.

“I’m game if you’re game!” I raise a glass up to him and wait for everyone close to us to grab a shot. The jostling of more people patting my shoulders accompanied by welcome-back comments causes the amber liquid to slosh over the sides of the shot glass.

“Shh. Shh. Shh,” Pauly instructs our friends as he stands on the seat of his chair, holding up his own glass. “Tanner Thomas . . . We are so glad to see your ugly ass back in this shithole. I’m sure once you hand our asses to us time and again by getting the story first, we’ll want you to leave, but for now we’re glad you’re here. Slainte!” As soon as he finishes the toast, the room around us erupts into cheers before we all toss back the whiskey.

I welcome the burn and before the sting even abates, my glass is already being refilled. When I look up from the pour, my eyes lock on a woman I hadn’t noticed at the other side of the bar. The momentary connection affords me a glimpse of dark hair and vibrant eyes as she lifts her drink in a silent nod to me, but as soon as I register she’s doing it on purpose, someone moves and blocks my view of her.

But I keep my eyes fixed in that direction, wanting another glance of the mysterious woman. She doesn’t look familiar, but at the same time something more than curiosity pulls at me. It’s been four long months—she could be anybody—but for a guy like me always in the know around here, it bothers me that I don’t have a clue who she is.

“Ready, Tan?” Pauly’s glass taps against mine, pulling me from my thoughts.

“Bottoms up, baby.” God, it feels good to be back. Listening to the guys’ war stories, getting up to speed on the shit that’s happened at the grassroots level that no one back at home has any clue about.

The whiskey goes down a little smoother the second and third times while our crowd gets bigger from people coming in after fulfilling their assignments. And each wave of people joining us ushers in another round of shots.

Maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s the familiar atmosphere, but soon I feel like I can breathe easier than I have in months. I think of Stella intermittently through the night, mostly how much she’d have loved this show of unity amongst all these people competing for the next big story, and for the first time in forever I can smile at her memory.

“So how long you here for this time?” Pauly asks.

“I don’t know.” I blow out a long breath and lean back in my chair, tracing the lines of condensation down the glass of water in front of me that’s still full. Whiskey tastes so much better tonight. “This might be my last time. . . .” My own words surprise me. A confession from the combination of the nostalgia and my own mortality examined through the alcoholic buzz.

“Quit talking like that. This shit is in your blood. You can’t live without it.”

“True.” I glance across the room while I nod my head slowly in agreement. “But dude, a dog only has so many lives.”

“I guess that’s why I prefer pussies. They’ve got nine of ’em.”

“Christ, Pauly.” I choke on the words. “I prefer to eat it rather than live it.”

His arm goes around my shoulder as his laugh fills my ears. “I missed the fuck out of you, Thomas. Speaking of . . .” His hand grips me tighter before he lifts his chin to direct my line of sight. “The hottie at two o’clock has been eyeing you all night.”

I shrug the comment away, even though a small part of me—one that I’m not too happy with right now—hopes that he’s referring to the woman I’d glimpsed earlier. I’d told myself that she’d left. But secretly I want to be wrong. “I’m sure as hell hoping when you say ‘hottie,’ you’re referring to a woman and not an IED.”

“Cheers to that truth. Scary shit,” he says, tapping the neck of his bottle against the rim of my empty glass, “and no, I’m referring to dark hair, great rack, killer body—”

“No thanks.” I cut him off, but my eyes dart to where I saw her sitting earlier, and immediately I chastise myself.

“You still seeing what’s-her-name?” he asks with the same indifference as I felt toward her.

“Nah . . .” I let my voice drift off as my thoughts veer to our last fight when she accused me of cheating on her with Stella. “She took an assignment monitoring North Korea.”

“She thought you and Stella were messing around?” he infers.

The thought brings a bittersweet smile to my face. Memories of Stella and me, young and in love, flash through my mind. It feels like forever ago. Probably because it was. Two young twenty-somethings on their first assignment with no one else to help occupy their time. Lust turned to sweet love and then the slow realization that we weren’t any good as a couple. Then came an awkward phase where we had to get over the bitterness associated with lust gone wrong. The passage of time allowed us to realize we were really good at the best-friend thing which in turn made us a great team, reporter and photographer. Inseparable for almost ten years, except for the odd assignment that took us to other places of the world and despite the introduction of significant others.

“Yeah. I get it. I’d probably think the same thing, but . . .” I shrug. “You’ve seen us together. Know how Stell and I were—”

“Mutt and Jeff,” he mumbles as we both fall into a short silence thinking of her. “I liked what’s-her-name.”

“No, you didn’t.” I laugh loudly because his comment was the farthest thing from the truth. He nods his head in agreement—everyone knew they didn’t get along. “But thanks. I think it had run its course before she changed assignments. You know what relationships are like with what we do.”

“Man, do I know it. What am I on here? Wife number three? Four? You’ve got the right idea with the let’s-have-fun versus the let’s-get-hitched mentality . . . but uh, she just looked over here again and fuck me, I’d make her wife number five for the night if she’d let me.”

The deep belly chuckle he emits pulls a reluctant laugh out of me, and it takes everything I have not to glance in the woman’s direction. Resistance is futile. Eventually I give in to curiosity and glance up, planning to avert my eyes before she looks our way again.

Intriguing eyes meet mine. Her dark hair is pulled back into a messy knot that should look unkempt but somehow makes her sexier. When our eyes connect, her lips fall open in surprise in an O shape before they correct themselves into a slow, soft smile. I nod my head at her and then casually look away, both hating and loving that pang in my gut that stirs to life.

Something about her—yet nothing I can put my finger on—tells me I should steer clear. So why the fuck do I glance back up to see if she’s still looking? And why do I care?

“I’m sure you would,” I finally answer Pauly, a little slow in my response.

“She’s hot. I mean how often do we get someone that fine in this neck of the woods? Damn, dude, her eyes are back on you now. She’s seriously checking you out.” He snickers.

“Yeah, and she’s probably some sheik’s wife. No thanks . . . I’ll keep the hand they’d cut off just for looking at her.” I toss my napkin on the bar at the same time the barkeep slides another round in front of us.

“Better your hand than something else,” Pauly deadpans.

“Got that right.” I laugh.

“I might take the risk for her.” I glance over and look him up and down. He can’t be serious. “Okay. Maybe not.”

“Maybe not.” I scrub my hand over my clean-shaven face, knowing the smooth skin will soon be replaced by the scruff that just kind of happens when you live here. “She one of us?”

“She’s been here about two weeks. Freelance, I think. Don’t know much about her—heard she’s a loose cannon of sorts. Always off on her own, taking unnecessary risks and getting into people’s business. I’ve steered clear other than a nod in the lobby.”

That’s what I intend to do, steer clear of her. Too many newbies come in gung-ho, trying to get the next big story, and end up getting someone hurt. Just like what happened to Stella.

“Well, for what it matters, loose cannon or not, I think you should go for it. She’ll probably be gone sooner rather than later, which is always a good thing. . . . Prevents attachment, and shit, you never know when your next chance to taste those nine lives will be.” He winks and I can’t help but snort.

“Thanks but I’ve got enough to worry about with my new photog coming in tomorrow.” I roll my eyes and bring the shot glass back to my partially numb lips as my mind veers back to the fact that it’s been ten years since I’ve had to break in anybody new. I’m not looking forward to this.

“Well tough shit, man,” he says, patting me on the back, “because she’s making a move for you.”

The resigned sigh falls from my mouth at the same time she slides into the chair next to me. Gone is the distinct scent of this crowded bar when the clean and flowery scent of her perfume surrounds me. I keep my head down, eyes focused on the scratches in the wood counter, acknowledging that I don’t want the small zing I feel to flourish. At all.

But of course the longer we sit there, with me looking down and the full weight of her stare on me, I know I’m in a losing battle. I’ve got plenty of fight in me, just not for her right now. I need to head this off at the pass.

“Whoever you’re looking for, I’m not him.” I try not to sound too hostile, but my voice lacks any kind of warmth. I’ve been here, done this before. The newbies try to butter me up to get the scoop on everything inside town—and coming off the heels of the mess with Stella, I’m not giving anything to anybody.

“I don’t believe I’m looking for anything.” Her voice sounds smooth as silk with a hint of a rasp. How did I know she was going to have a sexy voice?


“Whiskey sour,” she says to the bartender, and I have to admit the order kind of surprises me. “And put it on his tab.”

I immediately look up to catch the smirk on her face and the taunting glimmer in her green eyes. Intrigue has me keeping my gaze on hers because I admire that she came back at me with her own line instead of scurrying away to lick her wounds. Can’t say the freelancer doesn’t have some chops.

“I don’t believe I offered to buy you one.” And the truth of the matter is I don’t give a flying fuck about the drink. I would’ve bought it anyway out of plain manners, but something tells me I just walked right into her well-maneuvered gam...

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