Rowena Connor's ex was a monster, and she'd do anything to protect her son from him. Including fake her death and sequester her son in another country. But somehow her ex figured it out. Now he's kidnapped her son and wants her dead-for real this time.
US Marshal Ryan McCabe had to leave Rowena to save her. It gutted him. But now she's dropped into his life unexpectedly, on the run from the man McCabe has been hunting for years. He still burns for her, but it's clear she definitely hasn't gotten over what he did to her. Who can blame her? But her only hope to stay alive is to trust him, dark secrets and all.
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She moved with the stealth and purpose of a cat. No sound, no extraneous motion. Only pure determination and a focus that never wavered.
She wasn't partial to Colombia, and this area of Bogota made her gag. It smelled of sweat, garbage, and excruciating poverty. People begged for pesos while urchins ran wild in the street, dipping into any pocket that might appear to have a wallet in it. Naturally, the hotel, if she could call the roach-infested rat trap she was standing in that, was hot and fetid and stank of crack.
You had to figure there'd be drugs, she reflected as she stole along the second-floor corridor to her target room. People had to earn a living somehow, and cocaine flowed like sewer water here.
The lock behind the rusty keyhole was easy enough to bypass, the security system its occupant had set up inside a bit trickier. A lot trickier, actually. Motion sensors and infrared beams. Not inordinately sophisticated but intricate enough to slow her down. Her specialty was computers. She'd learned about security systems out of necessity and a sense of urgency.
It took her almost fifteen minutes to disable everything, and even then she stepped carefully across the threshold.
Her gaze went at once to the bathroom. Possible but not likely. The sad excuse for a dresser wasn't in the picture. Neither was the hard-backed chair with is frayed wicker seat or the closet with no doors and a single stained pillow on its lopsided upper shelf.
If she'd been a real thief looking for a quick score, this place would have been dead last on her prospect list — which was undoubtedly why he'd chosen it and probably a thousand others exactly like it in his many and varied travels.
"Okay, so where?" she murmured.
Closing her eyes briefly, she put herself in his head. It wouldn't be in the least likely spot; that would be as blatant a hiding place as the dresser. It would be where no one would think to look because it was so obvious.
Toilet tank, no. Bed, no. Overhead light, no. With him?
She considered that idea for a moment as she had countless times before coming here. But no. Exceptionally trained as he was, even he wasn't impervious to street thieves.
The hotel didn't have safe deposit boxes. There was nowhere for valuables to be stored. It was somewhere in this room, waiting for her to take it.
She pictured his face — a dangerous thing to do. Then she slipped under the surface and into his strange and wonderful brain.
Opening her eyes, she looked around again. And spied it.
A smile curved her lips. It hung half off the wall, yet was still partly screwed to it. The cord had been gnawed, probably by rats. The receiver sat cockeyed on its hook.
Unstable and barely fastened to the chair rail, the telephone wasn't worth a second glance. And even if someone did bother to rip it free, it would still only appear to be an old phone.
She used her Swiss Army knife to undo the screws. The back panel was broken, the housing stuffed with ancient wires. She removed them one by one, along with a piece of crumbling plastic. The metal plate underneath was rusty and matched the rest of the device. But it didn't belong there whether it appeared to or not.
"Clever, clever," she said softly. She pried the metal up, just enough to shake what was inside out. "Okay, I'm impressed." And more than a little relieved that she was still dialed in to at least one of his thought processes.
Breathing easier now, she replaced the item she'd removed with an identical one, pressed the metal into place, pushed the wires and plastic back in, and reattached the phone to the wall.
City noise drifted up from the street below, a cacophony of shouts and laughter, untuned engines and blaring horns. For the most part she'd succeeded in shutting all of that out, but the reality was the sounds existed. And they masked the ones around her.
If the door had opened on deliberately oiled hinges, she might not have noticed it. And many people had the ability to silence their footsteps. But her senses had become finely tuned over the past several months. She knew instantly when someone was behind her.
Spinning, she slipped the Swiss Army knife and the object she'd stolen into the back pocket of her jeans.
His face told her nothing. No anger or surprise registered. He simply caught her by the wrist before she could avoid him and yanked her tightly against his body.
She met his eyes, her head up and her stare unflinching. She didn't speak. For a long moment, neither did he. Finally, a wry smile tugged on his lips.
"Welcome back to the land of the fucking living, Rowena."
And before she could reply, he covered her mouth with his.
* * *
He'd caught her off guard. But that had been the plan. The one McCabe had conceived back when he'd first realized he was being followed. What was that now? A week ago?
His mind wasn't exactly functioning on all cylinders. The taste of her filled him. The scent of her skin and hair infused his senses with emotions so rich and vivid he couldn't see past them. Everything about her, every memory, every moment, rushed back into his head and tumbled together like a thousand fragrant vines that twisted around him body and soul.
Suddenly he was back in Paris where they'd met. Where he'd fallen in love with the most beautiful computer geek on the planet. They'd done all the usual things, shared lunches at romantic sidewalk cafes, gone to galleries — and a few unusual things as well. They'd discovered a shared love of science fiction, specifically of Star Wars. They'd actually binged on an all-night retrospective in a shabby little Montmartre theater. Quirky stuff, looking back, but part and parcel of what seemed like a surrealistic period of his life.
She didn't fight his kiss right away. That would be shock. Once it wore off ...
"You son of a bitch!" She tore her mouth from his and likely stopped just short of ramming her knee between his legs. "You knew I was in here, didn't you?"
How a pair of ice-blue eyes could flash fire baffled him, but hers definitely did. She'd have slugged him if he hadn't trapped her hands and held them firmly at her sides.
"Stop calling my mother names, and yes, I knew you were here."
"How?" she demanded with the fire still flashing and her gaze locked on his.
"Let's call it a strong hunch based on a week of observation, gut instinct, and deductive reasoning."
She swore again, then struggled in his grasp. With the kiss lingering like fine wine on his tongue, McCabe released her and took a good long look.
She hadn't opted for the traditional black of a cat burglar. Who could blame her in blistering hot Bogota? Instead, she wore a pair of tight faded jeans, a tie-dyed halter, and a cheap pair of sneakers. Her ball cap had seen better days, but then so had the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose barely legible logo still adorned it. She'd pulled her long black ponytail through the back and fastened a spiky silver bracelet just above her right wrist. It would do damage, he thought, if she had a chance to use it on someone's face.
"You look good, Ro." His gaze skimmed up and down her exquisitely toned body. "Really, really good."
She turned away, then back to glare at him. "Did you know I was alive, specifically, or just that you were being followed?"
"I thought it might be you. Hoped it was. The opportunity was there — your body was never discovered — but I didn't actually see you if that's what you're asking."
She released a deep breath. "If you had suspicions, he will, too." In two angry strides, she was back in front of him. Bunching his shirt in her fists, she said, "I can't let that happen, McCabe."
Something in the way she spoke had his eyes narrowing. "You're worried about more than your own life."
When she merely continued to stare, his stomach muscles tightened. "Your son's?"
The fire faltered, though nothing else about her did. "His name's Parker. He's not even two years old yet. I hid him, or thought I did. I was so sure he was in a safe place. But somehow ... somehow, James found him. He found him and he took him. I don't know why. He never showed any particular interest when Parker was born. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the man who'd been caring for him was dead, and Parker was gone."
McCabe was curious. "Who was caring for him?"
She breathed in and closed her eyes, then breathed out and opened her eyes. "Buddhist monks. In India. I grew up with a friend who converted. There was no trail and no one knew except me and him. Even the Abbot at the monastery wasn't told, not in any detail. Acceptance is their way, and they accepted Parker with open arms. I know this all sounds melodramatic, but there was no one else I could turn to. I wasn't about to put anybody else's life at risk because I screwed up."
Something flickered in McCabe's heart. He understood that she couldn't put the grandparents who'd raised her at risk. They were older now and not as healthy as they'd been back in the day. But still ... "You could have come to me."
"No." She shook her head. "You left me, McCabe. Just left. At first I was stunned, and then I was furious. I'm still angry. I probably always will be. You have so many responsibilities, so much going on in your secret world. I never understood any of it, because you never let me in. There was always a line I was never allowed to cross with you. No way was I going to burden you with my mistake."
"Parker was a mistake?"
He thought for a minute she was going to slap him, but she refrained, balling her fists at her side. "No, you ass. Choosing to be with James was. He's a monster."
"So I've heard."
She set her jaw. "There's a quality you share with him, McCabe. Sarcasm. How long have you been after him? Back when we first knew each other, all I ever visualized was a phantom you felt compelled to destroy. In my mind he was a faceless, nameless person, a bit like the Invisible Man. But you were obsessed with him. He was your X factor, a brilliant shadow you couldn't quite pin down." She whirled, hugging her arms across her chest. "I had no idea until after I'd gotten together with James that he was that shadow, that obsession."
"We're square then." McCabe kept his tone easy, though it cost him. "I had no idea you'd fall for his load of bullshit." He held up both hands. "Sorry, that was out of line. I know how good an actor Mockerie can be."
"I wouldn't have fallen for anything, McCabe, if you'd been halfway truthful with me. You made me doubt myself. Or, no, I'll rephrase that. I let you make me doubt myself, so damn it I'm angry at both of us."
"Be angry at me, not yourself." He caught hold of her before she could spin away. Her reactions had fascinated him back in the day — hot Irish blood, controlled but never completely caged by the cool Swedish ice of her grandmother. Looking into those incredible glacial eyes, he told her the truth flat out.
"Mockerie's a bastard, Ro. A snake, with no conscience, no compassion, and only two goals in life. To make money and to kill me."
* * *
Now that truly did sound melodramatic, or would have if Rowena hadn't come to understand James Mockerie very, very well over the past three years. Three long years, during which time she hadn't once laid eyes on Ryan McCabe.
She'd thought about him a great deal. Wished repeatedly that their feelings hadn't been so intense, so overwhelming. He might have been a man of mystery, but he hadn't left her because of his work. He'd run, at least in part, from emotions he couldn't handle and a background he'd flatly refused to talk about. There'd been trauma in his past, she was sure of it. But beyond that ... Who knew? And truthfully, as much as she loved solving a good mystery, McCabe's secrets had been more than she could handle.
So, here they were, face-to-face once again in Bogota, Colombia, cocaine capital of the Western world and the last place on earth she wanted to be.
Her lips still tingled from his kiss. Her mind continued to reel, and every one of her senses was electrified. But she didn't dare lose herself in any of that. An overwhelming physical attraction was all they'd ever had. She needed to hold on to the anger, remember what he'd done to her, how he'd left without any explanation. Parker's safety was paramount. It was all that mattered. For her baby's sake, she needed to concentrate on slipping away, on joining the land of the dead once again. McCabe could help her. He'd made people vanish before. Unfortunately, what he could do and what he would do might prove to be two very different things.
He took her to a crappy little bar in an alley that smelled like a compost bin from hell. None of the dozen or so people inside even bothered to lift their heads as the two of them walked in.
"I came for the phone I sent you." Rowena stepped over the legs of a man propped up against the wall with an empty beer bottle in his hand. "I wasn't banking on a side case of dysentery."
"Tequila's safe enough." McCabe nodded at a table near the back of the room, away from any openings and people. "I wouldn't trust much else."
"I don't like tequila."
"They cut the rest with tap water. Only tequila's sacred. The pricier the better."
"In that case, bring on the gold." She waited until they were seated on a pair of sticky chairs before she brought her gaze fully in line with his. "What's in the phone is all I have to use as a bargaining tool for Parker. There's information inside that James will want back. I'm not saying it's enough to crush his little empire, but it could hurt him. Quite a lot. I know it's a long shot, but it's all I have. I sent you the phone so that if everything worked out for Parker and me, you'd have something that could start you on the path to bringing James down. Now I need it back."
McCabe merely stared at her. Taking that as a cue to continue, she sighed.
"I can't be alive for any length of time, you understand that, right? My appearance changes quite frequently. Whenever I let myself be seen, which isn't often, I have to become someone else." She removed her sunglasses. Even with the dusty shadows swirling around her, she felt naked. "It may sound paranoid, but I always suspect that James has people watching me. Or watching for me. And now there's you. Does he watch you, McCabe? Should I be worried about that as well?" "I don't know. Maybe."
McCabe adjusted his ball cap. The bill blocked his eyes from her view. Probably for the best in the end. He had mesmerizing eyes. Deep, dark, and insightful. She wished she'd never seen them. Almost.
Once the tequila had been ordered — a fully sealed bottle — Rowena set her chin on her fisted hands and looked past him at an old woman who was almost ready to topple sideways out of her chair.
"I'm afraid James's intention might be to turn Parker into a mini version of himself. I don't know why that idea would suddenly have occurred to him, but he's a man of unpredictable moods and hare triggers, something I discovered far too long after the fact to backpedal."
She felt McCabe studying her. "So you went on the offensive."
"Yes, and once I started to realize what James was, I made the decision to infiltrate his files. We'll call them his dark files. It took me months to get past his firewalls. Even then, I only reached the first level. When he became suspicious, I had to stop. I downloaded what I could as a precaution. I'd already made plans to get Parker to safety."
"Yeah, I got that part. Buddhist monk, monastery. Your friend's dead."
Her stare returned to his face and became a glare. "You still don't mince words, I see. Yes, my friend's dead. I'm just grateful that whoever kidnapped Parker didn't harm anyone else at the monastery."
"Look, I'm sorry about your friend, but the bottom line is, Mockerie has the child. Now, I have a question."
"How did I do it?" She shrugged. "I'm going to say there was a lot of luck involved. I had my back to the water. And I'd already damaged the railing. I knew it wouldn't take much of a hit for the wood to break and me to fall through. James walked toward me. I was wearing a long dress that blew in the breeze. What he didn't see was that I had a rope tied to myself under the dress. Before James showed up, I secured the other end of the rope to one of the pylons below the dock. When he pulled the trigger, I had a small device in my hand, attached to my ring. All I had to do was squeeze my fingers, and it sent a signal to pop the vial of blood I had hidden under my dress. I fell back against the rail and into the water. It stood to reason he'd send Carson down after me, so I used the rope to hold on to the pylon because there was a strong riptide that night. I hid until Carson gave up searching — which wasn't much of a wait since Carson's not a fan of adverse water conditions."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dark Justice: McCabe"
Copyright © 2018 Jenna Ryan.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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