Read an Excerpt
"Hungry?" The dancer gyrating in front of Lieutenant Commander Gray Jackson's table wasn't pushing burgers or chicken wings. She ran a hand down her body, highlighting various edible spots. Her costumeor lack thereof, because she rocked a barely there thong and a pair of four-inch Lucite heelsoffered plenty to look at. It was a sad commentary on the state of Gray's sex life, however, that the skin show left him unmoved, without so much as a twitch from the boys.
"Darling, I'm always ready to eat." He ponied up the teasing words automatically, because his cover as a bad-boy biker required acting like a jerk. When he didn't follow up with a cash offer, the blonde pouted and moved on to the next table. Too bad, so sad.
The Born To Ride was a seedy dive bar popular with motorcycle gangs. On a mission to infiltrate the outlaw biker gang M-Breed and shut down their arms pipeline, Gray's squad had been deep undercover as potential recruits for the past six months. It was a scene Gray recognized all too well from his wilder, younger years. Dancers shimmied up and down poles on a raised platform to the banging pulse of the music, while the patrons knocked back beers and shots, broken up by the occasional bar fight or game of pool. This was not the kind of place a man took a date. The men here were interested in three things: drinking, drugs and dealing. Sex, when it happened, was quick, rough and accomplished in the alley or the bathroom stall. They were also, by and large, ex-military and patch-wearing members of M-Breed.
Gray fit right in, and only partly because he'd grown up tough and fighting. He'd ridden from an early age, joining a local biker gang with his cousins and chewing up the highway whenever he could fill a tank. He'd done more than his fair share of juvenile law-breaking and, if he hadn't enlisted in the US Navy when one of his cousins had, he'd have most likely ended up here, anyhow. Instead, he was a SEAL and active-duty military. If tonight's mission went well, they'd finally have M-Breed's lieutenants selling arms on tape. Lights out, show over, go directly to federal prison and serve ten to twenty. Both of the guys at Gray's table tonight were members of his team. Levi Brandon and Mason Black had his back and his six. Outside and down the street, Sam Nale and Remy Leveaux worked the tech detail, monitoring the wires Gray, Levi and Mason wore.
A fistfight broke out in a far corner of the bar, but the ruckus barely merited a second glance. If trouble headed in Gray's direction, the Glock tucked in his waistband had him covered. And, when he ran out of bullets, he had a pair of knives down his motorcycle boots and a length of chain in his jacket pocket. Add to that his two hands, and he didn't need more to kick ass in a fight. God, he hoped there was a fight tonight. He had energy to burn and then some. Fight for Uncle Sam, bust some heads in the names of freedom and democracy. He loved his job.
"Aww, I think you broke her heart," Levi drawled, eyeing the dancer's butt as she worked a new table.
"That's the way it goes."
Levi flipped Gray the bird, but the man was grinning, so his tender feelings were just fine. Unlike Gray. He had no idea when his sex drive had hung a left and disappeared, but casual sex left him cold now. The empty beer bottles lined up in front of him were as much window-dressing as the interest he'd briefly feigned in the female shimmying and shaking her way over to him. Which was kind of a shame. Two years ago he'd have enjoyed the attention, but now he was dead inside.
Mason tapped the table. "Company manners, boys. Our date just walked in the front door. He's not a pretty bitch, but then, neither are we."
Gray checked out the door and, sure enough, it was showtime. Spokes, M-Breed's second lieutenant, sauntered toward the bar, towing a petite blonde in his wake. The blonde was his old lady and Friday-night bar accessory, although how a crusty fifty-year-old man like Spokes had scored this fetching twentysomething was debatable. Cash or drugsGray would have laid money on one or both as the culprits. Spokes had gotten his name after stabbing a guy with a handful of motorcycle spokes in a chop shop. He'd done five years on a manslaughter rap before rejoining the gang. He was a mean bastard who preferred fists to words, as the rainbow of bruises on his old lady's arms attested.
Emily. Her name was Emily. Gray would damn well use her name, rather than the label that marked her as belonging to Spokes.
Spokes might not be parting with Emily, but he had agreed to sell Gray a trunkload of high-caliber automatic weaponry for bargain-basement pricing. AK-47s weren't the kind of firearms that should be available on the street, although Spokes clearly didn't give a crap about where his guns ended up.
"You want me to see if I can detach Spokes's arm candy?"
The fourth member of Gray's undercover team, Ashley Dixon, wasn't actually a SEALsince the SEALs had yet to induct a female member. She'd been borrowed from the DEA to provide mission-critical cover, pretending to be Levi's girlfriend. She perched on the man's knee as if he were a chair, a skintight minidress skimming the tops of her thighs.
Gray's phone vibrated before he could answer Ashley, and he automatically pulled it out, checking the screen. Around him, Levi and Mason did the same. Yeah. From the disbelieving looks on their faces, he knew their phones were also flashing the code word to pull out.
What. The. Hell?
"You seeing what I'm seeing?" Maybe the alcohol fumes had finally done a number on his brain.
Levi nodded, looking pissed off. "We need to roll."
Fine. He'd fall back, but first he had a detour to make. "Detach Spokes's girlfriend. Get her out on the dance floor."
Ashley slid off Levi's lap. "I've got this."
Busy pounding tequila shots, Spokes didn't object when Ashley tugged the man's lady out onto the dance floor. Ashley bumped and spun, the hem of her cocktail dress inching its way up her muscled thighs. She dipped and worked her hips in an exaggerated shimmy, and her companion flashed a smile and followed suit. Ashley looked happy, and Gray didn't think it was an act. She enjoyed dancing and so she was seizing the moment. The awkward bump of her butt against her companion's had them both laughing.
Levi watched the pair, a frown on his face. "Where do you think she learned to dance like that?"
"Not at Saturday ballet class." She demonstrated a serious lack of rhythm and finesse, but her enthusiasm was contagious. Ashley had a life outside the DEA and her undercover work. He, on the other hand, was a SEAL. End of story. If he ever walked away from his team, he was nothing. A big, blank page of nothing. He didn't have any family he'd stayed in contact with, which he could only partially blame on his work for the government. Sure, he couldn't share the detailsor anything much at allabout the covert missions, but he also hadn't tried.
Since his inner shrink had apparently decided to work overtime, he could admit that he was hollow inside, carting around a crater-sized hole that couldn't be filled by gunfights or the adrenaline rush of nailing a dangerous assignment. He'd tried the bar scene and the fight clubs, but the alcohol left him with a hangover, and the fight clubs gave him two broken ribs. Neither were long-term options, and at least he'd been smart enough to recognize that truth. Now he ran on empty. No love, no faith in anything but his guns and his guys, nothing to look forward to but the next time he shipped out and the next firefight.
Speaking of which, it was time to get this show on the road. Shoving to his feet, he headed toward the dance floor. His guys fell in behind him, ready to hump their asses onto a plane, fly down to Central America and take care of whatever it was that needed doing there. They were real fucking Musketeers, and that was the truth. They'd have his back, even on the dance floor, where way too many bodies did the bump and grind. Some of the dancers were pretty, others were not. He knew which category he fell into, although his face didn't stop hands and thighs from touching him in a way that was pure invitation. He was big. He had money. And in the world of the motorcycle gang, that put him at the top of the food chain until someone else knocked him down.
"Ladies." He inclined his head as he joined the dancing duo, and Ashley pulled him into her circle of two. Spokes's girlfriend gave him a quick once-over, looking nervous, and darted a glance over her shoulder. Spokes must not have protested, because she stayed put. They danced silently for a moment, the music pulsing around them and vibrating through the soles of his boots, and he almost got why Ashley liked this.
The bruises on the blonde's arms, however, were even more disturbing close-up. His own relationships might not last longer than a night, and he might need his sex raw and gritty, but hurting his partner was off-limits. No exceptions. Whether or not the US Government had enough to put the scumbag away for a few decades, the lady needed a breather. Unfortunately, while her tired eyes flitted between him and the man waiting for her at the bar, she showed no signs of heading for the door.
He put his mouth right up by her ear, making sure she had no excuse to not hear him over the pounding beat of the bar music. "Emily, you need to pick up and get the hell away from Spokes."
Maybe she tweaked or maybe Spokes's cash spoke louder than the man's charming personality. Either way, breaking Spokes's nose wouldn't get her to the door if she didn't want to leave. A woman had to want to walk, and she also had to be ready. He'd learned that firsthand when he'd been six. The trailer park where he'd grown up hadn't been big on personal space or privacy. When a man and a woman fought, the neighbors heard every word, every grunt, every slap of flesh on flesh. He slipped Emily a wad of cash. Money wasn't enough, but it was a start. She'd have to do the rest of the work herself. After a moment, she nodded and laid in a new course for the side door. With the cash, she'd have a chance, but only if she kept on walking and didn't return home where Spokes could find her.
Still, it was hard to turn away, towing Ashley with him as if he'd busted up the dance circle simply to collect her. It helped some that all hell broke loose behind them as two of the bar's patrons got into a fistfight that rapidly escalated to criminal property damage and felony assault and battery. He'd given up pretending that he minded the violence. Because truth was, violence came with the territory, and his team had ended more than one mission that way.
The Harleys he and his boys had parked outside were, hands down, the best perk of this particular mission, especially since it looked as if they wouldn't be taking Spokes down any other way tonight. Ashley had complained loud and long that she hadn't scored a bike of her own, but an independent ride didn't fit the biker girlfriend image.
Mason turned the ignition switch on and shifted his bike into neutral. "Where we headed?"
Gray rechecked his phone. "I've got one word for you. Belize.''''
"What's in Belize?" Levi kicked the starter hard, his bike firing to life.
It was a good question. Up until five minutes ago, Gray would have answered jungle, scrubland, historic ruins and some damned good fly-fishing. He might even have fantasized once or twice about buying a piece of land on one of those little sandy cays and putting up a house. Sitting out in all that blue, casting a line. He sighed. Whatever undercover op Uncle Sam needed them for now, it sure wouldn't involve a cold one and a fishing lure.
"Our next op. We're going undercover as resort staff at some place called Fantasy Island." He gunned the bike toward the highway. Another night, another mission, even if this one came with blue water and palm trees. Yeah. The odds of him passing as the employee of a five-star resort seemed low, but he went where he was sent, and he'd do what it took to get the job done. He'd never blown his cover yet.
The seaplane lurched, and Laney Parker dug her nails out of her armrest. When she risked a glance out the window, she spotted nothing but Caribbean blue beneath them, the ocean's flat surface dotted with shadows from the clouds. The view was pretty, but missing any kind of landing zone whatsoever. She'd triaged a small plane crash her first year in the UCSF emergency room, and the injuries had been particularly horrific.
The plane bounced again, and she immediately reattached herself to the armrest. Although the odds of dying in a plane crash were low, it hadn't been her week for playing the odds. Her stomach rose halfway up her throat. She'd pass on the meet-and-greet with the ocean's surface. Leaning forward, she riffled through the seat pocket contents. The charter airline had stocked up on glossy magazines, but skimped on the barf bags. For the ridiculous price tag this week in the tropics had cost, she'd use the magazines if she had to. What was supposed to be a week of glamorous sex with her new husband by her side was most definitely not turning out as planned. Still, when the plane leveled out, she exhaled slowly. Maybe surviving the landing was in the cards, after all.
The sound of a cork popping and champagne fizzing had her head turning in time to catch the flash of a long-necked bottle out of the corner of her eye. Frankly, she wasn't sure how anyone could think of drinking so early in the morningalthough it was definitely five o'clock somewhere. The woman who dropped into the seat opposite her, however, didn't look as if she cared about what the rest of the world thought. Ever. It was a good look, and one Laney needed to emulate. Screw it. That was her new motto, and she'd buy the T-shirt just as soon as she could.
Maybe Fantasy Island had a gift shop.
The woman had ink-black hair and an ear full of piercings that must have given the TSA fits. She'd paired the metal-head look with jeans, a ripped concert T-shirt from a band Laney had never heard of and a pair of military-issue combat boots. An audible, fist-pumping beat issued from her earbuds. Laney, on the other hand, sported her usual yoga wear from Target in practical black. Dark colors didn't show the blood, and since as a trauma surgeon, she tended to get called in whenever she wasn't actually already at the hospital, there was no point in not being comfortable or racking up a dry cleaning bill. In fact, now that she thought about it, her yoga pants were just about the only thing she owned that weren't hospital-blue or wedding-white. Right. So not going there.
Champagne dripped onto the carpet as her new seat-mate brandished a trio of flutes. Amusement sparkled in her eyes as she popped the earbuds out.
Ten o'clock in the morning, Laney's brain volunteered. Wouldn't be prudent. Sure, partaking would be fun, but the careful habits of a lifetime were awfully hard to break.
Her hostess jiggled the bottle. "It's free."
Nothing was free. As Laney's credit card company had called to remind her yesterday.
"You look as if you could use a drink." Goth Princess leaned forward, revealing that she'd skipped a bra that morning. When she reached over to offer a flute to the third woman in the cabin, she followed the boob shoot with a flash of neon-green thong, which was way more than Laney needed to know about the woman's preferences in the underwear department.
"I'm good," she said.
Which was part of the problem, wasn't it?
When Laney didn't take the flute, the other woman curled up in her seat and grinned. "Two for me. Yay."
"If we're experiencing turbulence, you should probably buckle up." PSA
Goth Princess shrugged and knocked back half the flute. "What's the worst that can happen?"