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By Colleen Shannon
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Colleen Shannon
All rights reserved.
Hana Nakatomi dropped silently down from the high stone wall. Going very still, she appraised her surroundings with that sixth-sense awareness drilled into her since childhood. Dressed entirely in black, right down to the hood, with night-vision lenses, she was one with the night. Even in the bright moonlight she'd seem but a shadow if someone had looked out the mansion window. She sliced her gaze from side to side, not turning her head. All seemed quiet. Safe.
As safe as it could be to break into the house of the deputy director, law-enforcement operations of the Texas Department of Public Safety. John Travis was operational chief of the Texas Rangers and head of the famous Travis family. Not the wisest choice for her first felony breaking-and-entering job, but she hadn't picked the target.
He had something she had to have. Period.
The prestige the Travis name bestowed was on display everywhere she looked.
The grounds were immaculate right down to the small gazebo centered in the lawn. The enormous red brick mansion had a rear-covered porch accented by a white painted balcony that belonged in a southern gothic novel, and a lacy black balustrade perfect for her needs. A gaping window on the second floor reassured her that at least she wouldn't have to cut the security system.
She tried closing her eyes and slowing her breaths, but the Zen state eluded her as it had for the past few years. She was dishonoring her samurai heritage by literally being a thief in the night. William Barrett Travis himself would have made a good samurai, dying fighting at the Alamo against vastly superior numbers for the quaint notions of liberty and honor. He'd even wielded a sword against his enemies. He'd be the first to brandish the blade at her for daring to break into the home his blood had founded.
* * *
Inside the second-story bedroom, Zachary William Barrett Travis — Junior many times over — was having another nightmare. He'd left the window open because even so many years after Afghanistan, he preferred the Texas summer heat to the closed-in feeling he got when he was locked in an air-conditioned room.
He tossed and turned in the big antique bed that had belonged to his great-grandmother, hearing only "Look out!" His buddy Tyler shoved him inside a doorway, away from the hail of gunfire from the insurgents who'd surprised them in an alley while they were on patrol. Tyler was cut to pieces. The machine-gun fire grazed Zach's body armor, just missing his legs. He'd walked away without a scratch. At least, a visible one. ... He'd been on point as they searched house to house and missed the nest of fanatics on a flat rooftop disguised by camouflage netting.
Still in the midst of his dream, Zach threw the thin sheet off and reached out as if to pull Tyler inside the doorway. In his thrashing, Zach hit the bedpost with his ankle.
* * *
She wished she didn't have to do this. She wished her grandfather wasn't dying.
She wished she'd never been such a wild child in her youth.
And most of all she wished she'd kept up her Shotokan karate training. She could use the calmness it engendered right about now. Cautiously, she opened her eyes to search for red motion sensors. The house was pitch-black.
Even as she crept silently forward, keeping to the plush grass instead of the loose stone pathway, she had a feeling once she invaded this bastion of Texas pride and power, her life would never be the same. Careful step by careful step, she reached the balustrade. The iron, cool under her gloves in the warm, humid evening, tangibly warned her of the hard choices forced upon her.
Squelching her guilt, she nimbly boosted her slight weight onto the porch railing. She used the height to pull herself up the lacy ironwork to the second story, toward the open window.
* * *
Zach hit the post again, harder. The pain jolted him instantly awake. He sat up, sweaty but still clammy from the dream. A shadow drifted past, and he blinked rapidly, trying to focus, but when he looked toward the door again, it was gone.
Great, now he was seeing things.
Still shaken by his recurring nightmare, he got out of bed to pour himself a glass of water from the cold thermos beside his bed. Leave it to their housekeeper, Consuela, to anticipate his every need. Of all the things he'd missed over the years of wandering, she had topped the list. Even, he admitted to himself guiltily, over his own mother and father. He also knew a more immediate reason for his restlessness: He was wearing out his welcome. He took another gulp as if to wash down the unpalatable knowledge that he had to make up his mind or book. As usual, his dad was on his ass to complete his application to the Texas Rangers, but Zach knew his mental fitness wasn't on par with his physical readiness for such a demanding job. Besides, he hated all the sideways looks, the hidden smiles from other Texas Rangers and Department of Public Safety troopers. "Daddy's boy," they said without saying it.
If they only knew ... he was as far away from a daddy's boy as circumnavigating the globe three times since college graduation could take him. He took a couple of deep breaths from his diaphragm as the Zen lessons had taught him, but he was too tense to drop back to sleep. He robed his hips in the terry-towel half wrap, which was his only concession to decency when he was home. He hated most signs of domesticity: fluffy robes, slippers, recliners, and cookbooks.
The patter of little feet? Dear God, he'd rather face the Taliban again. However, since he also hated upsetting his mother by walking around nude, he made sure his snaps were secure. He'd go down and watch Netflix for a while in his dad's study, one of those inane sitcoms that would instantly bore him and stultify the memories.
* * *
Hana had crept downstairs into the study and already scoped out her surroundings. The tiny but bright LED flashlight zipped around numerous display cases. They were loaded with World War II memorabilia: maps, helmets, old compasses, armaments of every kind. She recognized a Japanese-supplied grenade. A dud, she hoped, or at least one with its firing pin removed. She spotted a type 1 Tera .38 carbine by Nagoya. Produced late in the war in 1941, they were reputed to have been constructed in a run of less than a thousand. The carbine folded up and was intended to be used by paratroopers. From her grandfather's tutelage, she knew how valuable this weapon was because of its rarity and strange design.
But she skimmed over it and other tantalizing memorabilia, looking for the sword. She'd been assured it was kept in these glass cases with the other cherished memories of a victorious war for the Americans, and a humiliation unforgotten for seventy years by the Japanese. The Japanese half of her wanted to smash these cases and every valuable relic, but the prudent Norwegian side kept her calmly searching.
As she searched, that calmer half wondered what William Barrett Travis would think of the modern dynasty he'd founded by siring two small children before dying at the Alamo. He'd probably be nonplussed to know that his descendants seemed to grow richer with every generation, spreading their influence far beyond the Texas vision he'd died for, with their media-empire profits many years ago poured now into more lucrative cattle and oil.
It wasn't here ... the maid she'd bribed had claimed she'd dusted the priceless fourteenth-century samurai sword and returned it to its place, alone in a wide, temperature-controlled glass case in the director's private home study. Desperately, she searched again, a bit more jerkily this time. She'd looked for and not found surveillance cameras in the study, but they lined the staircase and the entry. While her disguise would prevent any facial-recognition software from identifying her, her slim form was still distinctively female, even in the head-to-toe black attire and tall, soft boots.
She had to hurry....
* * *
Moving with that quiet assuredness he'd learned in years of football, baseball, and Army Ranger military training, Zach strode to the landing and descended the stairs. Not wanting to wake his parents, he automatically avoided the creaky floorboard that had been there as long as he could remember. He'd reached the ground floor, the black-and- white marble tiles cool against the soles of his feet, when he saw a tiny flicker of light dancing under the closed study door. There, then gone. Like the fireflies he remembered from his youth, but never saw anymore.
There it was again — not a firefly, more like a small but very bright flashlight waving about in the darkness. Instantly, he was on alert. His weight raised to the balls of his feet in readiness, he eased forward.
* * *
Finally, Hana's light found a long case that held a sword, but she knew a split second later it wasn't a samurai katana. It had the long, curved blade of a Turkish scimitar and though the hilt was laden with gold and jewels, she felt only dismay. It wasn't here!
What would she tell them?
She'd failed. Panicked, she bit her lip so hard through the mask that she tore a tiny hole in the nylon. Unless ... maybe there was a safe room? She began feeling along the bookcases. She couldn't crack one, but she knew people who could, and if need be she'd return. Her presence had gone unnoticed so far. With no evidence of an intruder, maybe they wouldn't take time to view the surveillance footage —
The thought barely fired through her brain before she heard the slightest noise. She spun toward the sound, waving the flashlight. The study lever handle, the heavy ornate kind, turned. One way, the other. Almost soundless, but her senses were unusually acute. Thanking the caution that had made her lock the heavy door, she ran toward the French doors leading onto the patio before she remembered she'd not deactivated the alarm, intending to ease out the way she'd come in. She spun around, frantic as she wondered what to do. No closet to hide in; the drapes were sheer. Hana heard a slight pause, then a key in the lock.
Her searching gaze swept upward.
* * *
Warily, Zach paused on the threshold. That sixth-sense awareness the special forces training had drilled into him tingled from his nape to his spine. The room was dark — no evidence of a light of any kind. He put one foot over the threshold, feeling, not seeing or hearing, a presence.
He eased forward another foot, 20/10 vision acute eyes scanning carefully from one end of the room to the other. Nothing. He tried the French door. Still locked. Even the security alarm stayed a steady red. Was he imagining things as a remnant of his nightmare? How could they have a home invasion with the alarm still active? Then he recalled that shadow ... the one that had slipped past his bed upstairs.
Dear God, the open window ...
He looked up. Even his good night vision took a moment to distinguish between the black shade clinging to the study crossbeams and the dark wood. Holy crap! An intruder clung to the rafters. He'd leaped toward the alarm pad to push the alert button when a weight dropped on his back and knocked him off balance enough to lose his footing.
As tackles went, it wasn't fierce and Zach knew the person attacking him couldn't weigh much. He easily turned his body mass sideways as he fell, landing half on the intruder, surprised at the slight but soft feel of the body under his. He heard breath oof! from his weight. However, though the attacker wasn't big, the figure was incredibly lithe and nimble. Before he finished turning, his hands reaching out to grasp shoulders, arms, legs — whatever he could reach — the attacker had writhed away and risen, running toward the open study door.
Zach was a bit slower, but his strides were much longer, and he caught the fleeing black shape by the back of the hood. He heard Velcro tearing and then the hood came away. Even in the darkness lit only by weak moonlight from the window, Zach saw long, glossy dark hair fall over narrow shoulders. He wasn't really surprised to be confronted by a woman when he caught a hank of hair. He'd sensed her gender the second their bodies touched.
Yelping, she came to a stop, not resisting when he tugged on her hair, forcing her to face him. With his other hand, he snapped on the light switch.
* * *
Hana blinked at the sudden wash of light and for a second, the tall, muscular figure towering over her was a blur. She quit tugging, trying to get away, hoping the grip on her hair would loosen, but instead the man facing her wrapped his hand around her long hair and tugged her toward him.
"Who the hell are you and what do you want?" the man growled.
Hana was mute, staring up. She knew who this was: the reluctant scion of the family, Zachary William Barrett Travis the gazillionth or whatever it was. She'd seen his picture in her research. He'd upset his entire family by wandering all over the world, then joining the Army Rangers for eight years, then wandering again. He'd refused to take up his family responsibilities, reportedly to the extreme frustration of his father, who, according to the maid who'd given her firsthand knowledge of the family, wanted Zach to join the Texas Rangers.
She'd made a mental note of how handsome he was the first time she Googled his image, but a static photo couldn't do his vitality justice. His hair was tousled from the nightmare she'd seen him thrashing in as she slipped past his bed. His chiseled features, with that perfect cleft chin that held true generation through generation in the Travis family, reminded her a bit of Brad Pitt in the movie Troy, one of her favorites with its warrior ethos and battles to the death ... Hana kept her black gaze steady on his upper half, but in her peripheral vision she noted one of his snaps had slipped open.
"Start talking or I'm calling the police." He pulled her a bit closer as his gaze scanned the study, looking for open cases or signs of theft, she knew.
What should she do now? If she were discovered and sent to prison, Kai would have supreme authority over the most important person in the world to her. She had to avoid that at all costs. Hana's heart galloped, but she kept her expression calm even when the man began running his free hand over her, as if to frisk her. But he paused where he shouldn't; she was used to that, but it still pissed her off. She was close enough that if she'd leaned forward she could have nuzzled the light spattering of blondish-brown chest hair that matched the thick, unruly locks shining even in the dim study light. The hairs on the back of her neck and her arms stood up.
She'd never been much attracted to blonds, but she'd never been in such close quarters with a half-naked one before. Instinct told her to wait, to let him think he had the upper hand — quite literally, because this time his hand stroked up her side dangerously near her breast. When she stayed silent, he pulled her even closer, until she could feel every sinewy inch of his fit body. Given the way he touched her, she'd already picked up on the fact that the reluctant, instant attraction she felt was mutual. She stayed docile, silent, waiting.
She expected it, and when he finally released her hair to reach around her to shackle her wrists, she used his slack grip against him. Supple as an eel, she slithered sideways, using her hips and all her body weight, Tae Kwon Do–like, against him, to pull him slightly off balance. He was tall and solid, but when she kicked him in the shin as she moved, his loose grip broke and she twisted free.
He stumbled, recovering quickly, but it was enough to allow her to reach the hallway. This time he tackled her, catching her about the hips to force her to her knees. The marble smacked into her patellas, but she had no time for pain. As she fell, she caught her weight on her hands and bowed her back, using the leverage it gave her to straighten, smarting knees spread for stability, and smack her head backward. She had a very good idea that he was bent over her, that arrogant cleft chin offering a nice bull's-eye. Sure enough, she felt the point of his chin and then his own gratifying grunt as she caught him obviously off guard. She scrambled to her feet.
When he recovered enough to grab again, he reached for air. She'd gained the front door. However, she was slowed as she had to unlatch two very solid locks. She was reaching for the knob when he whacked her hand away and trapped her, both hands flat against the door framing her head.
A smile lifted those arrogant lips, allowing her to see the rim of his perfect white teeth. "What now?"
She was pretty sure now he wouldn't call the police since he'd searched her and visually scoped out the study, so he knew she hadn't stolen anything. But she had a feeling his father would make a more critical audience, so she had to finagle her way out of here and she had to do it quietly.
Excerpted from Travis Justice by Colleen Shannon. Copyright © 2016 Colleen Shannon. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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