The fifth book in the B.A.D. (Bureau of American Defense) series, 2010
We’re dedicating this to the men and women in
the military who are away from their families
protecting us all back home.
Bless you and may God keep you safe!
From Sherrilyn Kenyon
Thank you to Dianna for being such a good sport and always making me smile. I never thought I could cowrite anything, but given that we often share a common brain-LOL-you made it not only easy, but a joy. Thank you so much for all the support.
Thank you to Kim, Jacs, Brenda, and Retta for reading all my manuscripts and making great comments. Thank you, fans, for coming back day after day. You guys rock!
To my husband for being my shelter in the storm. I’m grateful every day that I said yes when you asked me out to see a movie I couldn’t stand. For my kids, who are always my comfort and my greatest source of pride. May God bless and keep you all.
From Dianna Love
A huge thank-you to Sherrilyn for being the best friend and writing partner a person could ask for. She’s an amazing talent we’re lucky to have in publishing and one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Anyone who has met me or interacted online with me knows nothing I do would be possible without the unflagging support of my wonderful husband, Karl. Everything he does nurtures my muse and makes it easy for me to indulge my second love-writing. A special thanks to all the fans who have asked for more BAD Agency books and don’t hesitate to share their favorite book and characters with us. Your enthusiasm and excitement are all we need to keep expanding this series.
Thank you, Cassondra, for being the best assistant, who is making my life easier every day! Also, thank you to Tracy and the wonderful women at Shamrock Café in Tyrone, Georgia, who keep me fed when Karl is out of town. I love hearing from readers-dianna@author
diannalove.com-if you want to send me an email.
From both of us
Lauren McKenna proves continuously why she’s an exceptional editor. She has a gift for understanding the direction we take with each story and is always open to new ideas. Thanks also to Megan McKeever for all her help in getting the book out and to Merrilee Heifetz for her constant support.
We appreciate author Mary Buckham (so much!), who reads early drafts-quickly, no less-and makes great suggestions. Her study of interesting things like Asian culture and her husband Jim’s knowledge of rare information have stimulated some fun ideas when Sherri and I brainstorm. Another talented writer, Cassondra Murray, also reads every story and comes up with subtle suggestions that make a huge difference in the final draft. We have husband Steve Doyle to thank for a limitless knowledge of weapons and military procedures from his time with Special Forces, plus his feedback from reading every story. We appreciate Annie Oortman’s PAL creative reports on every book. Thanks also to Hope Williams and Manuella Robinson for their beta reads that mean so much in the final version.
Thank you to each of the following: We used information on electronic forensics shared by Keith Morgan. Westly Bowen, on staff at Fayette Community Hospital in Georgia, provided medical information. Former NBC anchor Wes Sarginson helped with research on television reporters. Thank you to James Love, Dianna’s brother, who shared details about the Gulf of Mexico, and to Gail Jensen for her help with researching Chicago. Errors slip through on occasion just because we’re human and if you find one, it’s on our part, not the source who generously shared their time and knowledge.
An extra hug to the wild RBL Women, PW blogger Barbara Vey, and the Petit Fours & Hot Tamales bloggers-thanks for all the support, laughs, and martinis. You are too much fun!
We love our readers! You are the reason we work so hard to create a story that will take you away on an adventure for hours of entertainment. We appreciate the time you spend writing us emails and coming out to visit when we tour and sign-and the amazing gifts (you rock!). Thank you for allowing us to spend hours doing what we love most-creating a world where our characters can come out and play. Thank YOU!
If you’re a paranormal fan, check out the exciting new Belador series we have coming out in fall 2010… details at [http://www.SherrilynKenyon.com] www.SherrilynKenyon.com and [http://www.AuthorDiannaLove.com] www.AuthorDiannaLove.com.
Four years ago off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii
Hunter Wesley Thornton-Payne III didn’t believe in premonitions of doom, but now might be an optimum time to reevaluate those beliefs. That last bone-jarring shudder of the thirty-year-old fishing trawler beneath him qualified as a preemptive warning.
Salt water sprayed across the deck from each side of the wheelhouse where he stood. Wearing a wetsuit didn’t mean he wanted to be blasted with water every thirty seconds. For the past forty-five minutes this floating hazard had plowed south through the Pacific Ocean toward tonight’s black-ops objective.
Failure would trigger hideous deaths for unsuspecting CIA agents over the next twenty-four hours.
A simple mission… on paper.
Scaling a sheer rock cliff rising two thousand feet out of windswept waves, and on a moonless night, might give him pause if not for his partner Eliot Sawyer. Having him on this mission should quiet any concerns.
But a dark shadow continued to hover over Hunter’s psyche, a sixth sense he trusted almost as much as he trusted Eliot.
A ferocious wave broke across the starboard side, the tip of its watery tail lashing his face with cool spray. The faded teakwood deck quaked beneath his feet.
“This piece of shit better hold together long enough to get us into position.” Hunter wiped water from his eyes again. “You can bet that sack-a-shit Retter is riding around out here in something that can do more than ten knots. I should be hauling his ass up that cliff since this was his idea.”
Eliot laughed. The bastard laughed more than any other human Hunter had ever known. Even in college, humor had balanced out his mammoth size. “Thought you agreed this was the only way to slip inside Brugmann’s compound.”
Hunter hitched a shoulder in a don’t-remind-me response. He’d come to the same conclusion as Retter-BAD’s top gun and the lead on this operation-that approaching from the north under the guise of a decrepit fishing boat offered the optimum insertion point. Ehrlich Brugmann’s private residence perched on a cliff above a vertical wall of volcanic rock overlooking the northern coast of Kauai.
Brugmann had traveled alone to Hawaii this trip. Had he thought the United States wouldn’t notice him selling out the CIA and national security if he didn’t do it in DC at his primary residence?
Hunter suffered another whiff of fishy stench permeating the wood. He stared out over the starboard side at the last shred of light as the sun sank closer to the ocean. Twilight silhouetted a pair of fifty-footers bucking waves a mile off.
Two more boats held together with hope and slime.
Retter’s doing as well.
Boats were okay in Hunter’s book-the sleek half-million-dollar ocean racers he’d once piloted to trophy finishes.
But he hated the kind that tended to sink without notice.
Aging joints creaked in complaint when the deck pitched again. Hunter’s grumble ended in a vicious curse.
“Good night for a swim, eh?” Even Eliot had to grab a handhold or bust his silly ass. Pale lights mounted to the wheelhouse cast a sallow glow over his wide body outfitted in an identical black wetsuit, and lit his crooked-tooth grin.
The same grin Hunter had run up against the night he bumped into Eliot while breaking into the dean’s office at Harvard. Eliot had already disarmed the alarms when Hunter appeared beside him. Surprisingly, he and Eliot had broken in for the same reason-to correct the grades of a female student who had spurned the advances of a tenured professor and stood to lose her scholarship. Eliot had laughed in the dark and told Hunter to cover their butts, which he did. And was still doing.
Nothing bothered Eliot.
Not even the time the yacht they’d been on had stopped floating in the middle of the night. An explosion in the engine room had been at fault, but the reason really didn’t matter when you had to tread water for the next nine hours.
“Not worried about tonight, are ya?” Eliot pushed and prodded until he got what he wanted, a part of his personality that could be annoying as hell at times.
“Worried? Be serious.” Hunter ran over the mission again in his mind. His brain assured him everything was a go. His gut argued but failed to produce concrete evidence of a problem. Didn’t matter either way. He and Eliot were going in. They thought as one mind and had faced missions more dangerous than this one. With an unmatched ability to breach any security and expert climbing skills, Eliot was the perfect partner.
But the deciding factor had come down to a matter of trust.
Hunter trusted no one, or at least he hadn’t until Eliot took him rock climbing back in college. By the end of that first day, Hunter’s life had been in Eliot’s hands more times than he’d wanted to count. After that, he knew without question that Eliot had his back in any situation.
And he had Eliot’s.
Of course, Eliot’s heart was his greatest weakness.
“What about the CIA?” Eliot was back on track with the mission. “If they find out you’ve been here or seen their list of agents-”
“They won’t. We’re in. We’re out. No one’ll know. He’s got two rent-a-guards. Stop worrying like an old woman. I got this,” Hunter added, using their “end of discussion” phrase. With no choice but to insert, he wanted Eliot thinking only about breaching that security system. He gripped the vertical aluminum rail bolted to the wheelhouse and changed the subject. “Speaking of women, you still seeing that professor?”
“I am.” Eliot’s grin curved up, widened. Beamed.
Ah, hell. That silly look can’t mean what I think.
“Was going to tell you this later, but…”
No, Eliot, we had a deal. What happened to the “no ties, no commitments, no baggage” rule they’d shaken hands on in college?
“I never could keep a secret from ya for long. Cynthia and I got married.” Eliot shrugged. “I would have included ya in the wedding, but we did a quick trip to Vegas.”
Married. Of all the stupid things to do. Hunter licked saltwater from his dry lips. Open mouth and say something, dammit. This is my best friend.
“Congratulations. I guess?” Hunter scratched his chin. One thing was for sure, he’d never complicate his life that way. Not for a woman. They all came with agendas. Like his mother, for one. “Wasn’t a shotgun two-step to the altar, right?”
“No way. I’m crazy about Cynthia.”
“What about what we do for BAD?” Hunter had joined the Bureau of American Defense after leaving the CIA. BAD operated as a covert agency that protected national security. They had no boundaries, no red tape, and no support if they got in trouble since their secret existence wouldn’t be acknowledged. “Cynthia’s another person an enemy could use against you if they found out about her.”
Eliot stopped smiling and swallowed so hard his Adam’s apple pulsed. “My family’s never met her, doesn’t know she exists. You’re the only one who knows about her and I trust you with my life, so she’s safe.”
What could he say to that? Hunter felt the weight of Eliot’s confidence press down on his shoulders, but Eliot was right. Hunter would protect his friend-and any other BAD agent-with his life. “Have you told her what you do?”
“I told her I do investigative work for INTERPOL and that she can’t say anything about my job without putting us both in danger. She’s solid as a rock.”
“And what about the risks we take?” With anyone else Hunter would have let it go and wished the poor sucker good luck. But he’d been friends with Eliot too long to give him the patent superficial garbage Hunter’s family considered the foundation of all relationships. Showing a sincere interest in someone’s personal life was paramount to asking how much a luxury car cost. Wasn’t done in his family.
Eliot swayed with the rocking boat, moved his feet for balance, and wiped water that dribbled from his buzz-cut head off his face. “She thinks I’m teamed up with a guy named Leroy, which would be you. I told her you handle all the dangerous work. I’m just the on-site geek.”
Like any good lie, that had a trace of truth. Eliot really had contracted to INTERPOL after a stint with the CIA, where he’d been trained along with Hunter. They were both proficient in electronic invasion, but in spite of looking like the bigger physical threat Eliot’s natural gift was cracking a safe or violating security systems, which left Hunter to neutralize opposition. Not a problem.
Hunter didn’t mind getting his hands dirty on an op.
But he had no patience for bullshit, which had gotten him in deep trouble with the CIA on one particular job.
If the director of BAD hadn’t intervened, Hunter would have disappeared like a puff of smoke in a strong wind.
The CIA had allowed him to walk away-alive-as long as he stayed clear of any agency operations. They’d never know he was at the Brugmann compound tonight… unless something went wrong.
The FBI thought their people were coordinating with a covert CIA team. No one knew BAD existed, except the U.S. executive branch, and no one there would admit such. Plus the CIA wouldn’t confess to having a team on U.S. soil, which made it easy to step in when an order came through secure channels.
He just had to insert, confirm the list of names, and exit.
“I didn’t forget our deal in college.” Eliot had spoken so softly Hunter almost didn’t catch it over the rumble of diesel engines beneath his feet. “But I can’t live my life without Cynthia and she deserves the respect of marriage.”
The time to offer unwanted advice had passed, but Hunter believed his friend would regret the move down the line. This business punished anyone foolish enough to let emotions play into decision-making. He’d just have to do what he’d always done and cover Eliot’s back by researching Cynthia more deeply than Hunter’s initial scan to ensure she wasn’t a threat.
But he couldn’t prevent her from breaking the fool’s heart.
“Say what’s on your mind,” Eliot said. “Go ahead. Get it off your chest so we can celebrate later and get drunk.”
Hunter wanted to be pissed off at Eliot, an easy feat with anyone else but this clown. “Just think it’s an unnecessary risk. I mean, what’re you going to do if she gets pregnant?”
The trawler engine’s sound changed abruptly, going from loud rumbling to silence when the captain cut back on power.
That was the sign for Hunter and Eliot to get humping.