The Midnight Hour
By Brenda Jackson
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2004 Brenda Jackson
All rights reserved.
Five months later
Drake Warren stepped into the elegant lobby of the Diamond Bay Resort and removed his aviator-style sunglasses. The chandeliers overhead made him squint against the startling intensity of the lights' brightness. Glancing around he released a deep, ragged sigh.
After being on a six-month medical leave, he was back. The doctors had given him a clean bill of health and he was itching to return to the field. His experience with his "angel" had been his wake-up call and had assured him of one major thing. He still had work to do. After all, Solomon Cross was out there, wasn't he? And Drake intended to find the man and make him pay for all he'd cost him.
While lying in that hospital bed as pain racked his body, it had been so much easier to give up and escape a world that had been so cruel to him and caused him so much pain. But he'd been pulled back from the threshold of the dead, given another lease on life and he planned to take full advantage of it.
He smiled when he thought of Ashton and his friend's thoughts of "Drake's angel." According to Ashton the woman had been real, flesh and blood. That thought didn't bother Drake any, but it had bothered Ashton and Trevor. Drake could only assume that neither of his good friends had taken the time to watch the television show Touched By An Angel. It was one of his favorites and whenever he was in one place long enough he made time to see it.
Everybody knew that an angel could take on many forms and if his angel had decided to be a doctor that night instead of just materializing in his room dressed in white, wearing a halo and showing off her wings, that was her business and he definitely wasn't going to question her mode of arrival. He was just glad she had shown up when she had and had talked some sense into him.
For the first time in years he felt like a blessed man. He had his health back, and years ago he had inherited a huge track of land in the Tennessee mountains from his grandparents; land that kept him connected to his roots. Then there were the smart investments that he'd made over the years that had put him in a good financial position.
Checking his watch, he saw he had an entire hour to kill before his meeting with his new boss now that Hawk had retired. An unexpected encrypted message had been left on his computer that said he needed to report to Diamond Bay immediately for this urgent meeting. At the time he had been in Houston, visiting with Trevor, Ashton, and their families.
He couldn't help but smile. After he had gotten discharged from the hospital, Trevor's wife, Corinthians, and Ashton's wife, Nettie, had decided he would come to Houston to recuperate. While he was there, Nettie had given birth to triplets, all boys, as Ashton had predicted. Babies and mother were doing well. He had attended the christening ceremony for Ashton's sons where he and Trevor had become their godfathers.
Deciding he needed a caffeine fix, Drake walked across the lobby to the coffee shop. After his purchase he took a seat at one of the tables that overlooked the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. He was about to raise the coffee cup to his lips when a woman, who entered through the revolving doors of Diamond Bay, caught his attention. From where he sat she could not see him, but he had an excellent view of her. His gaze moved over her tall, lithe, curvy figure in pure male appreciation.
His breath suddenly caught when she walked over to the check-in desk, tugging a piece of luggage behind her. There was something about her walk ... that for a minute he couldn't move. Maybe it was the way her hips swayed with each step she took, or it could have been the way she held her head with such a proud tilt to it.
For a brief moment, she had reminded him of Sandy. He blinked and breathed in slowly, telling himself that Sandy was dead. In five years, this was the first woman who reminded him of her; not in her looks — she looked nothing like Sandy — but there was something about the way she moved ...
She was wearing a pair of khaki shorts and a tank top and carried a cased tennis racket under her arm, giving an outsider the impression she was a vacationer who intended to play a few games of tennis. But he knew that the majority of the people who walked through Diamond Bay doors worked as operatives for the CIA under one operation or another. He wondered if she was an agent and if so, what department she worked for. He had never seen her before and could only assume she was a new recruit.
His eyes were drawn to her legs and he wanted to release a slow whistle of admiration, but doing so would have drawn attention. She had a gorgeous pair of legs, the kind that had always driven him crazy on Sandy. He slowly shook his head, again not believing he was comparing this person to the woman he had loved almost to distraction.
His gaze slowly moved back to her face and when she removed her sunglasses, an odd sensation hit him right in the gut, almost knocking the air out of him. He couldn't understand the sudden jolt that went through his body, but her eyes were a gorgeous shade of dark brown ... just like Sandy's had been. They were so dark it seemed they were creamy dark chocolate, and totally complemented her cocoa complexion and dark brown shoulder-length hair. Then there were her lips, full and luscious, and painted a sultry red. A total turn-on.
For the first time in five years, he had had such a powerful and immediate reaction to a woman, and he quickly decided his reaction to her was purely a male response to a beautiful woman and had nothing to do with the things about her that reminded him of Sandy.
He thought about the other women he'd been involved with over the past few years. He hadn't been celibate, but he had remained emotionally detached. Any woman he slept with had understood up front that whatever they shared in the bedroom stayed in the bedroom, and after a day or night of good mind-boggling sex, it didn't matter to him if their paths never crossed again. They'd scratched each other's itches.
And he didn't see that changing anytime soon. All he wanted now, all he had wanted for the past five years was to find Solomon Cross and personally put the bastard out of his misery. Drake knew Cross was out there somewhere and it would be just a matter of time before the agency or the boys over at DEA tracked him down. And when that happened he was determined to make sure Cross never lived to spend even one stinking day in jail. He would not be satisfied until he avenged Sandy's death.
Drake's hand tightened around the cup he held, trying to rid his body of the anger that seeped through his veins whenever he thought of Sandy and how she had perished in that explosion. For a long time he had blamed himself for allowing her to go on the mission and not keeping a closer eye on her. No amount of therapy and counseling the marines had mandated that he undergo had been able to erase the sounds of her screams in that burning building just moments before he'd been knocked out cold by a flying piece of wood when the place had exploded. They were screams that he could not erase from his mind no matter how he'd tried.
Afterwards, he hadn't wanted to see a therapist as Hawk had suggested. He hadn't wanted to talk to anyone about the tragic event and had faced his hell alone. There had been the nightmares that would leave his body drenched in sweat, and the hours he would spend awake, reliving every detail of that day and refusing to let anything or anyone break open the wall of grief that surrounded him. Instead of facing his emotions, he threw himself into his work, using that as a way to purge the unforgiving emotions that were eating him alive. He had witnessed such a horrendous amount of ugliness and brutality that it was hard to get a grip on how life could possibly be for him again.
Closing his eyes briefly as tension seeped through him, he slowly opened them moments later after he'd gotten his mind and thoughts back on track. It was then that he noticed the stunning-looking woman was gone. He was again flooded with an unfamiliar feeling. There was something about her that had piqued his interest and already he had marked her as someone he intended to get to know.
He would definitely make it his business to find out who she was.
Tori stepped into the elevator cautious and alert. Her senses were seldom off and for a few moments while standing in the lobby she had felt someone watching her, although when she had glanced around she had seen no one.
Because Diamond Bay was set up like an actual resort, the first five floors were exclusive-looking condos used as temporary housing for agents coming and going on assignments. The sixth through the tenth floors were where the administrative offices were located. Diamond Bay's sister resort, The Blue Topaz, was located on the West Coast right on the Pacific Ocean in San Diego. The two resorts also housed new recruits for training.
Tori wondered about the summons she had received to cut her vacation a month short and return immediately to Diamond Bay for this urgent meeting with her new boss, CIA Station Chief Ronald Casey. Casey was Hawk's replacement and she hoped he was at least half the man Hawk had been.
Hawk had known the agents who worked for him like the back of his hand and had always been open to their ideas and suggestions and oftentimes it seemed he had the ability to read their minds. He also understood the dangerous demands some missions could make on a person. Most of the senior agents who worked for him had once served under him while in the marines and although they knew he was tough, they'd always known he was fair.
From Tori's last conversation with Hawk when she had talked to him on the phone from her home in Stinson Beach, California, he had told her the Agency had decided to bring in Casey, a man who had headed up an operation on the West Coast instead of going with Hawk's recommendation of the man who'd been second in command under him. That announcement hadn't set too well with Hawk but he felt that things would eventually work out.
He told her he would be retiring to a ranch he had purchased years ago in New Mexico and had given her his phone number just in case she ever needed him for anything. Finally, he told her that he had made a decision not to tell Casey about her past history and that she should consider his suggestion that she transfer to another operations so her and Drake's paths wouldn't cross.
When the elevator stopped on her floor she glanced at her watch. She would have time to shower and change clothes before she was due in Ronald Casey's office.
Ronald Casey released a long, mental sigh. It was obvious that the man standing across the room was madder than hell. It was just as well they cleared the air between them now so Drake Warren would know what Casey expected in the way of tolerated behavior. Everyone had warned him that working with Warren wouldn't be easy and that Abram Hawk had pretty much let the man do whatever the hell he pleased. But Warren was going to find out that he wasn't Abram Hawk and under no circumstances would he allow him run roughshod, which was something Hawk evidently had done if all the stories he'd heard about Warren were true. And looking at Warren he had no reason to believe they weren't.
News of Drake's daredevil antics had spread all the way to the West Coast. He was considered a modern-day Rambo among fellow agents. Hell, some of them even admired him for the risks he took. Personally, he thought the Agency could do without men of Warren's type. They were unpredictable, lived dangerously on the edge and were like a time bomb just waiting to go off.
Warren definitely had a commanding presence. He stood a tall six-foot-four inches and was muscular and well-built. There was a look about him that seemed dangerous and warned he wasn't a person to toy or trifle with. He had a hard look, one made of stone as if nothing and no one could move him or stir his frozen blood. His rock-solid jaw added to the granite look, and besides looking like he probably ate nails for breakfast, he also gave the appearance that he consumed snakes and snails for dinner. Casey was reminded of something else he'd also heard about Warren. Somehow and someway, he'd always gotten whatever man he went after ... except for one, Solomon Cross.
Hawk had briefed Casey on Warren's history so he knew all about how he had suffered when he'd lost a team member on an assignment five years ago; a team member who'd also had been Warren's lover. According to Hawk, Warren still grieved for the woman. Warren's hunger for revenge was the driving force behind his determination to get the elusive Cross.
But Casey felt Warren's hunger would be quenched in good time since there was no one in the Agency who didn't want to bring Cross to justice, including him. However, Casey had a feeling Warren would want to dish out his own brand of punishment on Cross, which wouldn't be a pretty picture. In the meantime, Casey refused to let Warren continue to operate a one-man show, especially in this particular situation.
"Evidently I didn't make myself clear, Casey," Warren said, breaking into Casey's thoughts and reclaiming the man's attention. "But I don't do partners and never have. I work alone. Those were the terms I gave Hawk when I signed up. I stopped working in a team when I left the marines as a Recon five years ago. I'm surprised Hawk didn't tell you that."
Casey shook his head. "He told me but with this particular assignment I didn't take that into consideration. On this mission you'll need to take someone else along."
Drake's eyes turned cold, hard as steel. "Then get another agent because I'm not interested."
Casey flinched and sucked in his breath. Disrespect and insubordination were two things he would not tolerate. Coming to his feet he stared long and hard at the man standing in his office. He would have loved to tell Drake to get out of the office and never come back and that his days with the Agency were over, but Casey knew he couldn't do that when he had direct orders from the president himself. Apparently the vice president, who'd been impressed with Warren's rescue of him, had put a bug in the president's ear and the commander in chief wanted Warren on this particular assignment; no other agent would do.
"It doesn't matter if you're interested or not, Warren, you're going."
Evidently no one had ever told Warren what he would or would not do. He had just given the man a direct order and refusing to comply could mean him his job. However, it seemed that didn't mean a damn thing to Warren because he crossed his arms over his chest and said, "The hell I will."
Casey also crossed his arms over his chest and said, "And the hell you won't. The order comes directly from the president so to decline is not an option."
Drake unfolded his arms and lifted a surprised, dark brow. He cocked his head, zeroing in on what Casey had just said. "The president?"
"Yes. His niece was snatched off a beach in Costa Rica this morning by a group of revolutionaries. She was mistaken for one of the president's daughters, who luckily had decided to skip the beach to stay inside the villa to read." Casey sighed. "The reason we hadn't acted sooner was because we didn't know the exact location of where she was taken. Now thanks to an informer, we do."
Anger consumed Drake like it always did whenever he heard of a kidnapping. He remembered how a few years ago Trevor's wife, Corinthians, had been a victim and how he, Trevor, and Ashton had raced against time to find out her whereabouts. "Where are they keeping her?"
"At a fortress-type house in the middle of the jungle. My guess is they don't know they grabbed the wrong girl, which is a good thing. From what I understand she's been drugged and as long as she's unconscious she's okay. But if she wakes up and starts talking, claiming she's not who they think she is, she'll unknowingly place her life in danger since they won't have any use for her after that. There's no telling what they will do then."
Drake nodded. He didn't want to think about that part of it. Rebels were known to have fun with their female victims before slitting their throat.
"When do you want me to leave?" Drake asked, already gearing up to go. Adrenaline poured through his veins at the thought of getting back into action. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Midnight Hour by Brenda Jackson. Copyright © 2004 Brenda Jackson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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