They are part of an elite unit. On task. Off grid. These are the men of the Shadow Ops task force. Be seduced and thrilled by Close to the Edge, the next Unbroken Heroes novel by Dawn Ryder.
HOW FAR WILL ONE MAN GO
Jenna Henson always plays it safe. It’s what has gotten her through all these years . So she never expected to end up in arm-to-arm combat with a gorgeous, muscle bound mercenary named Dare…
Agent Dare Servant lives for the thrill of the chase, the adrenaline high. He’s fully committed to his job, fully armed, and full-on dangerous. But when innocent, irresistible Jenna Henson walks in on his latest mission, the need to keep her safe becomes all-consuming.
TO PROTECT THE WOMAN HE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
Jenna’s captured the attention of Dare’s deadliest enemies, and with a target on her back, she needs Dare’s protection. But being Jenna’s bodyguard might be his hardest challenge yet. How can he keep her safe when he longs to take her in his arms and never let her go?
About the Author
Dawn Ryder is the contemporary romance pen name of a bestselling author of historical romances—her official naughty inner child. The author of Dangerous to Know, she commercially publishes in mass market and trade paper, and digi-first published with trade paper releases. She is hugely committed to her career as an author, as well as to other authors and to her readership. She lives in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
"These two were murdered."
Dare Servant considered the veteran firefighter-paramedic who wasn't backing down. The guy had weathered skin, but his eyes were still bright and sharp. Those wrinkles in his skin said he had a lot of experience under his belt. The couple of scars on his chin told Dare the guy had earned the right to be heard out.
Because Dare knew one thing for certain, always listen to the man who'd been on the job a long time. He'd notice things others wouldn't. When it came to cracking a case open, men like this one were the key to pointing out the tiny cracks Dare needed to apply a crowbar to.
"They aren't the first bodies I've fished out of the Los Angeles River," firefighter Ramos continued. "I called the Feds because no one is taking this seriously."
Dare flashed his badge. The guy nodded with approval. "I knew calling in Feds was the right move, even if my supervisor is pissed over me going outside his jurisdiction."
"Tell me why you think they're murder victims?" Dare Servant asked.
Ramos pulled down the zipper on the body bag to expose the face of a young girl. Dare noted her age, Asian features, and tried like hell not to let the blue tinge to her skin affect him. She was far too young, her hair so dark and full. Her skin unblemished by time and age. Shit. He hated seeing the waste of a life like this one.
She was dead.
The only thing he could do to help her was listen when the rest of the world was ignoring what an experienced man was saying about how she ended up in a body bag decades before her time. Dare was there to stop other girls from joining her.
"Too well groomed," Ramos said. "Look at the brows, manicured hands, feet, waxed legs, and genitals," he was shaking his head. "Someone put her in rags to make it look like just another junkie who loaded up too close to the water. Look at the eyeliner left under her eyes. That's the professional grade stuff or there wouldn't be any left. And then, there's the family."
The guy's tone took on a thick coating of disgust. The kind truly devoted public servants experienced when they were caught between hard evidence and the law that protected every citizen until they were proven guilty. Ramos had a gut feeling and didn't like being told by his superiors to dismiss it. The guy had an eye for detail, something which served him well as a Paramedic. He was the one who rolled up first on a scene and made the call on who was getting transported first. Paramedics burned out fast on the job, Ramos had far outlasted many in his field. It meant he lived for the job and Dare knew he'd be a fool to dismiss what the guy was picking up about the girl.
Dare looked up from the body. "What about the family?"
"The woman who showed up claiming to be next of kin used to own a dozen or more of those massage places that were fronts for prostitution and trafficking." The firefighter looked at the girl and shook his head. "I used to do the fire-code inspections and I know when the girls are living there. They bring them in, these girls, fill their heads with stories of good jobs and then turn them into prostitutes. And then they threaten the girls with exposing their shame to their families." The guy stopped for a moment, pissed off at the harsh side of reality. "The girls won't go back home, won't accept help from anyone because they won't shame their families. That woman isn't this girl's aunt. She was the madam."
"Why is the body still here if the kin tried to claim it?" Greer McRae asked.
Dare nodded agreement at his partner's question as he reached out and pulled the zipper up to cover the girl's face. It was a tiny shred of dignity, but all he could offer her.
"Me," Ramos said with a good amount of satisfaction. "Just watch the footage from the security cameras. They looked around long and hard before coming through the door and trying to claim the body. They didn't see me in the back and I know that woman. She turned and ran the second she saw me. That's why I called you guys. They'll just wait for me to leave and try again. There's no legal way to hold the body on our end. My superiors are telling me to drop it. I'm telling you ... there is more going on here than a suicide."
"Good call," Dare replied. "I'll sign the order to hold the body."
Dare left the building behind, his fellow agent Greer close on his side.
"We're getting closer," Greer said as they climbed into their black SUV. He pulled out some printed photos. "She was with Kirkland the day before her death. I wanted to tell that guy sort of bad."
"He's better off not knowing what sort of case we're working," Dare replied. "Let him enjoy knowing his instincts gained the attention he thought the body deserved."
"He's right, she was murdered." Greer spoke in a grim tone.
It was a heavy topic but one they were both used to facing. It went with the Shadow Ops badges they both carried. They worked with a special class of criminal. Kirkland Grog was proving to be the image of his father who was once known as the Raven. A major underworld crime boss who'd died as violently as he'd lived.
Now, Kirkland was fighting for his share of the Raven's empire. It fell to Dare and his team to catch him before he lined up too many bodies while building his reputation as a man to be obeyed.
Dare was up to the challenge.
In fact, he thrived on it.
* * *
"What have you got?"
Dare was used to the way his section leader cut right to the reason for his calls. There was no greeting when Dare punched the button to accept the incoming call. Kagan gave him just enough time to get the phone to his ear before he spoke.
"Two bodies, one was with Kirkland less than twenty-four hours ago," Dare filled his boss in.
"Good," Kagan replied. "Kirkland is using human trafficking to fund Carl Davis's presidential campaign. I want them both out of business."
"The world will be a brighter place for it," Dare answered. "We're going to wire Kirkland's Cliffside house tonight. Just waiting on the window of opportunity to open. Word is, he likes to arrive at his own parties, leaves for a few hours before so the catering staff can set up. We've disabled the chef's car to keep him away from the party location and allow for our team to get onto the property."
"Keep me posted," Kagan said before the call ended.
Dare dropped his phone back into his shirt pocket. He had eyes on the Malibu estate where Kirkland spent most of the winter months. It overlooked the ocean and pissed him off a little because it was vastly unfair of the universe to allow a man like Kirkland to live in such opulence with money he was earning by selling innocent girls into prostitution.
There were times Dare truly loved his job. Today was one of them because he could smell an opportunity to gather hard evidence coming his way.
"He's on the move."
Agent Thais Sinclair's voice came through his earpiece while Dare Servant watched traffic.
"Looks like Kirkland is clearing out so the party can be set up," Thais continued. "Just the catering delivery guy left, and he's making ready to pull out."
"Copy," Dare responded. "Make sure Agent Bowan has the chef delayed."
Dare killed the call, feeling a surge of satisfaction. Kirkland didn't empty out his house very often. It was the opportunity they needed to bug the place.
One golden hour.
Dare planned to make the most of it.
* * *
Jenna jumped for the phone when it rang.
Yeah, whatever, beggars couldn't be choosers.
Or in her case, she couldn't afford to miss a call which just might revive her vacation plans with enough income to make the Hawaiian islands do-able.
Awww Hawaii ... She seriously loved the tropical islands. If that meant she had her price, so be it!
Being a combustion expert was great, except she worked by the project, which meant when one contract finished she was on the bench until another project was secured. Three days at home and she was going stir crazy. She really needed to blow something up but if she wanted to do it legally, she had to wait for a contract. She smiled as she answered the phone.
"Jennie dear ..."
Jenna recognized the tone. Her friend Sam was in need and looking for reinforcements. It wasn't a contract offer but it was her buddy.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"It's Paul," Sam began. "He's stuck with a dead car and I have this major account with a huge party tonight and there is no way the food will be ready if I don't get someone there within the hour."
"Don't you have tons of people trying to get hired on with you?" she asked.
Sam let out a snort. "Yes, but this is one of those Malibu cliff homes. Background check is mandatory. Fingerprinting, you know the drill. They use gold-plated toilet paper and don't want anyone around who might steal a square or squeal to the paparazzi about their private parties."
Sam and his husband ran one of the most exclusive catering business in Malibu. Along with the glory went the stress because one bad review could translate into disaster among the celebrities who owned the high-priced real estate.
"So what's it going to take to get you to work for me tonight?" Sam asked bluntly. "You have a background check from the government."
"Ah ..." Jenna muttered, grateful for the fact that she could roll her eyes without her buddy seeing it. "You know, I'm not really a chef."
"Please," Sam cut her off. "You are a chef at heart, you just enjoy blowing stuff up more. You'd work for me if you weren't employed by the space program. Which is why I love you.
"For the record, I don't blow stuff up."
Sam made a scoffing sound. "Fine, combustion expert. Whatever you say. What I call it, is — you have a background check and I really need you to get up to Malibu and put the soup on before my client gets pissed and slams my name to all his buddies." Sam paused to draw in a deep breath. "Besides, moping around your townhouse isn't good for you."
"I'm not moping," Jenna said, defending herself.
"You picked the phone up mighty fast."
Jenna gave into another urge to roll her eyes. "Because I know a contract offer is coming. I work by project. It's just the way the space program is. I'm not unemployed, just on the bench."
"Okay, fine, you're going to be back to crunching numbers in a jiffy. In the meantime ... while you're not moping ... want to come grill tiger shrimp? With that amazing sauce you haven't been able to teach anyone to make, right? Please? I'm a gay man and I'm begging. Do you have any idea how bad this could be for my reputation? Gay men aren't supposed to need women for anything."
Jenna chuckled. "I can't even see you, and I know you're using the puppy-dog eyes."
"Big ... corgi ones," Sam confirmed.
"Ugh ... Okay, send me the address and menu." Jenna caved in. "You're right, I'm picking the phone up too fast. Can't seem too desperate."
There was a squeal of delight from her Sam. "You're the best! The rest of the team will show up later. I just dropped the first load of food but have to go get the fresh sea food so we can meet and exchange the key."
Big corgi ones, huh?
Jenna aimed a rueful look at her phone before she headed toward her bedroom. Waiting on the phone wasn't going to bring in a project offer any faster. She'd get dinner out of it, premium eats, too. Just because she would be cooking it herself didn't really factor in. Sam knew her well, she did love to cook. She just loved making rocket engines better.
But appearing desperate? Well that had to go.
* * *
"Is it done?"
Dare Servant was used to controlling his tone. He kept it low and even as he listened to his fellow agent Zane Bowan.
"That car isn't going anywhere," Zane confirmed. "You've got a clear window."
"Copy that," Dare answered. He killed the call and let out a whistle.
Kirkland Grog was his father's son all the way.
Two innocent girls were laying in cold storage, and that matched his father's blood trail alright. Marc had killed anyone who got in his way or learned too much. Kirkland seemed to think that was a fine way to run his businesses.
One of which was porn.
It wasn't that Dare was straightlaced. He liked a good sex-filled weekend at the end of cases, but knowing Kirkland was bringing in girls from impoverished families and forcing them into pornography turned his stomach.
Dare took a great deal of personal enjoyment in knowing he'd used Kirkland's own security rules against him. The guy insisted on background checks. Today, that was going to translate into a window of time when Dare and his team could get into the house and bug it. Sure, the caterer was likely having a meltdown but the guy would live to put on another party.
The girls on the other hand needed him to have a means of gathering the evidence he needed to get Kirkland convicted in spite of the millions of dollars the guy could afford for lawyers.
Dare enjoyed the drive along the winding road that lead up to the exclusive mansion home. Kirkland was getting money from somewhere. On the surface, Kirkland made a lot of noise about how clean he was. Claiming he made his money as a pop singer. But his father had been an underworld crime boss.
He didn't have any concrete evidence against Kirkland, but it was a fact that his promotion manager gave out more tickets than they sold. Packing the stadiums when Kirkland was on stage, but, from what Dare's team had discovered, all the concerts did was break even.
Kirkland was getting his money somewhere else. And the dead girl had been with him the night before she died.
Dare needed to know what was going on inside the house, and he needed to bug a good portion of Kirkland's personal possessions so he could track the guy.
He pressed his foot against the accelerator and sent his car peeling around the next turn in the road as he gripped the wheel and made the turn in spite of the hairpin curve.
The tires squealed, but the sports car hugged the road with every bit of its promised German engineering.
No, he didn't have the evidence yet but there was a reason he was on the case.
He never quit.
* * *
Jenna jumped back as a wave of gravel came her way from the tires of a sports car. She was pulled well off the road, in a turnout that was big enough for Sam and her cars but that didn't seem to be far enough off the road for some of the locals.
"They all drive like dicks up here," Sam remarked. "Watch the curves, I've found myself facing a car coming at me in my lane more than once because the driver is on a cell phone."
Jenna took the remote Sam was holding out. "You know something? If the universe decides to deliver a mega millions jackpot to me, I'm pretty sure I can make it through life without being a PITA to the rest of the human race."
"I hope you get the chance to prove it." Sam winked at her. "I'm hitting the docks to grab the fresh fish Paul ordered and then I'll be right back, but it's a drive down there. I'll call you when I get up here. That remote thing is the only way inside without setting off the security system. The owner has a bug up his crawl about keeping the house secure. So stay in the kitchen." Sam started to leave but held up a finger. "The guy is also a major dick. Got little bare titty girls all over the place like a buffet. Thinks he's God's gift if you know what I mean."
"Thanks for the warning. Don't worry, I've got plenty to keep me busy."
"Just giving you a heads-up so you don't chop off the guy's hand when he thinks you're part of the party service." Sam shook his head. "Everything is in the back pantry. House is empty."
Sam ducked into the cab of his truck and shut the door. Jenna did the same, buckling her seat belt before looking long and hard at the road and pulling off the turn out. The weather was perfect. The sky was blue and the sun sparkled off the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It was actually a chore to keep her attention on the road as she made her way up to the house because the view was just so magnificent.
And so completely out of her price range in real estate.
She went past the main driveway, following Sam's instructions to look for a second entrance to the property. The little concrete strip took her around the side of the house to the four-car garage that served as the service entrance.
She shook her head at the excess, slightly miffed at having to cross her fingers and do a crazy chicken dance as she hoped for a new job offer just so she could afford a vacation someplace with a view this house had every single day.
Yeah, life isn't fair. This isn't your first encounter with that fact.
She smiled at herself and pointed the remote at the garage door. It slid up in response. She left her car in the driveway and walked into the garage. There were two trucks inside it, one for a gardener and another for deliveries.
Excerpted from "Close to the Edge"
Copyright © 2018 Dawn Ryder.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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