Former Marine sniper and current NSA agent Jack Stone has a new face to go with his new identity. But he still has the same tortured memories—which include the woman he let get away years ago, when they were teenagers. Now his new assignment in Miami will put him so close to the woman he’s never been able to forget, he could reach out and touch her—if only she weren’t under suspicion.
When Sophie Moreno uncovers evidence linking the medical supply company she works for with arms smuggling—and worse—she doesn’t know who to turn to. After a shocking betrayal, she realizes the only person she can trust is a mysterious new person in the company—a man with hauntingly familiar eyes.
As Sophie questions her intense attraction to this man and Jack struggles not to blow his cover, the two of them must race against the clock to stop terrorists from killing scores of people—starting with them.
FIRST IN A NEW SERIES!
About the Author
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ALSO BY KATIE REUS
Marine Corps Scout Sniper motto: one shot, one kill.
Sam Kelly could see his GP tent fifty yards away. He was practically salivating at the thought of a shower and a clean bed. But he’d settle for the fucking bed at this point. He didn’t even care that he was sharing that tent with twenty other men. Showers were almost pointless at this dusty military base in hellish sub-Saharan Africa anyway. By the time he got back to his tent from the showers, he’d be covered in a film of grime again.
Four weeks behind enemy lines with limited supplies and he was also starving. Even an MRE sounded good about now. As he trekked across the dry, cracked ground, he crossed his fingers that the beef jerky he’d stashed in his locker was still there, but he doubted it. His bunkmate had likely gotten to it weeks ago. Greedy fucker.
“There a reason you haven’t shaved, Marine?”
Sam paused and turned at the sound of the condescending, unfamiliar voice. An officer—a lieutenant—he didn’t recognize stood a few feet away, his pale face flushed and his skin already burning under the hot sun. With one look Sam knew he was new in-country. Why the hell wasn’t the idiot wearing a boonie hat to protect his face? Hell, it had to be a hundred and thirty degrees right now. Yeah, this dick was definitely new. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be hassling Sam.
Sam gave him a blank stare and kept his stance relaxed. “Yes, sir, there is. Relaxed grooming standards.” Dumbass.
The blond man’s head tilted to the side just a fraction, as if he didn’t understand the concept. God, could this guy be any greener? The man opened his mouth again and Sam could practically hear the stupid shit he was about to spout off by the arrogant look on his face.
“Lieutenant! There a reason you’re bothering my boy?” Colonel Seamus Myers was barreling toward them, dust kicking up under his feet with each step.
The man reminded Sam of an angry bull, and when he got pissed, everyone suffered. He was a good battalion commander, though. Right now Sam was just happy the colonel wasn’t directing that rage at him. Guy could be a scary fucker when he wanted.
“No, sir. I was just inquiring about his lack of grooming.” The officer’s face flushed even darker under his spreading sunburn. Yeah, that was going to itch something fierce when it started peeling. Sam smiled inwardly at the thought.
“You’re here one week and you think you know more than me?”
“N-no, sir! Of course not, sir.”
The colonel leaned closer and spoke so low that Sam couldn’t hear him. But he could guess what he was saying because he’d heard it before. Stay the fuck away from Sam Kelly and the rest of my snipers or I’ll send you home. Rank definitely mattered, but to the colonel, his few snipers were his boys, and the man had been in more wars than Sam ever wanted to think about. Sam had seen and caused enough death himself to want to get out when his enlistment was up. That wasn’t too far off either. He’d been to Iraq, Afghanistan, a few places in South America that weren’t even on his official record, and now he was stationed in Djibouti, Africa. Or hell, as he liked to think of it. He loved his job and he loved his country, but enough was enough. Sam just wished he could figure out what the hell he wanted to do if he got out of the military.
He watched as the colonel started talking—loudly—to the new guy. Getting right in his face as only a pissed-off Marine could. Sam almost felt sorry for the guy, but what kind of stupid fucker didn’t know that since the environment here was so dirty that staph infections were rampant, grooming standards were different? That was one of the reasons he and a thousand other guys his age had relaxed grooming standards in the bowels of this hellish place. But they also cut him slack because he was a sniper. Sometimes he had to blend in with the populace, among other things. He might be stationed in Africa, but he’d just gotten back from—where else?—Afghanistan. He’d stayed holed up for days in that dank cave just waiting—
“Sergeant, in my tent. Now.”
Sam blinked and realized Colonel Myers was talking to him. He nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The colonel was still reaming out whoever the newbie was, but Sam always followed orders. Looked as though that shower was going to wait. The walk to the big tent in the middle of the base was short.
As he drew the flap back and stepped into the colonel’s tent, he stilled when he spotted a dark-haired man leaning against a table with maps on it. He looked as if he thought he had every right to be there too. Interesting. A fly landed on Sam’s face, but he didn’t move. Just watched the man, ready to go for one of his weapons if need be. He didn’t recognize him and he wasn’t wearing a uniform.
Just simple fatigues and a T-shirt that stretched across a clearly fit body even though the guy had to be pushing fifty. There was something about the man that put Sam on edge. He was like a tiger, coiled and waiting to rip your head off. The man’s eyes weren’t cold, exactly, but they were calculating.
Carefully the man reached for a manila folder next to him and flipped it open. He glanced down at it. “Sam Kelly. Originally from Miami, Florida. Grew up in foster care. No known family. One of the best damn snipers Myers has ever seen. Sniper school honor grad, aptitude for languages, takes orders well, possibly a lifer.” He glanced up then, his green eyes focusing on Sam like a laser. “But I don’t think you’re a lifer. You want a change, don’t you?” The man’s gaze was shrewd, assessing. Sam didn’t like being analyzed, especially by a stranger. And the guy didn’t even have an accent, so he couldn’t place where he might be from. Nothing in his speech stood out.
Who the hell was this guy? And how the fuck did he know Sam wanted a change? It wasn’t as if he’d told anyone. Sam ran through the list of possibilities. He’d been on different operations before, sometimes working for the CIA for solo things, and he’d been attached to various SEAL teams for larger-scale missions, but he’d never worked with this guy before. He did have Sam’s file, though—or Sam guessed that was his file in the man’s hand. He could just be bluffing. But what would the point of that be? He dropped all semblance of protocol since this guy clearly wasn’t a Marine. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“You did some good work in Cartagena a few years ago.” He snapped the file shut and set it back on the table.
Sam just stared at him. His statement said a lot all by itself. That mission wasn’t in his official jacket, so this guy knew classified shit and was letting Sam know it. But since he hadn’t asked a question or introduced himself, Sam wasn’t inclined to respond.
The man’s lips quirked up a fraction. As they did, the tent flap opened and the colonel strode in. He glared at the man, cursed, then looked at Sam, his expression almost speculative. He jerked a thumb at the stranger. “Whatever this guy tells you is the truth and he’s got top secret clearance.” He snorted, as if something was funny about that, then sobered. “And whatever you decide . . . Hell, I know what you’ll decide. Good luck, son. I’ll miss you.” He shook Sam’s hand, then strode out of the tent.
Miss him? What the hell was he talking about? Sam glared at the man in front of him. “I asked you once who you were. Answer or I’m out of here.”
The stranger crossed the short distance and held out his hand.
Sam ignored it.
The man cleared his throat and looked as if he was fighting a smile, which just pissed Sam off. “I’m Lieutenant General Wesley Burkhart, head of—”
“The NSA. I know the name.” Sam didn’t react outwardly, but the gears in his head were turning. “What do you want with me? I thought you guys were into cryptography and cyber stuff.”
“We are, but I’m putting together a team of men and women with a different skill set. Black ops stuff, similar to the CIA, but with less . . . rules. I want to offer you a job, but before I go any further, you need to know that if you come to work for me, Sam Kelly will cease to exist. You will leave your past and everything in it behind.”
Sam stared at the man, overwhelmed by too many feelings. Relief being one of them. Leaving his identity behind didn’t seem like such a bad thing at all. Finishing the rest of his enlistment in shitholes like this wasn’t something he looked forward to. He’d seen and caused so much death that sometimes he wondered if God would ever forgive him. The idea of wiping his record clean was so damn appealing. Maybe this was the fresh start he’d been looking for. Except . . . he touched the hog’s tooth hanging from his neck. He’d bled, sweated, and starved for this thing. For what it represented. It was part of him now. “I’m not taking this off. Ever.”
The other man’s eyes flicked to the bullet around his neck, and the corners of his mouth pulled up slightly. “Unless the op calls for it, I wouldn’t expect you to.”
Okay, then. Heart thudding, Sam dropped his rucksack to the ground. “Tell me everything I need to know.”
Black Death 9 Agent: member of an elite group of men and women employed by the NSA for covert, off-the-books operations. A member’s purpose is to gain the trust of targeted individuals in order to gather information or evidence by any means necessary.
Five years later
Jack Stone opened and quietly shut the door behind him as he slipped into the conference room. A few analysts and field agents were already seated around the long rectangular table. One empty chair remained.
A few of the new guys looked up as he entered, but the NSA’s security was tighter than Langley’s. Since he was the only one missing from this meeting, the senior members pored over the briefs in front of them without even giving him a cursory glance.
Wesley Burkhart, his boss, handler, and recruiter all rolled into one, stuck his head in the room just as Jack started to sit. “Jack, my office. Now.”
He inwardly cringed because he knew that tone well. At least his bags were still packed. Once he was out in the hall, heading toward Wesley’s office, his boss briefly clapped him on the back. “Sorry to drag you out of there, but I’ve got something bigger for you. Have you had a chance to relax since you’ve been back?”
Jack shrugged, knowing his boss didn’t expect an answer. After working two years undercover to bring down a human trafficking ring that had also been linked to a terrorist group in Southern California, he was still decompressing. He’d been back only a week and the majority of his time had been spent debriefing. It would take longer than a few days to wash the grime and memories off him. If he ever did. “You’ve got another mission for me already?”
Wesley nodded as he opened the door to his office. “I hate sending you back into the field so soon, but once you read the report, you’ll understand why I don’t want anyone else.”
As the door closed behind them, Jack took a seat in front of his boss’s oversized solid oak desk. “Lay it on me.”
“Two of our senior analysts have been hearing a lot chatter lately linking the Vargas cartel and Abu al-Ramaan’s terrorist faction. At this point, the only solid connection we have is South Beach Medical Supply.”
“SBMS is involved?” The medical company delivered supplies and much-needed drugs to third-world countries across the globe. Ronald Weller, the owner, was such a straight arrow it didn’t seem possible.
“Looks that way.” His boss handed him an inch-thick manila folder.
Jack picked up the packet and looked over the first document. As he skimmed the report, his chest tightened painfully as long-buried memories clawed at him with razor-sharp talons. After reading the key sections, he looked up. “Is there a chance Sophie is involved?” Her name rolled off his tongue so naturally, as if he’d spoken to her yesterday and not thirteen years ago. As if saying it was no big deal. As if he didn’t dream about her all the damn time.
Wesley shook his head. “We don’t know. Personally, I don’t think so, but it looks like her boss is.”
“Ronald Weller? Where are you getting this information?” Jack had been on the West Coast for the last two years, dealing with his own bullshit. A lot could have changed in that time, but SBMS involved with terrorists—he didn’t buy it.
“Multiple sources have confirmed his involvement, including Paul Keane, the owner of Keane Flight. We’ve got Mr. Keane on charges of treason, among other things. He rolled over on SBMS without too much persuasion, but we still need actual proof that SBMS is involved, not just a traitor’s word.”
“How is Keane Flight involved?”
“Instead of just flying medical supplies, they’ve been picking up extra cargo.”
Jack’s mind immediately went to the human trafficking he’d recently dealt with, and he gritted his teeth. “Cargo?”
“Drugs, guns . . . possibly biological weapons.”
The first two were typical cargo of most smugglers, but biological shit put Keane right on the NSA’s hit list. “What do you want from me?”
His boss rubbed a hand over his face. “I’ve already built a cover for you. You’re a silent partner with Keane Flight. Now that Paul Keane is incapacitated, you’ll be taking over the reins for a while, giving you full access to all his dealings.”
The corners of Wesley’s mouth pulled up slightly. “He was in a car accident. Bad one.”
“Right.” Jack flipped through the pages of information. “Where’s Keane really at right now?”
“In federal protection until we can bring this whole operation down, but publicly he’s in a coma after a serious accident—one that left him scarred beyond recognition and the top half of his body in bandages.”
Jack didn’t even want to know where they’d gotten the body. Probably a John Doe no one would miss. “So what’s the deal with my role?”
“Paul Keane has already made contact with Weller about you—days before his accident. Told him he was taking a vacation and you’d be helping out until he got back. Weller was cautious on the phone, careful not to give up anything. Now that Keane is ‘injured,’ no one can ask him any questions. Keane’s assistant is completely in the dark about everything and thinks you’re really a silent partner. You’ve been e-mailing with her the past week to strengthen your cover, but you won’t need to meet her in person. You’re supposed to meet with Weller in two days. We want you to completely infiltrate the day-to-day workings of SBMS. We need to know if Weller is working with anyone else, if he has more contacts we’re not privy to. Everything.”
“Why can’t you tap his phone?” That should be child’s play for the NSA.
His boss’s expression darkened. “So far we’ve been unable to hack his line. I’ve got two of my top analysts, Thomas Chadwick and Steven Williams—I don’t think you’ve met either of them.” When Jack shook his head, Wesley continued. “The fact that’s he’s got a filter that we can’t bust through on his phone means he’s probably into some dirty stuff.”
Maybe. Or maybe the guy was just paranoid. Jack glanced at the report again, but didn’t get that same rush he’d always gotten from his work. The last two years he’d seen mothers and fathers sell their children into slavery for less than a hundred dollars. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. In the past he hadn’t been on a job for more than six months at a time and he’d never been tasked with anything so brutal before, but in addition to human trafficking, they’d been selling people to scientists—under the direction of Albanian terrorists—who had loved having an endless supply of illegals to experiment on. He rolled his shoulders and shoved those thoughts out of his head. “What am I meeting him about?” And how the hell will I handle seeing Sophie? he thought.
“You supposedly want to go over flight schedules and the books and you want to talk about the possibility of investing in his company.”
Jack was silent for a long beat. Then he asked the only question that mattered. The question that would burn him alive from the inside out until he actually voiced it. The question that made him feel as if he’d swallowed glass shards as he asked, “Will I be working with Sophie?”
Wesley’s jaw clenched. “She is Weller’s assistant.”
Those knowing green eyes narrowed. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“She won’t recognize you. What’re you worried about?” Wesley folded his hands on top of the desk.
Jack wasn’t worried about her. He was worried he couldn’t stay objective around her. Sophie thought he was dead. And thanks to expensive facial reconstruction—all part of the deal in killing off his former identity when he’d joined Wesley’s team with the NSA—she’d never know his true identity. Still, the thought of being in the same zip code as her sent flashes of heat racing down his spine. With a petite, curvy body made for string bikinis and wet T-shirt contests, Sophie was the kind of woman to make a man do a double take. He’d spent too many hours dreaming about running his hands through that thick dark hair again as she rode him. When they were seventeen, she’d been his ultimate fantasy and once they’d finally crossed that line from friends to lovers, there had been no keeping their hands off each other. They’d had sex three or four times a day whenever they’d been able to sneak away and get a little privacy. And it had never been enough with Sophie. She’d consumed him then. Now his boss wanted him to voluntarily work with her. “Why not send another agent?”
“I don’t want anyone else. In fact, no one else here knows you’re going in as Keane’s partner except me.”
Jack frowned. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone undercover with only Wesley as his sole contact, but if his boss had people already working on the connection between Vargas and SBMS, it would be protocol for the direct team to know he was going in undercover. “Why?”
“I don’t want to risk a leak. If I’m the only one who knows you’re not who you say you are, there’s no chance of that.”
There was more to it than that, but Jack didn’t question him. He had that blank expression Jack recognized all too well that meant he wouldn’t be getting any more, not even under torture.
Wesley continued. “You know more about Sophie than most people. I want you to use that knowledge to get close to her. I don’t think I need to remind you that this is a matter of national security.”
“I haven’t seen her since I was eighteen.” And not a day went by that he didn’t think of the ways he’d failed her. What the hell was Wesley thinking?
“It’s time for you to face your past, Jack.” His boss suddenly straightened and took on that professorial/fatherly look Jack was accustomed to.
“Is that what this is about? Me, facing my past?” he ground out. Fuck that. If he wanted to keep his memories buried, he damn well would.
Wesley shrugged noncommittally. “You will complete this mission.”
As Jack stood, he clenched his jaw so he wouldn’t say something he’d regret. Part of him wanted to tell Wesley to take his order and shove it, but another part—his most primal side—hummed with anticipation at the thought of seeing Sophie. She’d always brought out his protective side. Probably because she’d been his entire fucking world at one time and looking out for her had been his number-one priority.
He’d noticed Sophie long before she’d been aware of his existence, but once he was placed in the same foster house as her, they’d quickly become best friends. Probably because he hadn’t given her a choice in being his friend. He’d just pushed right past her shy exterior until she came to him about anything and everything. Then one day she’d kissed him. He shoved that thought right out of his mind.
“There’s a car waiting to take you to the flight strip. Once you land in Miami, there will be another car waiting for you. There’s a full wardrobe, and anything else you’ll need at the condo we’ve arranged.”
“What about my laptop?”
“It’s in the car.”
When he was halfway to the door, his boss stopped him again. “You need to face your demons, Jack. Seeing Sophie is the only way you’ll ever exorcise them. Maybe you can settle down and start a family once you do. I want to see you happy, son.”
Son. If only he’d had a father like Wesley growing up. But if he had, he wouldn’t have ended up where he was today. And he’d probably never have met Sophie. That alone made his shitty childhood worth every punch and bruise he’d endured. Jack swallowed hard, but didn’t turn around before exiting. His chest loosened a little when he was out from under Wesley’s scrutiny. The older man might be in his early fifties, but with his skill set, Jack had no doubt his boss could take out any one of the men within their covert organization. That’s why he was the deputy director of the NSA and the unidentified head of the covert group Jack worked for.
Officially, Black Death 9 didn’t exist. Unofficially, the name was whispered in back rooms and among other similar black ops outfits within the government. Their faction was just another classified group of men and women working to keep their country safe. At times like this Jack wished the NSA didn’t have a thick file detailing every minute detail of his past. If they didn’t, another agent would be heading for Miami right now and he’d be on his way to a four-star hotel or on another mission.
Jack mentally shook himself as he placed his hand on the elevator scanner. Why was Wesley trying to get under his skin? Now, of all times? The man was too damn intuitive for his own good. He’d been after him for years to see Sophie in person, “to find closure” as he put it, but Jack couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had no problem facing down the barrel of a loaded gun, but seeing the woman with the big brown eyes and the soft curves he so often dreamed about—no, thank you.
As the elevator opened into the aboveground parking garage, he shoved those thoughts away. He’d be seeing Sophie in two days. Didn’t matter what he wanted.
• • •
Sophie Moreno took a deep, steadying breath and eased open the side door to one of Keane Flight’s hangars. She had a key, so it wasn’t as though she was technically breaking in. She was just coming by on a Sunday night when no one was here. And the place was empty. And she just happened to be wearing a black cap to hide her hair.
Oh yeah, she was completely acting like a normal, law-abiding citizen. Cringing at her stupid rationalization, she pushed any fears of getting caught she had to the side. What she was doing wasn’t about her.
She loved her job at South Beach Medical Supply, but lately her boss had been acting weird and the flight logs from Keane Flight for SBMS’s recent deliveries didn’t make sense. They hadn’t for the past few months.
And no one—meaning her boss, Ronald Weller—would answer her questions when she brought up anything about Keane Flight.
Considering Ronald hadn’t asked her over to dinner in the past few months either as he normally did, she had a feeling he and his wife must be having problems. They’d treated her like a daughter for almost as long as she’d been with SBMS, so if he was too distracted to look into things because of personal issues, she was going to take care of this herself. SBMS provided much-needed medical supplies to third-world countries, and she wasn’t going to let anything jeopardize that. People needed them. And if she could help out Ronald, she wanted to.
She didn’t even know what she was looking for, but she’d decided to trust her gut and come here. Wearing all black, she felt a little stupid, like a cat burglar or something, but she wanted to be careful. Hell, she’d even parked outside the hangar and sneaked in through an opening in the giant fence surrounding the private airport. The security here should have been tighter—something she would address later. After she’d done her little B&E. God, she was so going to get in trouble if she was caught. She could tell herself that she wasn’t “technically” doing anything wrong, but her palms were sweaty as she stole down the short hallway to where it opened up into a large hangar.
Two twin-engine planes sat there, and the overhead lights from the warehouselike building were dim. But they were bright enough for her to make out a lot of cargo boxes and crates at the foot of one of the planes. The back hatch was open and it looked as if someone had started loading the stuff, then stopped.
Sophie glanced around the hangar as she stepped fully into it just to make sure she was alone. Normally Paul Keane had standard security here. She’d actually been here a couple of weeks ago under the guise of needing paperwork and there had been two Hispanic guys hovering near the planes as if they belonged there. She’d never seen them before and they’d given her the creeps. They’d also killed her chance of trying to sneak in and see what kind of cargo was on the planes.
When she’d asked Paul about them, he’d just waved off her question by telling her he’d hired new security.
One thing she knew for sure. He’d lied straight to her face. Those guys were sure as hell not security. One of them had had a MAC-10 tucked into the front of his pants. She might not know everything about weapons, but she’d grown up in shitty neighborhoods all over Miami, so she knew enough. And no respectable security guy carried a MAC-10 with a freaking suppressor. That alone was incredibly shady. The only people she’d known to carry that type of gun were gangbangers and other thugs.
So even if she felt a little crazy for sneaking down here, she couldn’t go to her boss about any illegal activities—if there even were any—without proof. SBMS was Ronald’s heart. He loved the company and she did too. No one was going to mess with it if she had anything to say about it.
Since the place was empty, she hurried across the wide expanse, her black ballet-slipper-type shoes virtually silent. When she neared the back of the plane, she braced herself for someone to be waiting inside.
It was empty except for some crates. Bypassing the crates on the outside, she ran up inside the plane and took half a dozen pictures of the crates with the SBMS logo on the outside. Then she started opening them.
By the time she opened the fifth crate, she was starting to feel completely insane, but as she popped the next lid, ice chilled her veins. She blinked once and struggled to draw in a breath, sure she was seeing things.
A black grenade peeked through the yellow-colored stuffing at the top. Carefully she lifted a bundle of it. There were more grenades lining the smaller crate, packed tight with the fluffy material. Her heart hammered wildly as it registered that Keane was likely running arms and weapons using SBMS supplies as cover, but she forced herself to stay calm. Pulling out her cell phone, she started snapping pictures of the inside of the crate, then pictures that showed the logo on the outside. In the next crate she found actual guns. AK-47s, she was pretty sure. She’d never actually seen one in real life before, but it looked like what she’d seen in movies. After taking pictures of those, she hurried out of the back of the plane toward the crates sitting behind it.
Before she could decide which one to open first, a loud rolling sound rent the air—the hangar door!
Ducking down, she peered under the plane and saw the main door the planes entered and exited through starting to open. Panic detonated inside her. She had no time to do anything but run. Without pause, she raced back toward the darkened hallway. She’d go out the back, the same way she’d come in. All she had to do was get to that hallway before whoever—
“Hey!” a male voice shouted.
Crap, someone had seen her. She shoved her phone in her back pocket and sprinted even faster as she cleared the hallway. Fear ripped through her, threatening to pull her apart at the seams. She wouldn’t risk turning around and letting anyone see her face.
The exit door clanged against the wall as she slammed it open. Male voices shouted behind her, ordering her to stop in Spanish.
Her lungs burned and her legs strained with each pounding step against the pavement. She really wished she’d worn sneakers. As she reached the edge of the fence that thankfully had no lighting and was lined with bushes and foliage behind it, she dove for the opening. If she hadn’t known where it was, it would be almost impossible to find without the aid of light.
Crawling on her hands and knees, she risked a quick glance behind her. Two men were running across the pavement toward the fence, weapons silhouetted in their hands. She couldn’t see their faces because the light from the back of the hangar was behind them, but they were far enough away that she should be able to escape. They slowed as they reached the fence, both looking around in confusion.
“Adonde se fue?” one of them snarled.
Sophie snorted inwardly as she shoved up from the ground and disappeared behind the bushes. They’d never catch her now. Not unless they could jump fences in single bounds. Twenty yards down, her car was still parked on the side of the back road where she’d left it.
The dome light came on when she opened the door, so she shut it as quickly as possible. She started her car but immediately turned off the automatic lights and kicked the vehicle into drive. Her tires made a squealing sound and she cringed. She needed to get out of there before those men figured out how to get through the fence. She couldn’t risk them seeing her license plate. Only law enforcement should be able to track plates, but people who were clearly running weapons wouldn’t care about breaking laws to find out who she was.
She glanced in the rearview mirror as her car disappeared down the dark road, and didn’t see anyone in the road or by the side of it. Didn’t mean they weren’t there, though. Pure adrenaline pumped through her as she sped away, tearing through her like jagged glass, but her hands remained steady on the wheel.
What the hell was she supposed to do now? If she called the cops, this could incriminate SBMS and that could ruin all the good work their company had done over the past decade. And what if by the time the cops got there all the weapons were gone? Then she’d look crazy and would have admitted to breaking into a private airport hangar, which was against the law. Okay, the cops were out. For now. First she needed to talk to her boss. He’d know what to do and they could figure out this mess together.
Legend: an agent’s alleged background and personal history, usually supported by documents and memorized details.
Printing out flight logs from Keane Flight’s most recent deliveries, Sophie frowned at the computer screen in front of her when her intercom beeped. She’d been too terrified to get more than a couple of hours of sleep last night, and her calls to Ronald had gone unanswered. Since she hadn’t wanted to leave a message on his phone about what she’d found, she’d decided to talk to him this morning. Right now he was in a meeting, but as soon as he was free, she was telling him everything. She’d e-mailed herself the pictures, but she’d also printed some to give him. He needed to see everything in color. Then they could figure out how to move forward. If that meant involving the police, then so be it.
“Sophie, I’ve got Hannah Young on line three. She says it’s urgent,” Mandy, her assistant, said.
“Got it. Thanks.” She wanted to ignore the call, but Hannah was her best friend and she needed to act normal at work right now. “What are you doing up at seven thirty on a Monday?”
Her best friend groaned. “I can’t sleep. I’m still reliving the horror of last night’s date.”
Despite the rampant adrenaline still pumping through her, a small smile touched her lips. Talking about Hannah’s dating life would be a welcome momentary distraction. “I thought you were going out with the ‘hot Italian.’ What happened?”
“After dinner we went back to his place. We’re on his couch, making out, when someone knocks on his door.”
“How late was this?”
“Ten. He looks through the peephole, freaks out like a little girl, and makes me hide in his closet.”
“Thank you! Ridiculous. He told me it was his ex-girlfriend and that she’s crazy, so I asked him why he didn’t just ignore her. He says that if he does, she’ll keep knocking all night.”
“What did you do?”
Hannah sighed. “What else? I hid in the closet until they started going at it. On. His. Bed.”
Sophie choked out a sound.
“They actually started having sex on his bed with me in the closet. Freak,” she muttered.
“I can’t believe you stayed that long!”
Hannah chuckled, the sound wicked. “Just as he was about to, you know, I walked out and told him never to call me again. His expression was priceless and I could still hear her shrieks by the time I was outside.”
“If I didn’t know you, I’d swear you made this stuff up.” Sophie had been listening to these stories since college. If there was a crazy in a ten-mile radius, Hannah would find him. It was as if she had a homing beacon attached to her.
“Now that you’ve heard my horror story, you have to take pity on me and meet me for happy hour after work. If that doesn’t convince you, two-fifty martinis better.”
Under normal circumstances Sophie would have loved to have met her friend. But she couldn’t say yes to anything until she’d talked to her boss. “I can’t tonight. Work is insane right now.” Okay, not exactly a lie.
“Come on, one night off won’t kill you.”
Sophie shut her eyes and massaged her temple. She was desperate to tell someone what she’d seen. It was like a need growing inside her to just get the information off her chest, but she bit it back. There was no way she’d ever put anyone she loved in danger. “I can’t, but I swear I’ll make it up to you.”
“You suck, but okay.” There was laughter in Hannah’s voice, so Sophie knew her friend wasn’t actually mad. “By the way, my mom wants to know why you haven’t been over in the past couple of weeks. She thinks you’ve found someone else to cook for you.”
She snorted. “Right. Will you tell her I’ve been busy?” Sophie had met Hannah’s mom during her first spring break in college, and the woman had taken her in as her own. After Sophie’s growing up in foster care, having a real mother figure was a new experience but one she’d embraced.
“You tell her. I talked to her last night and she wanted to know why I haven’t married a rich doctor yet. I’m taking a couple days off from torture.”
Sophie shook her head. “Fine. I’ve got to go but I’ll see you tonight.”
As soon as they disconnected, she pulled the logs she’d been reviewing back onto her screen. Gas charges and mileage weren’t matching up, and after last night she knew why. They were carrying way too much cargo. She clicked her pen up and down as she stared at the screen. Damn it, why wouldn’t Ronald call her back? She wanted to scream. When an e-mail marked urgent from one of their biggest suppliers popped up on the bottom of her screen, she sighed and closed the other file. She could stare at her computer all day or keep herself distracted with work.
After taking care of her client, she made a serious dent in the quarterlies, though images of grenades and guns hovered at the back of her mind. She’d tried buzzing Ronald three more times, but he hadn’t been in his office and no one had been able to find him. Just as she stood, ready to hunt him down, her assistant buzzed her office. “Sophie, Mr. Weller wants to see you in his office. There’s a man from Keane Flight here. He’s yummy.” Mandy whispered the last part before clicking off.
Sophie’s knees weakened for a moment. Someone from Keane Flight? Oh God, what if it was one of those scary men from last night? Maybe they’d figured out she’d been the one to break in. There hadn’t been any video cameras—she’d noticed that Paul had taken them down when she’d been there for her last surprise visit—but maybe they’d seen her car. Sophie swallowed hard and shoved the folder containing the pictures she’d taken into her desk. She’d wanted to bring them to Ronald, but she wouldn’t risk it with someone from Keane Flight in there.
She swallowed hard but found her voice. “Thank you, Mandy.” Mandy had been her intern last year and, when she graduated, had applied for a job. She definitely didn’t have the experience Sophie had been looking for, but the woman was a fast learner.
After straightening her pencil skirt and smoothing on lip gloss, Sophie grabbed a notepad and pen. She had to appear normal when going to Ronald’s office. Plus, holding something felt a bit like having armor. She shut her office door behind her and stopped at Mandy’s desk. “I sent some stuff to the printer. Would you organize everything and put it in a binder for me?”
“One more thing.” Sophie glanced behind her. Two other administrative assistants shared the open space with Mandy, and she didn’t want them overhearing. “Don’t let anyone into my office while I’m gone. I’ve locked it and you have the only other key.”
A slight frown marred her pretty face. “Is there a problem? Did I do something wrong?”
“No. I’m just working on some stuff right now that Mr. Weller wants to keep private.”
Immediately Mandy’s mouth relaxed into a smile. “Oh, okay.”
Sophie clutched her notebook to her side as she headed down the long hallway toward her boss’s office. In addition to what she’d discovered last night, lately she suspected that things in her own office had been out of place. A paperweight and paper clip holder had been moved on more than one occasion. It was small stuff and maybe she was being paranoid, but she’d learned long ago to trust her gut. Considering what she’d found last night, she was never ignoring her instinct again.
She half knocked as she entered Ronald’s office. She was officially his assistant, but not in the sense that Mandy was her assistant. He didn’t like to deal with anyone but her, which was why Sophie was surprised he’d told Mandy he needed to see her instead of coming to her directly. Maybe he really was ignoring her calls.
“Good morning, Sophie.” Ronald gave her a tired smile as he looked up from his desk. Deep lines etched the grooves around his mouth.
There was no one in his office, so whoever they were meeting with must have stepped out. Which gave her the perfect opportunity to talk to her boss in private. “Ronald, we need to talk. Didn’t you get my calls last night?”
He shook his head, but the guilty flush spreading up his cheeks gave him away. Sophie reeled back as if slapped. He had been ignoring her. What the hell? She gritted her teeth, quickly moving past the hurt. “I discovered something . . . important.” She nearly snorted at that understatement.
His face paled. “Can it wait?”
“No, it can’t.” As she stared at the man in front of her, she tried to find the right words to just come out and say what she’d found. Something about his expression was just off. He looked almost haggard, so unlike the man she’d come to love and trust. She’d been twenty-two and right out of college when he’d given her a job. Not to mention that the company had paid for her master’s degree. She didn’t have any family and he’d always been a father figure to her. Anyone would have been better than the asshole foster fathers she’d endured over the years, but Ronald was truly kind. Even with the panic humming through her, seeing him this way pulled at her heartstrings.
Ronald sighed and his eyes flashed with something she couldn’t define. Pain? “We’ll talk, but not here. Just wait—”
He abruptly stopped talking and his gaze trailed over her shoulder at the sound of the door opening. Sophie shifted in her seat and glanced behind her.
She blinked once as she made eye contact with the stranger entering the room. Staring into those eyes made her feel as if she’d been punched in the stomach. A raw sort of awareness stirred inside her, making her throat tighten and somewhere a lot lower heat up completely against her will. Mandy’s description of “yummy” was so very incorrect. A cupcake was yummy. This man was like a decadent triple-chocolate truffle cake with chocolate shavings sprinkled on top. Considering the crap she needed to deal with, noticing someone in such a sexual way—someone she clearly couldn’t trust—was beyond stupid. And definitely not like her. Only one man had ever had this raw effect on her. Though he hadn’t been quite a man. He’d been growing into a very handsome one and—damn it. She shook herself, trying to quash this strange sexual awareness that had erupted inside her.
Almost against her will, Sophie’s eyes trailed over him. The man seemed to make the room shrink just by stepping inside. It wasn’t that he was overly tall. He was maybe six feet, but he had a strong, domineering . . . presence. His shoulders almost appeared to strain against his suit, as if he’d be more comfortable chopping lumber or something else equally and ridiculously masculine. When the sudden—unexpected and definitely absurd—thought of what it might feel like to have those strong arms around her popped into her head, she felt herself blushing furiously. This visceral reaction was too weird and brought up too many unwanted memories. When she focused on his face once again, her heart skipped a beat. “Holy shit.”
The man jerked to a halt and she realized she’d said the words out loud. She cringed and ordered herself to get it together.
“Ah . . . sorry.” What else could she say, that she’d suddenly developed a mild case of Tourette’s?
“Sophie, this is Jack Baldwin. He’s been a silent partner with Keane Flight until recently.” Ronald’s words blew right past her as she continued to watch the stranger.
He had pale bluish gray eyes she’d never seen on anyone before except . . . Sam. Eyes with the seemingly endless depth of the unforgiving ocean. So deep she could drown in them. She wanted to look away, but couldn’t even pretend not to stare. And he was definitely looking back. Watching her with a mix of curiosity and something she couldn’t begin to define.
The harsh lines and angles of his face gave him a unique, almost statuesque quality. As if he’d been carved out of stone. He wasn’t handsome in the typical Hollywood sense, but any woman with a pulse would certainly do a double take. Maybe even a triple take. He even had the same dark hair as Sam. For a brief moment she could feel herself drowning as memories attacked her.
Sam carrying her books home from school. Protecting her from neighborhood bullies. Staying up late with her when she needed help studying. Sam kissing her, making love to her, going with her to the beach even though he hated it, holding her when she’d had a bad day.
Sam is dead. The jarring thought was the only thing that gave her the power to tear away from this stranger’s far-too-intimate gaze. Feeling an ache deep inside, she absently rubbed the middle of her chest until she realized what she was doing. She nervously cleared her throat and hoped her blush had started to recede as she found her voice. Right now Keane was at the top of her shit list. She wasn’t going to let a handsome face distract her. “Recently?”
“Yes . . . Please, have a seat.” Ronald half stood and motioned to the other man to sit. Sophie noticed his voice shook a little. Maybe he was intimidated by this man.
Not that she blamed him.
In a few long strides, Jack Baldwin was sitting on a burgundy high-backed chair identical to the one she sat on a mere foot away. The briefest whisper of a familiar scent tickled her nose. Something spicy, masculine, and earthy that made her toes curl in her sling-backs. Clearly it had been too long since she’d had sex if even the intoxicating scent of a possible arms dealer was affecting her. It was the only thing that explained her raw reaction.
The corners of his lips pulled up slightly as he nodded at her—as if he knew what she was thinking. The very thought was horrifying. “Pleased to meet you.”
Against her will, she found herself staring at his mouth. Instinctively she moistened her own dry lips. When she did, his jaw muscle flicked, drawing her attention back to those intoxicating eyes. Oh, crap. The blush was back. She could feel heat creeping up her neck and cheeks, and for a brief moment she thanked God for her Cuban heritage. She vainly hoped her darker skin would cover her embarrassment, but knew it was unlikely.
“Likewise, Mr. Baldwin.” She shifted in her seat, turning slightly away from him. God, she needed to get whatever this feeling was under control. Maybe if she didn’t look at him she could tune out all that raw, unwanted sexuality.
“Call me Jack.” His voice was low and sensual. It rolled over her with the subtlety of a tidal wave, sending unexpected shivers to all her nerve endings. Why was it so familiar? It reminded her slightly of Sam, but it was deeper, more masculine. Like what Sam would have sounded like if he’d been allowed to grow up fully. She shook herself at the depressing, and insane, thought.
Why did she have the urge to say Jack’s name out loud? Just to feel it on her tongue. Her nipples tightened at the thought of saying that name under very different circumstances. Right then and there, Sophie felt like a crazy person. This was so unlike her, this . . . sexual hunger. And there was no other word for what she was feeling.
Ronald’s voice grounded her, forcing her to look away again. “Like I was saying, Jack here will be filling in for Paul.”
She frowned at her boss, wishing she could tell him everything she’d found last night. “Why?”
The other man answered before Ronald could speak. “He was in a terrible car accident and is unable to handle the day-to-day dealings, so you’re stuck with me.” His lips pulled up again, this time self-deprecatingly.
Or she was under the impression that was what he was going for. The action was a little too practiced. Sophie chewed on her bottom lip as she tried to gauge his expression. There was something else underneath that charming and sexy veneer that didn’t sit right. This was the first she’d heard about a car accident. It was also the first she’d heard of a silent partner and they’d been working with Keane for about eight years. Since the year she’d started at SBMS, in fact.
“Paul was in an accident? Is he going to be okay?”
“The doctors aren’t sure yet. He’s in a coma and it’s touch-and-go right now,” the newcomer said quietly.
She glanced back at her boss for confirmation. Ronald just nodded. Even if Paul was hurt she was still unsure why Jack Baldwin was even here. It wasn’t as though they worked for Keane. No, it was the other way around. So why was his partner here now? And why was this the first she’d heard of him? And why the hell were there freaking weapons in the plane she’d broken into last night?
As if the other man read her mind, he said, “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here. Ronald has agreed to let me borrow you for the day as my personal tour guide of the company.”
“Why?” she asked bluntly, not caring how rude she sounded.
His eyebrows lifted as if she’d taken him off guard. The movement was slight, but she couldn’t help feeling as if she were under a microscope.
Oh, crap, did he know she was the one who’d broken into Keane Flight last night? She fought the urge to squirm in her chair. The way this man was studying her was unnerving. “Uh, why do you need a tour guide?” she asked, this time more politely.
“Mr. Baldwin is thinking of investing in SBMS and wants to see the day-to-day operations,” Ronald said smoothly.
“I see.” Though she didn’t. Not at all. “When would you like to start? I can schedule something tomorrow—”
“How about I take you to lunch and then we get started?” Somehow the man’s question sounded more like an order.
“Uh, sure.” Now she definitely sounded rude.
“Is La Marea okay?” There was a slight touch of amusement in his voice.
“That sounds wonderful.” Okay, that was a much politer response. Good for her. La Marea was an expensive restaurant for a work lunch, but it was also her favorite place. For some reason, it annoyed her that he’d picked it. As if he knew more about her than he should.
Jack followed suit as she stood. She looked at her boss. “You coming?” Please say yes. She tried to will him to respond. All she needed was a few minutes of his time.
Ronald shook his head and grabbed his briefcase. “You two go ahead. I’ve got a meeting to head to.”
A strange panic settled in her gut at the thought of being alone with Jack Baldwin before she’d spoken to Ronald. Ignoring the newcomer, she looked pointedly at her boss. “I need to talk to you in private before I leave.”
“It’ll have to wait, Sophie.” His voice was tired, strained.
“I have a meeting,” he snapped, taking her completely off guard.
She recoiled at the abrupt tone. Ronald had never spoken to her like that, and even though it was childish, she felt stung. Fighting the sudden onslaught of emotions, she turned and found Jack staring at her as if he could see straight through to her innermost thoughts. How the hell did he do that? It was so damn jarring, but she couldn’t tear her gaze from those pale eyes.
He was definitely good-looking in that rugged, muscular Marlboro man sort of way. And something told her he didn’t get those muscles from a gym. Which made her wonder exactly what kind of exercise he did to warrant that clearly fit body.
There was something about him that triggered her feminine awareness. He wasn’t doing anything outwardly offensive. It was something primal he exuded. Something akin to death clung to him, and it put all of her senses on red alert. Yeah, she definitely needed to get away from him. Maybe she could call Ronald on the walk to her office and make him listen. Short of tackling him and forcing her boss to sit and listen to a few words, she had no other choice but to play it cool and act normal. At least until she knew what was going on and especially in front of this particular stranger. “I need to grab my purse if you don’t mind wait—”
“I’ll walk you to your office.” There he went with that deep voice again, sending tingles straight to her toes.
It rankled her that when he spoke it sounded like a command. He was quiet the entire walk to her office. Sure, it was only at the other end of the hall, but it dragged on for an eternity. Unable to help herself, she snuck a quick glance at him. Even his profile was intimidating.
Well, except for his mouth. It looked absolutely kissable. Which was plain wrong. A man with such a hard exterior shouldn’t have inviting lips.
His square jaw clenched as if he was aware of her scrutiny. Swallowing, she glanced away, horrified that she was having these thoughts about a possibly dangerous stranger. She blamed her response on his eyes. They looked so much like her first love’s it was beyond startling.
As soon as they stepped into the receptionist’s area, Mandy smiled and handed her a white binder. “This is the information you requested on K—”
“Thank you, Mandy. I’ll go over it later.” Sophie quickly grabbed the binder and tucked it under her arm, hoping the man next to her didn’t notice the Keane cover Mandy had thoughtfully put on it. He definitely didn’t need to know she’d been looking into his company before he arrived. Not until she knew what his deal was or why he was really here.
Thankfully Jack didn’t follow Sophie into her office. She unlocked her drawer and pulled out her purse. She started to put the binder in her drawer, but slipped it into her purse instead. She also shoved the pictures she’d planned to show Ronald into her purse, then tucked the flash drive she’d saved them on into her bra. She might have e-mailed herself the pictures and have them saved in her online mobile album, but she wanted another backup and she was taking it with her.
Ronald might be acting like a jackass right now, but after this stupid lunch she was hunting him down and making him listen to her. If she had to spend a little time with the sexy, intimidating, and probably criminal Jack, so be it.
Contract killer: a person hired to kill a selected target or targets for money.
From the doorway of Sophie’s office, Jack watched her walk around her desk. Her slim-fitting skirt hugged her in all the right places. Even though she had on a jacket, her small breasts were outlined perfectly. Nothing about her outfit was overtly sexual, but simply watching her move around her office got him hotter than anything any other woman had ever done. She didn’t just move. The woman flowed with a grace that made staring at her an addiction. Something about the sleek tailored outfit made him wonder what she had on underneath. Plain cotton, or silk and lace? Or maybe nothing at all. When they were seventeen she’d usually worn Brazilian-style bottoms that showed the bottom half of her butt. Those things had driven him crazy, so of course she’d loved to walk around wearing only that when they’d been alone.
At that thought, his entire body tensed. When they were teenagers he’d wanted her so badly he couldn’t think straight most of the time, but this reaction was different. It was . . . more. Intense. Like thirteen years of pent-up need clawing its way to the surface and just begging to be set free. He’d known coming on this mission so soon after that last op was a mistake, but hadn’t been able to force himself to tell his boss no. Not when he’d been dying to see Sophie.
When she leaned over her desk to grab something, her dark hair cascaded over her shoulder and he couldn’t help remembering what it had been like to run his hands through that thick mass as she rode him. Or as he’d taken her from behind. Or as they’d simply held each other and watched the ocean waves. Memories of their short time together had kept him sane during some of his nastier missions. Her smart-ass attitude and sense of humor had kept him entertained back when there wasn’t much bright in his life. She’d been one of the few bright beacons in his world. He’d even categorized his life into “before Sophie” and “after Sophie.” Because after he’d met her, he’d known on a fundamental level that she was meant for him.
Watching her now felt too surreal. The outline of her jaw, the gentle curve of her neck, her dark, intoxicating eyes. Despite the sharp angles of her exotic cheekbones, everything else about her compact body was soft and inviting. Especially her hips. She had just enough curves for a man to hold on to. Well, not any man. Only him. He wanted to bury his face against her neck, between her breasts, and definitely between her legs. God, if she knew what he was thinking now, she’d run. Or maybe not. He’d seen a hint of awareness in her eyes back in Ronald’s office. It had been tempered with almost outright anger at his presence—which made him curious—but he was pretty sure she was attracted to him.
She paused before slipping the binder her assistant had given her into her purse, and then it looked as if she tucked something into her shirt. Since she had her back to him, it was difficult to see, but he found it interesting.
“Hey, Mandy. Is Sophie in her office?” A man’s voice caused Jack to turn.
Jack quickly sized up the man standing at the receptionist’s desk. He recognized him from one of the dossiers he’d studied. Benson Pollard. Been with the company six months. No red flags.
But Jack didn’t like the familiar way he said Sophie’s name.
Sophie walked out and smiled warmly when she saw the other man. A punch of need slammed into Jack, along with a healthy dose of jealousy. He hadn’t seen that smile in too many years, and he didn’t want her sharing it with anyone else. Crazy? Definitely. He just didn’t care.
She hoisted her purse higher on her shoulder. “Hi, Benson. I’m just heading to lunch.”
“I was actually coming by to see if you wanted to join me for lunch. Where are you headed?”
“It’s a private lunch.” Jack surprised himself and everyone else around him with his heated tone. Mandy’s mouth dropped and the other man’s eyes narrowed at him with barely concealed annoyance . . . and disgust?
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Targeted
"Fast-paced romantic suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat!" —Cynthia Eden, USA Today bestselling author of Die For Me
"Sexy suspense at its finest." —Laura Wright, USA Today bestselling author of Eternal Demon
Praise for the Novels of Katie Reus
“Explosive danger and enough sexual tension to set the pages on fire!”—New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Ivy
“Reus has an instinct for what wows.”—New York Times bestselling author Caridad Piñeiro
“Scorching chemistry…taut and passionate…will leave readers breathless!”—Stephanie Tyler, national bestselling author of Dire Desires
“A wild, hot ride for readers. The story grabs you and doesn’t let go.”—Cynthia Eden