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“You’re making a mistake!” Dr. Tina Jamison shouted as she was hauled out of the nondescript brown van and pushed into the dimly lit parking garage.
But the four men—all wearing black ski masks—didn’t seem to care that they’d grabbed the wrong woman.
And they had gotten the wrong person. They must have made some kind of mistake. There was no way these armed gunmen could actually want her.
The man on the right jabbed his gun into her back. “Move!”
When someone shoved a gun at her, Tina knew exactly what to do. Move. Just as the man had ordered. But Tina was scared and she stumbled, nearly slamming face-first into the cement as she hurried to follow the guy’s order.
This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.
She’d been safe in her hotel room less than an hour ago. Sleeping. Minding her business.
She’d woken to find a man leaning over her. His hand had flattened over her mouth before she could scream. Then he’d put a gun to her head and told her that if she wanted to live, she’d follow his orders.
Tina wanted to keep living.
One of the men pushed open the stairwell door. Then the gun was poking into her back once more. Tina got the message loud and clear, and she started double-timing it up those concrete stairs.
Why? Why have they taken me? “Look, you’ve got the wrong girl.” She tried telling them this fact for what had to be the fiftieth time. They needed to see reason and listen to her. “I’m a doctor, okay? Just a doctor who—”
“We know exactly who you are,” the man with the gun replied in a hard, lethal voice. “And we know just what Mercer will pay to get you back.”
Her blood iced as Tina grabbed for the stair railing. Mercer. Oh, no. With the mention of Bruce Mercer’s name, the situation went from bad to unbelievably, terribly worse. Because Bruce Mercer was the director of a covert group of agents who conducted secret missions for the United States’ government. Bruce Mercer operated the EOD, the Elite Operations Division.
Bruce Mercer was also her boss.
But I’m not an agent! I’m a doctor! The one who patches up the wounded after a battle.
Because Tina had learned long ago that she didn’t mix so well with danger.
Her heart was about to gallop out of her chest right then and, taking a breath— Oh, yes, it was hard. Painful. She was very afraid that she might be about to hyperventilate. Her breath sure seemed to be wheezing out with each frantic exhale.
“Can you...” Tina huffed. “Move the gun?” If the guy stumbled, that gun could accidentally discharge. She knew firsthand the kind of severe damage a shot to the spine would do to a victim.
“No, I can’t.” The gun jabbed harder into her.
“Look, I—I...” She tried to suck in air. Don’t panic. Don’t. “I’m not who you think I am!” She wasn’t an EOD agent. If these men were taking her because they mistakenly thought that she had some kind of classified information she could give to them, they were dead wrong. She didn’t have the clearance level needed to access that sort of intel.
“We know you’re not an agent,” the man snapped. “Now keep climbing. Faster.”
She climbed until her legs burned. Flight after flight. Finally a door opened above her. The scent of fresh air and the mighty Mississippi River teased her nose as Tina was led outside.
Stars glittered overhead. Glancing around, she realized they were on a rooftop. And...and she could hear the whoop-whoop-whoop of an approaching helicopter.
This is so not good. As if masked men with guns could be good. But any group that came equipped with their own helicopter sure equaled a whole world of trouble in her book.
Fear had Tina shaking, but she made herself turn to face the gunman. “I-if you know I’m not an agent...” She had to raise her voice, nearly shouting, to be heard over the helicopter’s approach. The wind from its blades blew against her, and she trembled. “If you know that, then let me go! I’m of no use to you.”
The masked man—the fellow had to be the leader because no one else had done any talking—shook his head. “Mercer’s daughter is going to be plenty of use to us.”
Mercer’s daughter? Tina’s eyes widened. Definitely the wrong person. “I’m not his daughter!”
A rough, twisted bark of laughter escaped from the gunman. “Sure you aren’t, sweetheart.” A Texas accent. She could just hear it slip around his words. “That’s why Mercer pays for your apartment in D.C. and why he sprung for the fancy hotel here in New Orleans. Why he’s been paying your bills for years.” More laughter. “At first, I thought you might be his lover, and that connection would have been just as useful to me.”
The helicopter circled around to land. Her abductors had given her time to dress—a humiliating task since they’d watched her every move. The wind from the landing helicopter made her T-shirt cling tightly to her chest and it tossed her hair wildly around her face.
“Then I got intel that revealed your true identity.” He let the gun trail over her cheek. If she had been an agent, Tina would have done something incredibly cool right then. Such as wrestle the gun from him or give him a sharp right hook.
Then take all of these jerks out.
But she wasn’t an agent. She knew how to heal, not how to hurt.
“You’ve been the one constant in Mercer’s life since you got out of med school. You’re that constant because you’re Bruce Mercer’s daughter. The daughter he tried to hide after your mother was killed in that attack in France.”
She swallowed. The fact that she’d been born in France was really going to work against her here.
“Of course, if you’re not his daughter, you can just prove that to me.”
The gun was still at her cheek.
The helicopter’s blades had stopped.
“Prove who you really are,” the man in the mask murmured. There were slits over his eyes so that he could see out, but the rest of his face was concealed. All she knew was that the guy was big, with narrow shoulders and hips, and that his words carried a slight Texas accent. She couldn’t physically identify any of the men who had taken her.
“Are we ready?” another voice called out as heavy footsteps approached from behind her. This voice didn’t hold a Texas accent. This one just sounded bored.
It also sounded familiar.
Tina felt her cheeks turn ice-cold, then they burned red hot.
Those footsteps kept approaching. “Yeah, we got our package,” the gunman said with a quick nod. “Though she’s been whining the whole time about us having the wrong woman.”
The weapon finally left her cheek. Moving slowly, carefully, because she sure didn’t want to set anyone off, Tina turned to face the man. The helicopter waited behind him, perched perfectly in place.
There was a ski mask over this man’s face, too. Slits for his eyes, a hole for his mouth. As the others, he was also dressed in black from head to toe.
But she knew him; knew those broad shoulders, the tall, tough build. He towered over the other men by several inches and he walked with a slow, stalking grace.
Relief swept through her and Tina felt dizzy. Drew Lancaster.
“If she’s been talking so much...” his familiar voice rolled over her, edged with a Mississippi drawl, “then maybe you should have just gagged her.”
Wait. What? Tina’s eyes widened in horror. That wasn’t what Drew was supposed to say. Drew wasn’t a criminal. He was a good guy. He was a federal agent with the EOD.
He moved behind her, and put his hand over her mouth. “See?” Drew murmured. “Easy enough to stop her from talking.”
She nearly bit him.
But Drew bent and put his mouth right next to her ear. “Stay calm.” A bare whisper. One Tina wasn’t even sure she hadn’t imagined. But she’d felt the warm rush of his breath against her ear and a shiver slid through her body.
Drew kept his hand over her mouth as his head lifted a few inches. His eyes glittered down at her. She knew those eyes were golden, the color of a jungle cat that she’d seen once in the D.C. zoo.
Drew had always reminded her of that great cat. Because he was wild and dangerous, and he’d scared her, on an instinctive level, from the first moment they’d met.
“I didn’t realize our cargo tonight was a woman,” Drew charged as he glanced over at the lead gunman. “Maybe next time, you should clue me in on that.”
The guy grunted. “Need-to-know basis, Stone. Need to know.” Then he jerked his thumb toward the chopper. “Now are you ready to get us out of here?”
Stone. Her lips pressed against Drew’s palm. She hadn’t seen him in two months. Not since he’d left for his last mission.
Drew shifted his body and glanced down at her. This time, Tina could see past her fear and she easily read the hard warning in his eyes.
Drew was undercover. These men—they knew him as someone named Stone.
And something else that Tina realized... Drew wasn’t about to blow his cover.
Not for her.
Her shoulders slumped. Things were going to get even worse before they got better.
“I’m ready,” Drew said. He dropped his hand and backed away from her.
The gun was jabbed into her back once more. She didn’t tense this time.
But Drew did. “Is that necessary?” The words seemed gritted.
“Yeah, it is. Now get that bird off the ground!”
Drew’s gaze dropped to the gun then his stare slid back to Tina. She knew that she had to look terrified.
Because she was.
“Do you seriously think she’s going to get away?” Drew glanced around the rooftop. “No one’s up here but us.”
The gun didn’t move.
“Her hands are tied. She’s not going any place.” Drew exhaled. “And I don’t see—”
“She’s Bruce Mercer’s daughter!” the gunman snarled. “You think he didn’t train her? Until we’re clear, I’m keeping my weapon on her.”
Drew blinked. “Bruce Mercer’s daughter,” he repeated softly, considering the information it appeared.
No, I’m not!
But did Drew know that?
“I guess that changes things,” Drew said. Then he turned away and hurried back to the chopper without even a second glance. In seconds, all of the men had climbed in behind him and Tina found herself secured in the backseat.
The blades were spinning again, matching the frantic beat of her heart, and the helicopter rose high into the air.
* * *
HIS COVER WAS about to be blown to hell and back.
Drew Lancaster slowly lowered the chopper onto the landing pad. His jaw was locked tight, his hands held the controls securely and rage beat at his insides.
When he’d landed the bird on that roof, the pretty little doctor had sure been the last person he’d expected to see. But she’d spun toward him, her eyes wide and desperate behind the lenses of her glasses, and he’d realized that he was in some serious trouble.
She’d known who he was. Without even seeing his face, Tina had known. Maybe his voice had given him away. He hadn’t bothered to change accents with this particular group. He’d just wanted them to think he was a slow-talking, ex-soldier from Mississippi. A man with a grudge against the government. A man willing to do just about anything for cash.
Tina’s face had lit with hope when she’d seen him. Such a beautiful face it was, too. He’d found himself admiring it more and more during his visits to the doc at the main EOD office. She’d been all business, of course, checking his vitals, talking to him about stress in the field.
He’d been imagining her naked.
Before the blades had stopped spinning, Lee Slater was already out of the chopper and dragging Tina with him. The jerk still had that gun far too close to her for Drew’s peace of mind.
How am I supposed to get her out of here?
With narrowed eyes, Drew watched Tina and Lee vanish into the main house. More armed men followed them inside.
They were in the middle of Texas, at a dot on the map that most folks would never find. It wasn’t as if the cops were just going to rush in and rescue the kidnapped woman.
He was deep undercover. Working under the alias of Stone Creed. The men here—they were looking to cause as much chaos on U.S. soil as they possibly could. They were into drugs, into weapons and into wrecking the political powers that be.
And, in particular, it seemed that the men were looking to take out the EOD. Or, more specifically, they wanted to destroy Bruce Mercer.
Drew climbed from the chopper and checked his own gun.
“Can you believe it?” the excited voice asked from behind him.
Drew looked back just as Carl Monroe yanked off his ski mask. Yeah, that mask wasn’t exactly necessary anymore. Not since they were back on their own turf. They didn’t have to worry about unwanted eyes seeing them here.
Carl grinned. “We got the EOD director’s daughter!”
No, they hadn’t. Drew swallowed. Bruce Mercer did have a daughter, all right, but that daughter wasn’t Tina Jamison.
What would happen when the men realized that they’d taken the wrong woman?
She will become a dead woman.
He couldn’t let that happen. He’d been sent in to gather intel on this group, to determine just how much of a threat the individuals known as HAVOC posed—and, once his assessment had been made, his team was supposed to eliminate that threat.
It sure looked as if his timetable had just been accelerated.
“She sure is pretty,” Carl said. Like Lee, Carl was a Texas boy, born and bred. He was also very, very dangerous. Carl liked to use his knife—often. And, according to his file, Carl enjoyed watching his victims slowly die from their knife wounds. Torture and pain were all part of Carl’s twisted package.
“You should have seen her,” Carl continued, voice thickening, “when we found her in that hotel room. She was all tousled and—”
Drew whirled on him. “Are you going to help me secure the chopper?” His words rapped out. Fury had coiled in his gut. No way, no damn way, should Tina have been put at risk like this. At his first opportunity, he had to contact the other EOD agents assigned to the HAVOC mission. They needed to work an immediate extraction on her.
And if they didn’t, then he would.
Carl’s smile stretched. “You thought she was pretty, too, didn’t you? It’s those glasses... Sexy.”
He wanted to drive his fist into Carl’s face.
But Carl turned away and went to work on the chopper.
Drew exhaled slowly as he tried to bring his control back in check. He was still the new guy in this crew. Useful because he could fly anything—and kill anyone instantly. Sure, his dossier had been faked, but his skills were plenty real enough.
During his time in Delta Force, Drew had been turned into a lethal fighting machine. He didn’t need a weapon to take out a dozen men. He could do that just with—
A scream cut the night. Her scream.
Drew was running toward the main house before he could even think about his response.
The door was shut, so he just kicked his way right through it. The wood banged against the wall.
“Don’t!” Tina yelled. “Please, I—”
Her cry was abruptly cut off.
Drew felt the familiar ice encase his fury. That was the way it had always been for him. When it came time for a battle, he went ice-cold. No emotion. No room for mistake.
He’d been called a robot by some of his teammates before.
He’d been called a hell of a lot worse by his enemies.
Why had Tina stopped screaming?
Another door was in front of him. A tall, blond guy with a gun at his hip tried to block Drew’s path. “Stone, man, I don’t think they want you right now.”
Drew shoved the guy out of his way. He went in that room.
The first thing he saw was the blood. Fat drops that were sliding down Tina’s arm. Lee Slater stood next to her, a knife in his hand. “I think that’s what we need.”
In his mind, Drew saw himself rushing across the room and breaking the guy’s wrist. The knife would clatter to the floor, falling from Lee’s slack fingers. With him out of commission, Drew would turn on the other two men there. He could have them all on the floor in less than a minute.
But he didn’t attack. Not yet. Because he’d been given very specific orders from Bruce Mercer.
The job was top priority. The fear was that these men—men from the U.S., from Mexico and from parts of South America—had access to classified government intel. There had been a leak at the EOD just months before, and they were still tracking to determine just how much information had been taken from headquarters.
They’d followed the trail to HAVOC. Drew was supposed to be days away from meeting the group’s leader.
Getting an up-close audience with the man named Anton Devast wasn’t an easy task. Those who got close usually wound up getting killed.
Drew locked his jaw. “Why’d you cut her?”
They’d cut Tina and gagged her. The gag would explain why she’d stopped screaming. Damn it, the gag had been his suggestion, but he’d only said it to clue her in to the fact that she needed to stay quiet about him.
Her eyes—so green and bright—found his. There was a desperate plea in her gaze.
A plea that he couldn’t answer right then. Not if they wanted to both keep living.
“I was just showing her,” Lee said softly, “what would happen if she tried to escape. We can treat her well...” He lifted the knife. Blood coated the blade. “Or we can make this little stay turn into her worst nightmare.”
A tear leaked down Tina’s cheek. She had high cheekbones, a slightly pointed chin and the cutest damned nose with its spray of freckles.
Normally her face was full of soft color and life.
Right then, fear had etched its way across her face. He didn’t like for Tina to be afraid. Not one bit.
“You showed her,” Drew growled. “She got the message. Now put the knife up.”
Lee’s dark eyes narrowed. “I don’t take orders from you.”
Fine. Drew stalked toward him. He grabbed the guy’s wrist. Don’t break it, not yet. But the threat was there, and Lee would know it. “You think the boss would like it if you killed Mercer’s daughter? Seems to me she’s a tool that he can use. Not something to be damaged.”
Lee swallowed. The guy liked giving pain, but he couldn’t handle being on the receiving end of it. He was also afraid of Drew, mostly because Drew had gotten into HAVOC by fighting his way in. He’d taken down five men, left them bloody and broken. The initiation had been hell.
But so was life.
“It’s just a cut,” Lee said dismissively. “No big deal.”
“Don’t cut her again. If the boss wanted her, then the boss will get her.” Maybe he could use that. Surely, Devast would want to come in for a personal look at Mercer’s daughter.
That visit would give Drew his chance to eliminate the man.
After all, eliminating Anton Devast was his job. At his core, Drew was a killer.
Still holding Lee, Drew let his gaze return to Tina. He didn’t like seeing tears in her eyes.
And—her glasses were cracked. He let his hold on Lee tighten a little more. “I’ll take first watch on her,” Drew said.
Lee was trying to yank his hand free. Failing. “What?”
He hadn’t stuttered. “I’ll take first watch.” Because he didn’t trust anyone else with her. Definitely not Lee or Carl.
Lee’s eyes were angry slits, but he gave a grim nod. “Fine, you do that.” His short, red hair looked as if he’d raked his fingers through it. “You can stay with her while I get some sleep.”
He made his words sound like an order. Whatever. As long as the guy got out of there...
Drew released the man.
It only took an instant for Lee’s smirk to come back. “I’ll see you again soon, sweetheart,” he promised Tina. His gaze flickered to Drew. “And I’ll see you later, too, Stone.” A threat hung in the words.
He’d have to stay extra alert. The way Lee was eyeing him, Drew knew he might find a knife shoved into his own ribs during an unguarded moment.
Not like that would be the first time.
Drew lifted his hand and his fingers traced over the thick scar on his right cheek. “You sure will.” He made certain that his words held just as much of a threat as Lee’s had.
Actually they held more of a threat. Showing a weakness with these guys was a mistake, because they’d most definitely attack that weakness.
Drew didn’t move until Lee and his two cronies were out of the room. When the door shut behind them, he exhaled slowly.
Tina was still staring at him with her wide, desperate eyes.
He wanted to tell her that everything was going to be okay, but he couldn’t be sure listening devices weren’t in the room. When he’d first reached the compound, he’d found two bugs in his bunk room.
It only figured that there would be some in there, too.
He glanced toward the door. Even though Drew had said that he’d take first watch, Lee might have stationed a guard outside.
His attention slid back to Tina.
“Mumm-mph...” She jerked in the chair. Someone had tied her to the chair. Probably Lee.
He crossed to her side and knelt on the floor so that they’d be at eye level. “The ropes were tied too tight,” he muttered, feeling anger try to push past his control once more.
Can’t have that. Must maintain cool.
The other agents had him all wrong. They thought he was made of ice. That he didn’t feel when he went out on his missions.
The problem was that he felt too much. And if he didn’t control his fury... Then I’m too dangerous.
He loosened her binds. He glanced up at her, his gaze colliding with hers.
A crack ran across the right lens of her glasses, looking like a spider’s web. He reached up.
“Easy,” Drew murmured. “I’m just checking you out.”
He lifted the glasses away from her face.
She blinked at him.
Hell. She was just as sexy without the glasses as she was with them. He’d thought maybe it was just a hot-librarian-type thing working for him, but no. The woman was simply temptation.
He didn’t need temptation. He had a job to do.
She’s the job right now. The words whispered from within him.
He put her glasses on the nearby table.
“Mumph!” Ah, now Tina was sounding angry behind the gag. He wasn’t sure what would be better for her. Fear or anger. Unless they were careful, both might just get her killed.
He leaned toward her. Brought his mouth right to her ear just as he’d done before. Her scent, light, sweet strawberries, wrapped around him.
Because of Tina, he’d developed one serious addiction to strawberries over the past year. Not that she knew it. Not that she knew anything about him. To her, he was just another agent.
Another adrenaline junkie that she had to patch up and keep alive.
Only now it was his turn to keep her alive.
“Be very careful what you say,” he barely breathed the words against the delicate shell of her ear.
Was that shiver from fear? Had to be. In these circumstances, he was foolish to think it could be from anything else.
But, just in case, he filed that reaction away for future notice. Because he’d sure like to know every sensitive spot on Tina’s gorgeous body.
“They could be listening.” His mouth brushed across her ear.
She gave the faintest of nods.
Her smell was incredible.
He lifted his hands and undid the gag. The cloth dropped from her mouth.
Tina licked her lips and sucked in a deep gulp of air. “Thank you.”
His own mouth tightened. She shouldn’t be thanking him. He hadn’t saved her. “I’m going to patch up your arm.”
She blinked once more, and her gaze found his. She was still breathing deeply, gulping in air as if she’d been starved for it.
Her skin was porcelain pale and he wanted color staining her cheeks once more. He wanted the fear gone from her eyes.
Trust me. He mouthed the words to her.
After the faintest of hesitations, Tina nodded.
The ice melted a little around him. He turned away from her. Fumbled through the drawers in the room until he found some first-aid supplies. The men—and women—at the compound were always ready for battle, so that meant they had to be ready for the cleanup after that battle. He’d quickly learned that there were first-aid supplies scattered all around the place.
Tina didn’t wince when he began to clean her wound with an antiseptic cloth. “It’s not deep enough for stitches,” he said as he put the bandage on her arm. “You’re lucky.”
Both her brows shot up.
Fine. So “lucky” hadn’t been the best word to describe her current situation.
He grabbed a chair and pulled it toward her. She was still tied up, and he had to keep her that way or the others would wonder what the hell was happening. “You’re going to be all right.”
Tina’s gaze just stared back at him.
He realized that she didn’t believe him. Maybe that was good—because Drew hated making promises he couldn’t keep.
* * *
Bruce Mercer looked up from the files that were spread across his desk. His assistant, Judith Rogers, stood in the doorway. Judith hated buzzing him. She’d said once that buzzing was too impersonal for her, and she usually came in to tell him when he had a visitor.
So her standing there...walking in unannounced...that wasn’t unusual.
The fear in Judith’s eyes was unusual.
“Tina Jamison is missing,” Judith told him as she twisted her hands into fists. “I just got the call from an agent at her hotel. The lock on her door was broken, and Tina—she’s gone.”
Mercer didn’t let the expression on his face alter.
This situation had been one that he feared. He was playing a deadly game, and Tina could have just become a pawn in that game.
If he wasn’t careful, he might lose his pawn.
He might lose the whole damn game.
“Get me Dylan Foxx,” Mercer demanded. “Right now.” Because he was going to need agents in the field to work this case and to make sure that Tina survived the battle that was coming.
He’d foolishly positioned Tina right in the middle of that battle.
I’m sorry, Tina.
He didn’t make mistakes often, but when he did...they were deadly.