NY Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today Bestselling Author
For as long as she can remember, Ember Maxwell’s life hasn’t been her own. A world-renowned influencer, she’s a brand unto herself, created by her parents—who also want Olympic glory for their only daughter. Years of grueling training have led to Seoul, Korea, and a spot on the modern pentathlon team. It’s a turning point for Ember in more ways than one. Chafing against her parents’ tight reins, she opts to stay in the Olympic Village, a decision that leads to a gravely harrowing event…and a man unlike any she’s ever met.
Craig “Doc” Wagner has actively avoided the spotlight since childhood, a trend that’s continued with his career as a Delta Force soldier. Falling for someone whose entire life is splashed on social media is possibly the worst idea ever, though his attraction to Ember won’t be denied. It’s not long before he discovers they have plenty in common where it really matters…but he lives in Texas, and her life is in California. So Doc will take every stolen moment they can get.
When Ember makes a few life-changing decisions, Doc is thrilled. The same can’t be said for some of her biggest fans, including one who sees Ember’s new direction as the ultimate betrayal…that should cost her the ultimate price.
The team is excited to be here at the Olympic games. It’s a choice assignment and while they will be providing additional security, they will also have the chance to see some events. One they really have to get to is baseball. Oz’s wife is soon to give birth so he’s not with them, his nephew Logan is a huge fan of Shin Soo Choo and they promised an autograph. Unfortunately for them that team is staying in a hotel instead of the Olympic village.
Surprisingly one person they didn’t expect to stay in the village does show up. Ember Maxwell is a world renowned influencer and a modern pentathlon team member. Her parents are the driving force behind it all and she is trying to break away from it all. For all her notoriety she appears uncomfortable under the attention she is attracting just by walking into the cafeteria.
Doc notices and rescues her, seating her with his team but then he leaves. The guys introduced themselves and for the rest of the meal put her at ease by talking about themselves and including her in the conversation. She honestly answered about where she’s from and how she got into the modern pentathlon, something she usually avoided.
She was however confused by Doc’s leaving, and polite declines their invite to join them for dinner later.
This is a favorite scene after dinner as Doc takes a walk around the dorms checking all is secure.
She gave him a tiny smile, then asked, “So why’d you leave then?”
Doc considered lying to her. Telling her he wasn’t hungry, or that he’d had a phone call to make. But he couldn’t do it. Something about the sadness in her eyes spoke to him. Drew him in like a moth to a flame. He knew she could possibly pierce the armor he kept around him at all times, but he couldn’t resist her. “Because you make me uncomfortable.”
Her brows furrowed. “I do?”
Doc shrugged. “Don’t be. It’s really me, not you.”
She gave him another small smile. “That sounds like a line,” she informed him.
“It’s not. You make me…feel things I don’t want to. I’m uncomfortable with the attention you garner. I’m used to hiding in the shadows, and you’re like a bright, shiny light. And anyone who gets near you is engulfed in that light.”
His words seemed to make her even sadder, which hadn’t been his intention.
“Yeah, that’s true. And since we’re being honest, I’d give anything to turn that light off. Just once. To hide in those shadows with you.”
They shared a long intimate gaze. He realized that she was being sincere.
He never would’ve guessed after seeing her Instagram page that Ember Maxwell was uncomfortable being in the spotlight, but he should’ve known. Social media was all bullshit. People said things to try to fit in, to seem more popular and interesting than they actually were. They claimed to be one kind of person, but in real life were completely different. And Ember was living proof of that…just not in the way he’d expected.
“What are you doing in here?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Trying to see the stars.”
That wasn’t the answer he’d expected. “Pardon?”
“The stars. Every night before I go to sleep, I sit in my window and look up. The world is such a huge place, and seeing the stars twinkling reminds me that there’s so much more out there than my narrow little life. But I can’t see them from my room. There’s another dorm right outside my window and the lights from it make it impossible to see anything. So I came down here. But the view’s not much better.”
“I can see them from my room,” Doc blurted.
She stared at him again.
“Look…you don’t know me, but I swear on my honor as a US Army soldier that you’re safe with me. If you want to come to my room for a while, to look at the stars, I’d be okay with that.” Doc knew that sounded like the worst pick-up line ever, but he didn’t regret the offer.
“My room must be on the other side of the hall from yours,” he went on. “I face the stadium and the track. When a game or match is going on, you can’t see anything because of the lights, but tonight it’s quiet and there aren’t any clouds, so you should be able to see the stars.”
He wasn’t surprised she was skeptical of his offer. “Because regardless of my actions earlier, I usually don’t shy away from things that make me uncomfortable. Hell, my entire life has been uncomfortable. Letting you sit in my room for a while isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. And if it’ll help you be able to sleep, so you can be on top of your game when you compete, compete, all the better. I’ll even stay in here if you want, so you’ll feel more comfortable.”
Ember wrinkled her nose, and Doc couldn’t help but think it was adorable.
“I’m not kicking you out of your room. People might think I’m a diva, but I’m not.”
Doc took a deep breath and stepped toward her, holding out his hand in invitation. “Then let’s do this, so you can get some sleep. I’d never forgive myself if you lost out on a medal because you were exhausted from staying up too late.”
She gave him a shy smile. “Trust me, I’ve gone plenty of nights with not enough sleep. Especially before a competition. That won’t be the reason I don’t medal.”
Doc stayed where he was, with his arm outstretched, practically holding his breath as she came toward him.
He had a sudden feeling that the second she touched him, his life was going to change forever.
For good or bad? That was the question.
Their fingers touched, then she was gripping his hand tightly.
As Doc turned and headed for his room, Ember’s hand tucked in his, he knew he was right. Knew his life had taken a turn.
It was ridiculous. He didn’t know Ember, and she didn’t know him. Her life was everything he didn’t want—fame and fortune and the limelight. But he could’ve no sooner walked away from her in this moment than he could turn his back on his family.
He’d caught a glimpse of the real Ember Maxwell hidden below the glitz and glamour she showed the world. And he was intrigued. Wanted to know more about her. Wanted to know everything about her.
It made no sense…but then, being with her right now made more sense than just about anything he’d done in his life.
He kept hold of her hand and led her into his room, only reluctantly letting go to push the one chair in the room over to the window. He walked to the bathroom and flicked on the light, then turned off the lamp on his bedside table. It would be easier to see the stars in a completely dark room, but he figured she’d be more comfortable alone with him if the room wasn’t pitch black. Finally he headed back to the window, pulled up the blinds and took a step back, gesturing to the chair as he did. “Your throne, my lady.”
Ember rolled her eyes but walked toward the chair and sat. She looked up, and Doc heard her sigh in appreciation. “Oh, yeah. This is what I needed.” She leaned forward, as if that would get her closer to the stars she was admiring.
Doc took a step back. Neither said a word for several long moments. Ember was soaking in whatever it was the stars did for her, and Doc soaked in the view of the beautiful woman sitting in his room.
Stoker, Susan. Shielding Ember (Delta Team Two Book 7). Kindle Locations (422-468). Stoker Aces Production, LLC. Kindle Edition.
Doc and Ember really connect as they get to know each other. There’s also a lot of things going on behind the scenes. We see this Alex person who is more than a little stalkerish and of course there’s gonna be some excitement before the games are over.
Once again a Susan Stoker book I couldn’t put down, with action, suspense, laughter, tears, romance and some sizzle.
5 Contented Purrs for Susan!
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New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author, Susan Stoker has a heart as big as the state of Tennessee where she lives, but this all American girl has also spent the last fourteen years living in Missouri, California, Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee. She’s married to a retired Army man who now gets to follow her around the country.