In DON'T LOOK BACK by Dawn Ryder, she is the only woman worth fighting - or dying - for...
Shadow Ops Agent Thais Sinclair has sworn off falling in love for good. It’s what’s kept her calculated, steady, and on-task in a world dominated by men. She needs nothing and no one but her own wits and strength to guide her. But when she’s slated to shadow the one man who could reveal their entire operation, all bets are off.
Dunn Bateson, illegitimate son of a Southern debutante, has always had to fight harder than the rest to get what he wants. Now, the last thing he needs is Thais following his every move. She is so strong, sly, seductive. . . No woman has ever captivated him so completely. Thais may only have room for her mission in her heart, but is Dunn up to the challenge of showing her that she’s worth every risk he is willing to take?
The Unbroken Heroes series is:
“Enthralling...a must-read for fans of romantic suspense and military heroes.”
—The Reading Café
“Sexy, rugged, and explosive.”
—#1 New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh
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
"You're doing it wrong, brother," Saxon Hale said as he slapped Vitus Hale on the shoulder.
Vitus sent Saxon a hard look. "Fuck off."
Saxon only grinned at Vitus's response, but there was a snort from Damascus Hale. She sent her husband a stern look designed to reprimand him. "Don't teach our daughter profanity."
"She's a little young to pick up words, princess," Vitus replied as he tried to adjust the way he was cradling his newborn daughter. The infant let out a little sound, earning a frown from Vitus. The assembled family members laughed at his expense.
"Babies absorb far more language than you realize," Damascus informed Vitus.
Miranda Delacroix cooed to the baby as she lifted her from Vitus's arms. "She's perfect ...," the new grandmother gushed.
* * *
It was a private gathering.
Pullman looked through the scope of his rifle, lining up the crosshairs on Miranda Delacroix Ryland.
It would be easy to drop the Congress hopeful right there among her kin. Which was fortuitous, considering he'd been paid a lot of money to put a bullet through her head, and there was even a bonus if he got the job done quickly.
He lifted his head though and relaxed his hand, removing his finger from the trigger. It wasn't that he had any remorse about hitting his target while she was attending a christening for her grandchild.
He was a hitman; it was what he did.
A lack of concern went with the job. It was sort of a requirement.
But in this case, he settled for lifting up a camera and snapping pictures of the location. Saxon Hale and his team of Shadow Ops agents had been off the grid for over a year now. The top-secret location was referred to as the "nest."
The intel might have value on the black market.
It wasn't the job he was on, but a wise man never lets an opportunity go untried. Pullman indulged in a grin as he watched the family group. Sure, they looked pretty normal, until the high-powered lens on his camera started catching sight of chest harnesses and rifles stored on the sides of the buildings. There was a cute little vintage house, surrounded by a graveyard of cars and trucks rusting away. The twisted mass of metal was a smokescreen for the Cold War–era missile silo being refurbished two hundred yards behind the house.
Patience was key to success. The right time and the right place, essential to performance. At least the sort of performance Pullman was interested in being known for. A clean kill, no evidence for law enforcement to find and follow back to the person who had paid for the hit.
Pullman lowered his camera, watching as the christening ceremony got started. Vitus and Damascus Hale handed their infant daughter over to the selected godparents. Saxon Hale and Ginger Hale stood in their places as Colonel Bryan Magnus officiated.
Miranda stood off to one side, smiling like the proud grandmother she was.
Carl Davis would want Pullman to put a slug in Miranda right there.
But Carl Davis was an idiot. A vindictive one, too. Pullman avoided adding the word "evil" because he was working for the guy and couldn't get too picky about the way he made his income.
Pullman grunted and looked forward to finishing his job for the presidential hopeful Carl Davis because when the job was done, he would be free to have a beer. Pullman never drank while on a job. Being a hitman was becoming more challenging as the modern age made staying faceless far harder than it had ever been before.
There was no way Pullman would be stupid enough to drop Miranda Ryland while she was standing on a Shadow Ops location. Sure, it looked like a mess. A construction site just underway. Only a fool would buy that story.
Saxon and Vitus Hale were ex-SEALs. And they weren't the only seasoned operators attending the christening.
Colonel Bryan Magnus had an impressive service record, too, and there were other Shadow Ops agents as well.
Nope. No way was Pullman going to drop her there, even if he suspected Carl Davis just might want him to compromise the nest location as a nice added bonus.
Carl wasn't paying for that service, and Pullman never worked for free. If Carl wanted the Shadow Ops teams uprooted because they felt they were compromised, he'd have to shell out the cash.
So far, Carl had only paid for Miranda Delacroix to be dropped.
He'd do the job. But when the timing was right. He couldn't spend the money if he were in prison or dead. And Carl wouldn't mind a bit if he were killed trying to escape. Not that Pullman held it against Carl — the guy was paying a hitman to take out a rival, so expecting morality would be foolish.
Pullman shouldered his rifle and began trekking his way back through the forest that surrounded the area. He pulled a hat down on his head, looking like any of a dozen locals who were out hunting.
He'd get Miranda a little later. When she was away from the secret location. It would preserve his ability to sell the pictures of the site. If the Congress hopeful went down too close to it, the Shadow Ops team would abandon it and set up another location.
Planning was always key.
* * *
Vitus Hale had two places he called home.
He grinned for a moment as he watched the people on the sidewalk in Washington, D.C.
Only two — boy, marriage had domesticated him.
His wife, Damascus, would give him a look if she heard his sarcasm, but then again, she'd known what he was when they fell in love.
You mean you made the ultimate mistake of falling in love with your package ...
He had, and he still wasn't sorry, either. Sure, there had been a year when he'd thought Damascus had chosen her rich father's lifestyle over him, but that was history now.
Not that falling in love meant he was going to start reporting to a cubical every day.
Vitus caught sight of his section leader. Kagan didn't make it too easy. Vitus caught a glimpse of him in his peripheral vision. He held himself steady for a moment, making sure no one was watching him, before he moved off to where Kagan was settling down on a park bench.
Vitus moved slowly, stopping a few other places before sitting beside Kagan.
"It's too quiet," Kagan began.
Vitus gave his section leader a single nod but held silent. Kagan wasn't just his superior because someone had promoted him. No, Kagan was a man Vitus followed because he'd earned it. Kagan didn't talk often, and he didn't give away his motive, either. In short, Kagan was worth listening to, especially when he'd called Vitus for a meeting.
"Carl should have put his people on dealing with us threatening him," Kagan continued.
"My bet is, he has," Vitus responded. "This aide of his, Eric Geyer, seems to know how to keep a lid on what he's doing."
"That's what I'm concerned about," Kagan said with a hard look toward Vitus. "Tyler Martin might have been one of us, but his failing was his need to be recognized for his work."
Vitus's lips twitched. "Tyler liked to wear his I-was-there ribbons, sure enough."
Kagan's expression cracked for a second at Vitus's description of military medals. In the world of Shadow Ops teams, Vitus fit right in because he didn't care what people thought of him. He didn't need a medal to prove his worth, and he didn't flash the ones he'd earned around. No, he found his confidence deep inside himself, where he damn well knew the value of the service he'd done for his country and mankind.
Tyler Martin had been weak enough to need confirmation from the people around him.
"I assigned Dare Servant to a new location in case we need a plan B," Kagan continued. "My guess is, Carl won't be wise enough to take our warning."
Vitus enjoyed a flashback. They'd replaced Carl Davis's personal security and faced him down inside one of his plush presidential hotel suites. He'd been scared. In fact, Vitus doubted Carl had ever tasted fear quite that intense before. They could have killed him; they'd had plenty of reason to. Carl had charged Tyler Martin with killing Vitus and his brother, Saxon, as well as members of their teams.
More than once they'd overcome the odds.
Vitus savored the knowledge. But he wasn't foolish enough to overlook the fact that his victories were salt in Carl Davis's wounds.
"Miranda took a chance in giving us that tape she made," Kagan added. "Carl will want his pound of flesh. This campaign is the perfect cover for him to have a hitman take her out."
"I've been watching her," Vitus said.
"I know," Kagan offered dryly. "Officially, I don't have a reason to assign a team to her."
"Unless you want to confess that we threatened Carl Davis," Vitus said, offering his section leader a smirk.
"A warning," Kagan corrected him. "One none of us expects him to take ..."
"But we made the effort," Vitus said. Yeah, they'd made the effort because they were men of honor. People used the word lightly too often for his peace of mind, but he'd found the sort of men and women who understood the true meaning in it among the SEALs and Shadow Ops. Kagan was a hard man who'd made tough choices, but Vitus followed his command because he knew without a shred of doubt that his section leader was motivated by integrity.
That was why they hadn't killed Carl Davis when they'd had the chance.
"Stay sharp," Kagan advised him with a knowing look. "It's going to hit the fan. Soon. Leave your family underground."
Vitus nodded, acknowledging the warning. "They're back under Colonel Magnus's command."
Kagan drew in a deep breath. "Bryan Magnus knows what to do if Carl takes us out."
Vitus felt his body shift. It was a slight tensing of the muscles with a tingle rippling along his spine. He was no stranger to the sensation, the only thing new to the situation was the fact that now he had a wife and daughter. On over a hundred missions with the SEALs, he'd taken the ultimate risk with his life. It had been his drug of choice, the need to put boot to ass for justice. Damascus might accept who he was, but there was still a little hollow feeling settling into the pit of his stomach as he saw the look on Kagan's face.
They were going to war. Only this time, it was on home soil.
At least his section leader thought so, and Vitus couldn't fault his logic.
"Shadow Miranda," Kagan said. "I've got Sinclair off grid in case we need her as a resource."
"Am I officially on a case?"
"At the moment there is no case," Kagan said, giving him a tilt of his head. "Officially, you're waiting for assignment." Kagan shot him a hard look. "Be ready for the call."
They parted ways. Vitus moved through the crowded streets of the capital before ducking into a doorway and disappearing into an underground network of tunnels few civilians knew about. Hell, there were plenty of FBI and CIA agents who didn't know what lay beneath the pavement. Deep below the traffic-clogged streets, Vitus pressed his palm and let his retina be scanned before entering a facility that contained some of the most dangerous viruses on the planet. His wife worked daily in an effort to make sure they were prepared to deal with bio-attacks. It meant working with the viruses, and that was done where an accident could never leak out into the population.
Damascus had signed on in an effort to escape her father's plans to have her marry Carl Davis. Underground, Vitus was free to allow his lips to curve up. He'd enjoyed stealing his princess away by winning her heart. Her father hadn't made it easy, but, hell, Vitus had never been a fan of taking the easy path in life.
He made his way to the small center where his daughter was being cared for. She had her fist in her mouth, sucking on it, as he nodded to the day care personnel before gently scooping the infant up.
Life was a precious thing.
And a magical one.
He'd never realized how amazing it might be to hold his child.
Carl Davis had better heed their warning, because the next time Carl made a play against them, Vitus was going to kill him. The stakes were too high now.
Which meant he was going to have to step outside the lines of protocol.
"Be ready for the call."
There was a mountain of meaning in Kagan's words. Vitus held on to his daughter for a few more precious seconds before he forced himself into action. Being ready meant making sure he had every assist he could manage.
It also meant doing right by family.
He made his way into the small suite he shared with his wife and pulled a prepaid phone out of his pocket. Miranda Delacroix was his mother-in-law.
She was also Dunn Bateson's natural mother.
Vitus didn't know the man well. Of course, no one really did from what Vitus could tell. Dunn was a recluse who seemed to enjoy casting his aura of mystery. He certainly invested a lot of cash in keeping the paparazzi guessing on just where he was.
But Vitus had a number to reach him.
Vitus hesitated for a long moment. In the end, though, it was the lingering feeling of having his daughter in his hands that made him push the dial button on the phone.
Family was worth everything a man had in him to give. Not every man lived by that code, but Vitus knew Dunn did.
Miranda was his mother.
"Vitus Hale," Dunn answered on the third ring. "How can I bail your Shadow Ops team out today?"
There was a hint of a smirk coming through the line. Vitus enjoyed the brassy humor the Scotsman seemed to have an endless supply of.
"It's payback time," Vitus began. "I'm calling to give you a heads-up. Unofficially."
There was silence for a moment. "I'm listening," Dunn replied, all hints of teasing gone.
Dunn didn't disappoint him by drawing out the conversation. Vitus was left looking at his phone after Dunn ended the call just three minutes later.
No, Dunn wasn't going to waste time chatting. Miranda might have been forced to give birth to him in secret by her powerful political family because they wouldn't have the scandal of her having a child with a man they didn't approve of, but Dunn wasn't going to stand by idly while his mother might be on a hitman's list.
Was that what Kagan had meant by making sure Vitus had his resources in line?
Actually, Vitus did think Kagan had wanted him to call Dunn. His section leader couldn't do it. No, there were too many eyes on him.
But what Vitus did when he wasn't on a case, well, that was no one's business. It was the unspoken element that kept their Shadow Ops teams as effective as they were. It was also the thing so many hopeful recruits tried to get a grasp on but failed.
You either understood or you didn't, and that comprehension was a must for the men and women Kagan put Shadow Ops badges into the hands of. They took the cases no one wanted. Dealt with the criminals who won too damn often.
Dunn wasn't one of them.
And yet, he was by way of stepping up when he'd been needed. The guy liked his privacy though, living as a recluse, and he had enough money to help him pull it off well enough to have Vitus admiring him.
Dunn was the sort of ace in the hole they needed. The asset Carl Davis wouldn't see in play on the board. He'd been involved in operations before, but he was also a master of the art of being a recluse. He'd never left a trail, which meant Carl and his people wouldn't be looking for him.
* * *
Dunn Bateson stood gazing out of his office windows. Vitus Hale wasn't a man given to hype.
Dunn heard Vitus's words ringing in his ears. There was also a strange tingle going down his spine. Edinburgh was a place known for spirits and supernatural happenings. Tonight, Dunn found himself caught in a moment of contemplation that just might have been crafted by the hands of fate.
Miranda was his mother. Vitus had pegged him perfectly. Something Dunn would give the American full credit for achieving. Not many men could read him so well.
Maybe it was the connection of Vitus being married to his half sister, Damascus.
Dunn looked down at his phone and realized he was hesitating. Miranda's number was illuminated on the screen, waiting for him to push the dial function key.
He hated that he was still wondering if he should reach out to her.
"Yer mother loved you, son ... never doubt it ..."
His father's words rose from his memory.
"She loved me ..."
Duncan Bateson had insisted his son should know the truth once he was old enough.
"Miranda wanted to marry me, ran away with me, but her family, they vowed to destroy everything I had if she didn't return to them. I could have lived without money, but what sort of son would I be to allow such a thing to happen to my father?" His father's crusty face had twisted with a grief Dunn hadn't imagined his sire could ever feel. Not Duncan Miles Bateson, the icon of Bateson Industries.
And yet, Dunn recalled in vivid detail the way his father's eyes had actually turned glassy with unshed tears.
He'd loved her until the day he died.
And Miranda? She'd come to see Dunn the moment her husband was dead.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Don't Look Back"
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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