Read an Excerpt
"You don't deserve to die here."
Juliana James looked up at the sound of the quiet voice. She couldn't move her body much because she was still tied hand and foot to the chair in the dimly lit room. Tied with rough ropes that bit into her skin. Though she'd struggled for hours, she hadn't been able to break free. She'd done nothing but slice open her flesh on the ropes.
"If you tell them what they want to know " He sighed. "They might let you go."
Juliana swallowed and felt as if she were choking back shards of glass. How long had it been since they'd given her anything to drink? After swallowing a few more times, she managed, "I don't know anything." She was just trapped in a nightmare. One day, she'd been soaking up the sun on a Mexican beach, and the next
It was a nightmare all right, and she desperately wanted to wake up from it. Ready to wake upnow.
John Gonzales, the man who'd been held captive with her forwhat was it now? Three? Four days?was slumped in his chair. She'd never met John until they were thrown together in this hell. They'd both been kidnapped from separate areas in Mexico. The men who'd abducted them kept coming and getting John, taking him.
And she knew her time was coming.
"I'm not perfect," John's ragged voice whispered to her. "But you you didn't do anything wrong It was all your father."
Her father. The not-so-honorable Senator Aaron James. She might not know who had taken her, but once her abductors had started asking their questions, Juliana had figured out fast that the abduction was payback for something the senator had done.
Daddy hadn't raised a fool. Just, apparently, someone to die in his place.
Would he even care when he learned about what had happened to her? Or would he just hold a press conference and look appropriately saddened and grievous in front of all the cameras? She didn't know, and that fact made her stomach knot even more.
Juliana exhaled slowly. "Perfect or not " She didn't know the things that John had done. Right then, they didn't matter. He'd talked to her when she'd been trapped in the dark. He'd kept her sane during all of those long, terrible hours. "We're both going to make it out of here."
His rough laughter called her words a lie.
She'd only seen his face a few times, when the light was bright enough in the early mornings. Appearing a bit younger than her own thirty years, John had the dark good looks that had probably gotten him plenty of female attention since he was a teen.
Not now, though.
"Do you have any regrets?" John asked her. She saw his head tilt toward her as he waited for her response.
Juliana blinked against the tears that wanted to fill her eyes. Regrets? "A few." One.
A pause. Then "You ever been in love, Juliana?"
"Once" and in the dark, with only death waiting for her, she could admit this painful truth "but Logan didn't love me back." Pity, because she'd never been able to
The hinges on the door groaned as it opened. Juliana tensed, her whole body going tight with fear. John was already swearing, jerking against his binds, but.
But the men weren't coming for him this time.
They were coming for her.
Logan Quinn felt a trickle of sweat slide down his back. He didn't move, not so much as a muscle twitch. He'd been in position for the past forty-three minutes, waiting for the go-ahead to move.
To storm that building and get Julie out of there.
Hold on, baby.
Not that she was his baby. Not anymore. But the minute Senator James had contacted him, asking for his help and the help of his team, Logan had known that trouble, serious trouble, had come to hunt him down.
Julie's missing. You have to get her back.
That was all it had taken. Two sentences, and Logan had set his team up for a recovery mission in Mexico. His unit, part of the Elite Operations Division, didn't take on just any case.
But for her, he'd do anything.
"There's movement." The words whispered into his ear via the comm link that all members of his recovery team used.
Logan barely breathed.
"I have a visual on the target."
His heart raced faster. This was what they'd been waiting for. Movement and, hopefully visual confirmation. They wouldn't storm the place, not until
"I see her. The girl's being led down a hallway. There's a knife at her throat."
Logan held his position even as fury pulsed within him. Juliana would be scared. Terrified. This was so far from the debutante balls in Mississippi that she knew. So far from the safe life she'd always wanted to lead.
He'd get her back to that life, then he'd walk away. Just as he had before.
"South side," that same voice whispered in his ear. Male. Gunner Ortez, the SEAL sniper Uncle Sam had recruited for their black-ops division. A division most said didn't exist.
They were wrong.
"Second door," Gunner said, voice flat and hard as he marked the target location.
Finally, Logan moved. A shadow in the night, he didn't make a single sound as he slipped into the building. To his right, Jasper Adams moved in perfect sync with him. The Ranger knew how to keep quiet just like Logan did. After all their training, stealth was second nature to them now.
Logan came up on the first guard, caught the scent of cigarettes and alcohol. One quick jab, and the guard's body slumped back against him. He pulled the guy into the shadows, dropped him in the corner and signaled for Jasper to keep moving.
Then he heard her scream.
The blood in Logan's body iced over. For a second, his vision seemed to go dark. Pain, fearhe could hear them both in Juliana's scream. He rushed forward, edging fast on Jasper's heels. Jasper knocked out the next guard, barely pausing.
Logan didn't pause at all. He drew out his gun and"Please, I don't know!" It was Juliana's desperate voice. The voice he still heard in his dreams. Not soft with the South now, but high with terror.
They passed the first door. The second was just steps away. Hold on, hold on
"Company!" Gunner's terse warning blasted in his comm link. They barely had time to duck for cover before the rat-a-tat of gunfire smashed into the wall above them.
Made. Logan fired back, once, twice, aiming with near-instant precision. He heard a choked cry, then the thud of bodies as two men hit the ground. Jasper covered him, moving quickly, as Logan kicked open lucky door number two. With that gunfire, the men inside would either flee
Or try to kill their prey.
Option number two damn well wasn't going down on his watch.
But as Logan burst into the room, three men turned toward him. He fired at the guy on the left as the man drew his gun. The guy's body hit the floor. Then Logan drove his fist into the face of the attacker on the right. But the one in the middle the one with his knife pressed against Juliana's throat.
Logan didn't touch him. Not yet.
"Deje a la mujer ir," Logan barked in perfect Spanish. Let the woman go.
Instead, the soon-to-be-dead fool cut her skin. Logan's eyes narrowed. Wrong move.
"Vuelva o ella es muerta," the guy snarled back at him. Step back or she's dead.
Logan didn't step back. He'd never been the type to retreat. His gaze darted to Juliana. She stared at him, eyes wide, body frozen. A black ski mask covered his head, so he knew she had no idea who he was. But Logan knew she'd always had a real fine grasp of the Spanish language. She understood exactly what the man had said to him.
"Step back." Her lips moved almost soundlessly. "Please." Then she repeated her plea in Spanish.
Still, he didn't move. Beneath the ski mask, his jaw locked. He kept his gun up and aimed right at her attacker's head. One shot.
"Vuelva o ella es muerta!" Now the guy yelled his warning and that knife dug deeper into Juliana's pale throat.
Instead of backing up, Logan stepped forward. Juliana screamedand then she started fighting. Her nails clawed at her captor's hand, and she drew blood of her own. The guy swore and yanked back on her hair, but that move lifted the knife off her throat. Lifted it off just enough for Logan to attack.
He caught the man's wrist, wrenched it back. Even as Logan yanked Juliana forward, he drove the guy's wristand the kniferight back at the bastard's own throat.
When the body hit the floor, Logan didn't glance down. He pulled Juliana closer to him and tried to keep her attention off the dead men on the floor. "It's all right," he told her, attempting to sound soothing in the middle of hell. More gunfire echoed outside the small room. The sound was like the explosion of fireworks. The voice in his ear told him that two more men had just been taken out by Jasper. Good. The guy was clearing the way for their escape. Logan's hands tightened on Juliana, and he said, "I'm gonna"
She kneed him in the groin.
Logan was so caught off guard by the move that he let her go. She lunged away from him, yelling for all that she was worth.
"Damn it," he growled and hissed out a breath, "I'm not here to hurt you!"
She'd yanked the knife out of the dead man's throat.
She came up with it clutched tightly in her white-knuckled grip. "You stay away from me!"
"Easy." They didn't have time for this. Logan knew that if he yanked up his mask and revealed his identity, she'd drop the weapon. But he had mission protocol ruling him right then. Their team was to stay covered during this rescue, until the target had been taken to the designated safe zone. No team member could afford to have his identity compromised at this site. Not until everything was secure.
"Back up and get out of my way," Juliana snapped right back at him, showing the fire that had first drawn him to her years ago.
He hadn't obeyed the dead guy. Did she really think he'd obey her?
But then Jasper leaped into the room at the same instant that Gunner barked on the comm link, "Extraction. Now."
Logan caught the whiff of smoke in the air. Smoke and the crackle of flames. Fire wasn't part of the extraction plan.
"Two hostiles got away," Jasper grunted, shifting his shoulders, and Logan wondered if he'd been hit. He'd seen the Ranger take three bullets before and keep fighting. One hit wouldn't slow him downJasper wouldn't let it slow him down. "And I think those fleeing hombres want to make sure we don't get out alive with her."
No, they wouldn't want her escaping. Too bad for them. Logan spun for the window. Using his weapon and his fist, he broke the glass and shattered the old wooden frame. He glanced down at the street below. Second story. He could handle that drop in his sleep, but he'd have to take care with Juliana.
"Clear," Gunner said in his ear, and Logan knew the guy was still tracking the team's movement. "Go now. 'cause that fire is coming hard for you."
Juliana's captors had probably rigged the place for a fast burn. The better to leave no evidenceor witnessesbehind.
Logan grabbed Juliana's hand. She yelped. He hated that sound, hated that he'd had to hurt her, but now wasn't the time for explanations.
The knife clattered to the floor.
Now was the time to get the hell out of there. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close against his body. "You'll need to hold tight," he told her, voice low and growling.
But Juliana shook her head at him. "I'm not going out that window. I have to"
"You have to live," Jasper said from his post at the door. "That fire's coming, ma'am, and you need to get through that window now."
She blinked. In the faint light, Logan saw the same dark chocolate eyes he remembered. Her face still as pretty. "Fire?" Then she sucked in a deep breath, and Logan knew she'd finally caught the scent of smoke and flames. "No!" She tried to rip out of his arms and lunge for the door.
Logan just hauled her right back against him. Now that he had her safe in his arms, he wasn't about to let her get away.
"Area's clear," Gunner said in Logan's earpiece. "Extract now."
Logan tried to position Juliana for their drop. The woman twisted against him, moving like a slithering snake as she fought to wrench back and break free. "I'm not leaving!" she snapped at him. "Not without John!"
"Extract." Gunner's order.
" Stop fighting," Logan told her when she twisted again. "We're the good guys, and we came to take you to safety."
She stilled for a moment. Heaving a deep breath, she said, "Me and John."
Seriously, who the hell was John?
"He's back there." Her hand lifted and one trembling finger pointed to the doorway. The doorway that was currently filling with smoke. "We have to get him out."
No other civilians were in the building. Only Diego Guerrero's killers. Logan's team members were pulling back and
"I'm not leaving without him!"
An explosion rocked the building. Juliana fell against Logan's chest.
Jasper staggered. "Go time," Logan heard him say.
And yeah, it was. Keeping a hold on Juliana, Logan tapped his receiver. "Is there another civilian here?" He had to be sure. He wouldn't leave an innocent to burn.
He motioned for Jasper to take the leap out. He had Juliana; there was no need for the other agent to stay any longer. Jasper yanked out a cable from his pack and quickly set up an escape line. In seconds, he began to lower his body to the ground.
"Negative," Gunner responded instantly. "Now move before your butt gets fried."
Gunner wouldn't make a mistake. He and Sydney Sloan had the best intel there was. No way would they send the team in without knowledge of another innocent in the perimeter.
Juliana blinked up at him. "Y-your voice."
Aw, damn. He'd lost most of his Southern accent over the years, but every now and then, those Mississippi purrs would slip into his voice. Now wasn't a good time for that slip.
"You're goin' out the window " Another explosion shook the building. Her captors were packing some serious firepower. Definitely don't want her getting away alive. "Your choiceyou goin' through awake or asleep?"
"There's a man trapped back there! He's tied uphe'll burn to death."
She wasn't listening to him. Fine. He grabbed her, tossed her over his shoulder, held tight and dropped down on the line that Jasper had secured for him.
By the time she'd gotten any breath to scream, they were on the ground.
"Take her," Logan ordered, shoving Juliana into Jasper's arms. "Get her out of here." She was the mission. Her safety was their number one priority.
He' ll burn to death. Logan wasn't leaving a man behind. He grabbed the cable and started hauling his butt back up into the fire.