By Lora Leigh
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2011 Lora Leigh
All rights reserved.
Nine months later
"She's been located. Hagerstown, Maryland, identity Teylor Johnson, age thirty. Current owner, Landscape Dreams. Someone's tracked her and a team's been sent to the area."
Jordan stared at the horizon while the sun set behind the family cemetery as Travis "Black Jack" Caine finished the unexpected report.
Jordan could feel a sensation akin to a fist in the pit of his stomach as instinct warned him more was coming. Behind him, he could feel his nephew Rory's gaze suddenly trained on him, sharp, suspicious.
"Who?" Who did he need to kill to protect her?
A heavy breath of frustration came over the line. "Ira Arthurs and Mark Tenneyson, former Sorrel associates. They received a message Sorrel's daughter did not die in that explosion in Afghanistan. No word yet on origination of the message. She was identified as Tehya Fitzhugh, daughter to Joseph Fitzhugh, formerly known as Sorrel. A team is being dispatched from France tonight to verify the information, and her location."
"What tipped them off?"
"I can't get that information," the former agent answered. "All I have is someone sent the message from the U.S. An interested party aware of the interest in the truth of her death and-or her location. And supposedly neither can the two men sent to check the report that the explosion was a setup. I have men trying to track the origination of the message, but they're not certain it can be done."
The explosion the Elite Ops had set up had been staged to appear as though Tehya Fitzhugh had been eliminated by several of her father's associates, who were dead now as well.
"Did you verify her location?" Jordan finally asked as the sun dipped farther behind the marble gravestone that marked his mother's grave.
"The location is correct," Travis reported. "I checked it out myself. She's there, living quietly, making no waves. She bought a small landscaping design and construction company just after arriving there. The report I have says a team is being prepped to head out tonight to verify as well as acquire her for an 'interested party.' Details are sketchy, but there's no doubt she's at risk."
"Why?" Jordan bit out. "Sorrel's dead and his organization disbanded. Why the fuck does anyone care?"
"More information I can't uncover," Travis informed him with a frustrated bite to his tone. "I've been working on this twenty-four hours straight, and I can't find out anything more from any of my sources. I've tried contacting her, but her phone goes straight to voice mail and she doesn't return the calls. I tried tracking the sat phone, but for some reason it's not turning up a location and she doesn't have a landline or another cell phone in operation that I've been able to discover. Do you want Bailey and me to head to Hagerstown ourselves?"
Jordan wiped his hand over his face slowly. "I have a team," he finally told him. "I want to get out there first and access, but contact Heat Seeker and the others. You're on call. If her identity is in question, then we could be up the creek here."
It was more than their asses going into the fire, though. It was Tehya. He'd promised her the fear of the past was over, and that no one would know who she was, or where she was.
"That was my thought as well," Travis answered. "I'll put the call out."
Jordan disconnected before turning slowly and staring at the nephew that had somehow grown harder over the years. Rory, named for Jordan's father, Riordan Malone Sr. At thirty-two Rory had finally grown into himself. His body had matured, his blue eyes hardened, his face acquired strong, lean lines. Hell, he was almost a replica of Noah before the reconstruction to his face.
He'd been working with the Elite Ops backup team in conjunction with a group of army Rangers whose commander Jordan had worked with several times.
Ethan Cooper and his team of Rangers had been deemed unfit for service because of various physical injuries. They were a highly fit fighting force, though, and often worked as "assets" to various agencies until Jordan had picked them up to work with the Elite Ops backup team.
Rory had somehow managed to insert himself into that team, despite Jordan's objections.
Rory straightened from his position against the post, his blue eyes narrowed as he glanced around, nearly causing Jordan to smile.
They all did that. Him, Rory, and Noah Blake. They were checking to be certain their grandpop was nowhere close, listening.
"He's at Dad's," Jordan informed his nephew.
Rory's lips quirked for a second before his expression once more became all business. "They found Tey?"
Jordan gave a short nod. "I need to follow up with a few sources before I go to her. I want you to contact Turk and the two of you meet up in Hagerstown asap. I'll have Travis forward the information to you. Watch her, nothing else. Don't take your eyes off her, Rory. If she's taken, then just follow until the team can get there. You're my only link to her if her father's enemies snatch her before I can get there."
"I'm calling in Iron and Casy," Rory decided. "They can back us up if needed. Two men on this may not be enough. I want two sets of eyes at all times and we can relieve each other that way."
Damn, Rory was turning into a hell of a covert operative for a team of men who weren't even supposed to be in service any longer.
"Head out." Jordan gave him a sharp nod as he mentally began going over the checklist of preparations needed. "I'll call this evening with an update on my arrival. I should be only hours behind you." He paused, and almost grimaced before his lips parted with words he had no idea how to speak. He couldn't find the words to tell Rory how important this was.
His lips clamped shut again.
"No fears, Jordan." Rory took pity on him. "I understand. She's like Sabella, right? Priority."
That was what Sabella had been when word had come through that her first husband, Nathan Malone, was dead. Jordan had known better, but he couldn't tell Rory that at the time. He'd simply told the boy that Sabella was priority. They were protecting her for Nathan, because that was where Nathan's heart survived.
Jordan wasn't going to look into the fact that Rory had picked up on something where Tehya was concerned. He sure as hell wasn't going to search that mishmash of fucking emotions he couldn't seem to get a handle on in his own soul.
All he knew was that nothing could happen to Tehya. He hadn't had a chance to figure out what he felt yet. He hadn't had a chance to decide the pros and cons of a decision he knew he'd been making for the past nine months. He hadn't had a chance to see her smile again, laugh again, or piss her off again. He hadn't had the chance to make love to her again.
And he'd be damned if he'd allow anyone to take those chances from him.
Especially not a past that should have been dead and buried eight years before at the same time her father, Sorrel, had died.
The back of her neck was itching.
Tehya rubbed at her nape, her fingers pushing beneath the heavy fall of rich red-gold curls as they cascaded down her back. As she glanced around the narrow confines of Friendly's Bar, her lips thinned in irritation.
Nine months away from the Elite Ops wasn't nearly enough, it seemed. The paranoia that had been part of the life she had lived before Jordan had taken her into the group had returned now.
She had officially been free for nine months. It felt like yesterday.
"Your turn there, Tey." Voice slurred, body weaving, the customer she was shooting pool with called her attention back to the game.
"Got it, Casey," she murmured, the music from the jukebox covering her response as she sank the eight ball and shot him a teasing smile before snapping up the wager they had on the game.
"'Nother game," Casey announced, glaring at the table as though it were the table's fault rather than his own that he'd lost the small wager.
"Not tonight, Casey." She gave a quick shake of her head as she glanced around the room once again. "Sober up first."
She swore she could feel eyes watching her, someone stalking her. She'd felt that way for weeks now. No matter where she went or what she did, she had that feeling of impending danger stalking her.
There couldn't be any danger, though. She was as careful, as cautious, here as she had been most of her life. She never caught anyone tailing her or managed to glimpse anyone tracking her. No one seemed unusually interested in her, and no one appeared to be lingering where they shouldn't.
The security systems attached to her car as well as surrounding her home never caught anyone sitting in surveillance. No one attempted to break in, nor did they attempt to slip onto her property.
The back of her neck was still itching like hell, though. That primal survival instinct was in high gear, making her restless and ill at ease.
Crossing the small, empty dance floor, she headed back to the bar and ordered another beer as she laid several dollars on the scarred wood slab.
Kyle, the bartender, slid the cold bottle across the bar to her. Gripping it, she lifted it to her lips as she gave the area another quick glance.
There were few people in the bar at this time of night. All were regulars, all had been coming in far longer than she had, and all had passed the background check she had done on them. Well, except Casey. He'd shown up the night before, but her initial check on him hadn't blipped her radar.
So why the hell was her neck itching?
"Tey, you need to get a life." Journey Taite, one of the few young women there that night, grinned back at her from where she sat at one of the high tables against the wall. "It's one o'clock on a Saturday morning, shouldn't you be, like, sharing time with a lover or something at your advanced age?" There was a teasing snicker on the younger girl's face, amusement gleaming in her green eyes.
It broke her heart every time she looked at the other girl, just as it had the day Teyha had hired her. Journey Taite, her second cousin. Tehya had come to Hagerstown to watch over her, never imagining she would have the chance to get to know her.
"At my advanced age?" Tehya's brow arched as she fought back the regret that seared her because she could never reveal her identity to the other girl. "It's called experience, young'un, and learning the value of sleeping alone."
Journey lifted her beer with a light laugh, her gaze more open now than it had been the day she first came to work for the company just after Tehya had bought it.
"Hell, a man would take his life in his own hands sleeping with either one of you," Casey grunted, his expression drunkenly amused. "I'd be scared."
"Naw, Casey, you'd just be drunk. You'd never remember," Journey teased as she pushed back the shoulder-length, ribbon-straight strands of sunlit red and gold hair. Both the red as well as the streaks of gold were natural, blending and mingling to a color that was unique to the Taite women. Tehya had darkened her own hair when she left the ops, simply because of that unusual trait.
The red of her hair was darker, the highlights less natural and applied in her bathroom.
It was attractive, close enough to a natural blend of sunlit and red-gold hues, but closer to a strawberry blond than that of Journey.
Tehya tipped her beer to the younger girl as she held back her laughter due to the little pout on Casey's face.
He was her age, perhaps a few years older. He was cute, built like a damned tank but acting more like a gentle giant.
He was one of the newer customers at the bar and a recent employee at the lumberyard next door to the landscaping company Tehya had bought six months before.
He'd been coming in for the past few nights, since moving to the area from Florida. A former army Ranger, he'd been discharged for medical reasons, though it was hard to imagine the heavily muscled left arm had the pins and rods in it she knew it had. Her investigation of him had been perhaps more in-depth than others simply because of his military background.
"Wicked women," Casey grunted as he rubbed at his cheek before sliding onto a barstool next to Journey. "Ya just wanna make a grown man cry is all." Chocolate-brown eyes blinked back at her as he gave her a drunkenly charming rogue's smile.
Tehya rolled her eyes and Journey nearly snorted the sip of beer she had taken as laughter choked her.
"And on that note, it's time for me to say good night." Tehya rose from the barstool, the sensation at her neck becoming a constant irritant.
Casey sighed lustily. "She's desertin' me, Journ. My heart's abreakin'."
"Your heart's drowning in booze, Casey," Journey accused him with a laugh. "Come on, I'll cheat you at a game of pool before I head on home myself."
Casey's eyes widened in pleasure as he staggered to his feet.
"You're on." His grin was slightly lopsided as Tehya turned to leave, her gaze moving around the bar again, touching on faces, searching for anything, anyone, out of the ordinary, and finding nothing.
"Later, Teylor," the bartender called out as she moved to the door, causing her to almost pause, to betray herself with her unfamiliarity with her own name, even after nine months.
Teylor. She still wasn't used to the name. It wasn't familiar, and it didn't feel like her. But it was the name Jordan had picked out, the identity he had wanted her to have, so she had gone with it.
"Later." Lifting her hand, she called out a farewell as she left by the back entrance, entering a small Laundromat before stepping out into the parking lot.
The parking area was small, barely large enough for a dozen vehicles. She didn't dare park the Viper there, she was terrified a customer would leave a little too inebriated and swipe the expensive little car.
It was her pride and joy. The only thing she had that Jordan had seemed to care about. And all she had left to remember her time with him.
A damned car. How sad was that? Even sadder was the fact that having it gave her some small measure of comfort.
Loping across the street, she moved quickly to the shadowed area where she had parked the car as she held the large key she carried for safety between her fingers.
When she stepped to the curb she hit the ignition switch to the Viper remote. Lights came on, the motor revved. Rounding the back of the vehicle, she pressed the door locks and within seconds was sitting securely in the driver's seat.
Before sliding the car into gear, she programmed the security device attached to the vehicle and waited for a notification of any potential devices that could have been attached to the undercarriage.
A tracker or explosives. Either would have been all she needed to tell her that itch at the back of her neck was right.
There was no notification. "System Clear." The words flashed against the digital screen, assuring her the car was secure.
She had lived too long in the shadows, spent too many years hiding and worrying before Jordan had taken her into the Elite Ops. That had to be the reason for her growing paranoia now. She simply wasn't used to any sense of freedom.
Accelerating out of the parking lot and pulling onto the street, Tehya tried to tell herself those years were just catching up on her. She didn't know how to relax and live rather than fight and run. She simply didn't know how to be free. Even driving home, the roads nearly deserted, and still, she was searching for shadows.
The drive back to her small house was quick, the lack of traffic on the streets assuring her she wasn't followed. But her neck was still aching, her senses still on alert.
At any other time in the past, she would have left the area once this feeling hit. She would have packed up and run. Hell, this was the longest she had ever lived anywhere other than the suite at the Elite Ops base, anyway. She had lived there for six years. For a while, she had had something resembling a family and a home. She hadn't realized how thin that resemblance had really been, though, until it was over.
Once the team had broken up there had been no contact. Everyone had gone their separate ways, and although she still had the secure satellite phone, the secure number she had been given, there hadn't been a call. They had forgotten her.
Mocking amusement flitted through her mind. Had she really expected anything more? She was the daughter of the man who had ordered the torture of one of their own. Who had aided in the kidnapping of a young woman who had become the wife of one of their own. The man who had murdered the parents of one of their own.
There were days she had been amazed they had even allowed her to live. Of course, killing her own father might have contributed to the tolerance they had given her in the breathing area, but they hadn't needed to allow her to become part of the team.
They had protected her. They had given her a secure life for the time she had been there. She had to admit, she hadn't expected them to desert her once it was over, though. She had thought she would receive a call at least from Kira, perhaps Bailey. She hadn't expected to be forgotten. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Live Wire by Lora Leigh. Copyright © 2011 Lora Leigh. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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