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Anna ran, heart pounding in terror as the man closed in. Hands like claws reaching, reaching . . .
Then the man bellowed in rage, and she spun to see her pursuer engaged in a vicious fight with another man. Her rescuer. No, there were two men battling the enemy, and she knew them both.
Knew them because they were etched into her soul.
A glint of metal flashed in the killer’s hand. A long, wicked knife. Then he lunged and drove the blade hilt-deep into one of the men, and the man fell.
“Nooo!” she screamed, running toward them.
Which one? Who was hurt?
But she couldn’t see their faces, no matter how hard she tried. Didn’t know who was on the ground with his blood pouring onto the dirty concrete.
“Gray? Joaquin?” She sucked in a breath. “Somebody help us!”
A rumbling noise and bouncing motion rattled Anna Claire’s brain, pulling her from a deep well of unconsciousness and the hellish nightmare that had returned to torment her. The dream was just that—a result of stress and worry, perhaps—but her current predicament was all too real.
She came to the painful awareness of the stiff carpeting underneath her cheek, the sickening stale odor of motor oil and God knows what else permeating it. But the smell wasn’t as bad as the constant jarring of her head against what she suddenly recalled was the floor of a moving vehicle.
The memory came rushing back to her, the awful truth of what had happened. She had been staying with Joaquin Delacruz at his estate, and her new lover had thrown a party at La Boheme, his hotel and casino, in hopes of swaying the last of his late father’s cronies to the legitimate side of business. Joaquin had been slowly phasing out his illegal ties for years—very slowly, in an attempt to fly under the radar until the transition was complete.
However, he’d understood how difficult and monumental a task he’d taken on. He’d discussed it with Anna, had been honest with her about how dangerous this was. Still, he’d pushed on with plans for the party, seeing it as one more important step toward getting out from under his father’s criminal legacy—and off the FBI’s list of men they’d dearly love to send to prison.
The party started out a success, and then had taken a drastic turn for the worst. Cold seized her guts as she recalled Joaquin smiling and talking one moment—and the next, he was tumbling to the floor, struggling to breathe.
Poison, he had gasped.
Her handsome lover needed help, fast, and she’d been desperate to do something. So when Deno Santos had sent her outside to wait for the paramedics to bring them to Joaquin, she’d bought his ploy. Too late, she realized she’d been duped by Joaquin’s fiercest enemy, that her lover had underestimated the lengths to which Deno would go to ensure that Joaquin continued to play by the mob’s rules.
Before she could process what happened, she’d been grabbed, thrown into a van, and drugged. How much time had passed since then? Was Joaquin all right?
What are they planning to do to me when they get me to where we’re going?
Fear coursed through her as she took stock of her situation. She was lying on her side, wrists bound behind her back, thick tape over her mouth. Her head was still pounding, probably from the drug they’d pumped her with, but otherwise she seemed unharmed. That could change very soon.
Desperately she tried to recall what Joaquin and his brother Rio had said about Santos and his men. Santos was old-school, set in his ways when it came to his illegal dealings, and was resistant to change of any kind. He had become suspicious of Joaquin’s vanishing illegal trade, and was less than happy about it. More than that, the older man was afraid, as so many were, that Joaquin would turn on them, give them up to the FBI.
Joaquin had said that he only wanted peace, and that he’d never cooperate with the Feds unless his back was against the wall. But that wasn’t reassurance enough for Santos. He’d obviously decided to take Anna as some sort of leverage.
After wriggling to sit upright, she leaned against the van’s wall and sent up a prayer that Joaquin was okay. On the heels of that thought, however, came the knowledge of the repercussions of her kidnapping if he was, in fact, alive. Her lover had made no secret of the fact that he could be a ruthless man when crossed.
But it was comforting to know he would move heaven and earth to find her. The question was, would he locate her in time?
With trepidation, she studied the interior of the van. It was stark, just a shell inside, with a partition between her and the men she assumed were in the front. It was so much like a cage, she wondered how many victims they’d transported like this, bound and helpless.
She had to cut off that line of thinking or she’d be carried away by fear.
Closing her eyes, she let herself be lulled by the van’s motion—only to realize what a false sense of security it had been once the vehicle stopped. As long as they’d been moving, she was safe. Now the terror set in as she heard the men get out, shutting the van’s doors. Some footsteps moved away, while another set came to the side door and slid it open.
A man stood there grinning at her, his face illuminated by the interior light. She was vaguely surprised at his nondescript appearance and thought he could’ve been an average joe working an office job somewhere instead of a thug in the employ of a mobster.
“Sleeping Beauty is awake, eh? You were supposed to sleep a while longer, not that it matters.”
She suppressed a shudder, trying not to imagine why it didn’t. Instead, she leveled him with a glare that expressed the anger she couldn’t voice with her mouth taped shut. It only served to make him laugh, which pissed her off even more. He just reached in, grabbed her ankles, and hauled her out the door, causing her to fall backward and smack her head on the floor of the vehicle. She slid helplessly out and onto hard pavement, letting out a muffled cry as her tailbone took the brunt of the drop and her bound hands and arms were scraped raw.
The man let her feet go and she fought to sit up, then raised her gaze to find herself the subject of plenty of amusement. The man who’d dragged her from the van was joined by two other men, one portly with a barrel-size middle. And the third man . . .
Anna’s breath caught in her throat. The tall man staring down at her with cold eyes was anything but average-looking. He was built like a pro quarterback, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. The fact that he was bald as a cue ball took nothing away from his stunning visage. He was a handsome man, dark brows arching over those calculating eyes, his jaw square, mouth unlined as though his face had never learned how to smile. He could be Vin Diesel’s brother.
“I am Petrov,” he told her in a cool voice, accented in Russian. “For the moment, you are a house guest of Deno Santos.”
She snorted, making it clear what she thought of the word guest. Then she glanced around, noting the ramshackle house a few yards away, sitting in a weed-choked yard. “Where are we?”
“A safe place, to make sure we weren’t followed before we take you to your final destination.”
She shuddered at the words final destination. “And where will that be?”
Petrov went on, completely unperturbed. “Enjoy your stay while you can. Because when Santos has no more need of your presence, I will make you wish for death.”
He paused to let that sink in.
“And then I will grant your wish.”
Joaquin Delacruz never thought he’d see the day when he’d beg for the FBI’s help—especially when that involved working with Special Agent Grayson Sloane.
For years, the man had nursed a burning desire to see Joaquin behind bars. He’d hunted for evidence that Joaquin was crooked with a dogged determination that Joaquin would have admired under any other circumstances. Hell, he might even have hired the man as a bodyguard.
But Sloane hated Joaquin with a passion, now more than ever. Especially since the agent had fucked up his relationship with Anna and driven her to run.
Straight into Joaquin’s arms. Privately, he had worried that she’d return to her former lover, and then the unthinkable happened.
Joaquin had lost her to an even more lethal enemy.
No recrimination Sloane had blasted at his head could possibly be any worse than what Joaquin had said to himself. Rio had cautioned him against bringing Anna into their world, and he hadn’t listened to his brother. Now she was paying the price.
Burying his hands in his hair, he paced his study, unaware of the door opening until Henry got his attention.
“Boss, the Feds are here.” The bodyguard’s voice revealed none of his distaste for their presence, considering they were right on his heels. The big man stepped aside to admit Rio, Sloane, and another man Joaquin had never met before.
“Have you had any contact with Santos?” Sloane asked Joaquin by way of greeting.
“The bastard’s not returning my calls.”
“Big surprise there. He wants to make you suffer.”
The agent was suffering, too, if the grooves around his mouth and the shadows underneath his eyes were any indication. Joaquin almost felt sorry for him. But Sloane had missed out on his chance with Anna, had in fact betrayed and hurt her. Seeing her safe was the only reward the agent was going to get.
“Where would Santos take Anna?” the second agent asked.
Joaquin shifted his gaze to the dark-haired man. “And you are?”
“Special Agent Simon King. Gray’s partner.”
Joaquin nodded in acknowledgment. “In answer to your question, he could’ve taken her anywhere by now. The man has ties all over the world.”
“He could have, but is that his style?” Sloane pressed. “Would he expend that much effort if he didn’t need to? After all, his goal is simple: to keep you in check and under the mob’s thumb. Or rather, his thumb.”
“Anna is his leverage,” Rio mused. “But why try to kill you, in that case?”
Joaquin’s jaw clenched in frustration. “Easy. That was Santos grandstanding, sending me a giant fuck you on my own turf. Letting me and everyone else know he did it because he can. If he had meant to kill me, I’d be dead right now.”
Simon arched a brow. “And his actions served the dual purpose of keeping not just you, but his other so-called colleagues in line as well.”
Sloane paced the room like a caged tiger. “So this leads us to search . . . where?”
“His holdings in the area.” Joaquin paused, considering. “Santos is even ballsy enough to take her to his estate.”
“Where is that located?”
“East of here, about ten miles out of the city.”
Joaquin let out a humorless laugh. “Are you kidding? His place is like Fort Knox. We’d be shot if we got within a mile of the house.”