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Authors: Donna Michaels

Locke and Load

 

 

Locke and Load

 

Dangerous Curves Book 2

 

Donna Michaels

NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Author

LOCKE AND LOAD

Dangerous Curves Series/Book 2

 

Copyright © 2015 Donna Michaels

Cover Art by Donna Michaels © 2015
 

 

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author—except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine, newspaper, or on the web. For information, please contact the author via email at
[email protected]

 

 
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.

 

ISBN-13:
ISBN-10: 

 

Print edition October 2015

Book 2: Dangerous Curves Series

Former Naval Intelligence Officer Lt. Nicole Locke’s assignment to assist in a murder investigation, puts her face-to-face with the only man she ever loved—the man she was forced to jilt in order to save his life.

 

Det. Cage Burnett vows to do whatever it takes to bring down his partner’s killer, even work with the woman who crushed his heart four years earlier when she left him for another man. The dangerous investigation rekindles their desire, but when someone from Nikki’s past reappears and threatens Cage’s future, once again, Locke is loaded with determination to keep the man she loves alive.

 

 

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Dedication

 

To the Knight’s SEAL fans who wanted Nikki’s book. I appreciate your unending support! To my family, the HOODS, and my wonderful street team.

Chapter One

 

“T
he governor of Florida needs our help.”

Every muscle in Nicole Locke’s body tightened at once at her boss’s words. It was just a state. No big deal. She exhaled and headed for the freshly brewed coffee on the counter behind the conference table at the Knight Agency where she worked.  

Four years ago, she’d been forced to leave the Sunshine state, and although she no longer had threats hanging over her head, there was nothing there for her anymore. Her ex-fiancé had married, and she was content in the knowledge he was happy after what she’d been forced to do to him. She hadn’t come out exactly whole, but managed to make a clean start, thanks to Jameson Knight and the Knight Agency.

KA specialized in an assortment of assignments—infiltrate, retrieve, protect, and investigate. Not sanctioned by the government, the covert op agency wasn’t bound by their rules, nor did they have to worry about politics or being brought up in front of a congressional committee—all a plus in Nikki’s book. That and the fact, besides one male operative and a hacker, Jameson also employed five other females, all like her, former military, and survivors of hardship and loss.

Coffee in hand, she headed toward her boss who stood shoulders rigid, waiting for everyone at the round table situated near the back of their Alexandria warehouse. The unassuming building blended in with the neighboring factories and had become KA’s new home when they’d outgrown their old Georgetown location last year.

She settled into her chair marked “Lancelot.” Each spot was labeled after a roundtable knight, and represented their code names. Only used while communicating undercover, the names were rarely spoken.

Would they be required for this op?

She had more questions, but remained quiet, hoping one of the other knights caught the case. Chances were slim. Tarah, Sharon, and Kenzi, Jameson’s youngest daughter, were already out on assignments.

“What exactly does he need us to do?” Lisa Gentry asked, walking to the “Galahad” chair.

A dear friend she’d met during Naval Intelligence Officer training nearly a decade ago, the former NIO was a smart, beautiful brunette with mad research skills. She was also Jameson’s oldest daughter…and expecting his first grandchild early next year.

“Let me get that.” Sam Gentry, a former Navy SEAL turned KA operative, rushed close to pull out the chair and help his wife of seven months to sit down before taking the “Bors” seat on Lisa’s left.

Handsome, capable, and lethal, the man was extensively trained to handle any situation, but apparently had no clue how to deal with a newly pregnant wife.

Her friend rolled her eyes and patted her husband’s hand while a smile erased the annoyance from her face. “Thank you, honey, but I’m not disabled, you know.”

“I know.” Affection warmed his gray gaze. “But you’re carrying my baby, so you’d better get used to me on your six.”

A deep pang of envy hit Nikki, but she quickly pushed away the unwanted emotion.

Those two deserved to be happy.

The couple had dated years earlier, but parted when Jameson became Sam’s commander. Apparently, facing a cartel and a Russian mobster in order to save her from Santiago Rojas two years ago had reaffirmed their attraction.

“What gives, bossman?” TJ Lynch, their IT specialist, rocking a Hawaiian shirt, dropped into the “Percivale” chair across from Nikki. “We’ve never been hired by a governor before.”

The MIT graduate was Tarah’s twin brother, and once upon a time, had been in trouble with the law until Knight had recruited the ginger-haired computer genius and had the hacker’s Federal Prison sentence wiped out.

An indication their boss had friends in high places.

“Governor Patterson contacted me with two issues.” He gripped the back of the “Merlin” chair while he remained on his feet. A slight sprinkling of gray at his temples was the only indication of his middle age. He was still fit, sharp, and dangerous, and more than a few of D.C.’s political opportunists knew it was in their best interest to have Jameson Knight on their side.

Those that didn’t no longer resided in Washington.

“Two issues?” Brooke Hudson halted her assault on the heavy bag hanging in the corner of the warehouse and began to unwrap the tape from her knuckles.

A woman of few words, the former Army Special Forces soldier walked with the lethal grace of a tiger, similar to the one curled around a sword tattooed on her lower back.

Nikki didn’t know anyone more competent, deadly, or just than Brooke. The dark-haired beauty would do whatever it took to get the job done, even if it meant giving up a piece of her soul. Not only was the stunning woman their weapons specialist, preferring blade to gun, Brooke
was
a weapon, and the only one who understood what Nicole had gone through at the hands of a fanatic two years ago.

“Yes, two.” He nodded to the woman who slid into the “Excalibur” chair. “The murder of a Jacksonville detective, who happened to be the mayor’s brother-in-law.”

Jacksonville?

Relief eased the muscles bunched in her neck. The op was in
northern
Florida. Not Miami. Good. Still, Nikki hoped she got to sit the assignment out. Cage was in Florida. Even though the chances of running into him were slim, she’d prefer if her boss assigned another agent. She didn’t need to risk putting her ex-fiancé in danger. Seemed like an assignment Sam and Lisa could handle.

“The second is an anthrax issue.”

Or…maybe not.

That changed things. She didn’t want her pregnant friend anywhere near Florida now.

TJ straightened in his chair. “Anthrax? Where? I haven’t picked anything up.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at the bank of computers, modems, and monitors twinkling from inside his computer den.

Knight nodded. “That’s because Homeland has it locked down for the moment. The media hasn’t gotten wind. But you know that’s only a matter of time.” His lips thinned. “White powder was sent to a building in Jacksonville’s financial district. It was confirmed to be anthrax, but not before two people died.”

Her fingers tightened around her mug. Why did the innocent always have to pay for the ministering of a deranged mind? How could that possibly even be seen as a solution? She sipped her coffee and swallowed a curse. The unbalanced never made sense.

“Are the two issues related?” Sam broke the tense silence.

Their boss shrugged. “They aren’t sure.” His gaze shifted to her. “That’s where we come in.”

Shit. He
was
sending her.

“This requires an investigator and intelligence gatherer, and that means you, Nicole.” A flash of sympathy shot through his keen blue eyes, but disappeared just as fast. “Jacksonville PD is expecting you in two hours. Ask for a Captain Rivera. He’ll fill you in on the murder investigation.”

As much as she longed to ask him—no,
plead
with him—to send someone else, she never would. Nikki owed Jameson, and the team, for rescuing her from the pits of hell.

Refuse this mission? Never. She’d do anything for the Knight Agency.

Tamping down her misgivings, she held his gaze. “What about Homeland? Do I take on one or both of Florida’s issues?”

Jameson Knight always drilled it in their heads to anticipate and think a step ahead. Judging by the slight quirk of his lips, he was pleased by her question.

“We’ll do what we can to assist Homeland from here. Keep your eyes open for a connection, but you’re going to Florida to work on the murder case. As you can imagine, with the anthrax scare, the captain is shorthanded. He wants to solve the murder of one of his own.” He waited for her nod before he switched his attention to Brooke. “Reach out to your contacts and see if they’ve heard anything that could help Homeland.”

“Yes, sir.” The woman nodded, already dialing her cell phone.

Another
anticipate
move. Before joining KA, the proficient female had worked for a different elite outfit. Her code name had been
Karma
.

Appropriate. You get on the wrong side of Agent Hudson, and Karma most certainly could be a bitch
and
bite you in the—

“Dig deeper.” Knight turned to TJ. “Now that we know what to look for, you might find something overlooked.”

The long-haired computer wiz drummed on the table before lifting his hand and pretending to shoot a finger gun. “You got it, bossman.” Smiling, he rose to his feet and sauntered across the floor. “Time to create magic in my cyber sanctuary.”

Reassuring herself Jacksonville was hundreds of miles from Miami and her ex-fiancé, she got up from the table to wash out her mug. The mission was cut and dry. It should be fine. Going to Northern Florida would in no way jeopardize Cage’s wedded bliss…or his safety. Nicole was just putting her mug back in the cupboard when her boss drew up next to her by the counter.

“You’re going to do fine.” His confident blue gaze bored into hers, and she wasn’t sure if his words were an order or a statement. “I wouldn’t send you if I thought otherwise.”

She blew out a breath. “I know.” But she couldn’t shake the feeling there was something more. Something he wasn’t telling her.

“Governor Patterson’s good friends with the mayor, and pledged his help. He sent his jet. It’ll be landing at the base in a half hour,” he informed. “Should be enough time to grab your things.”

She nodded. “I always keep a bag packed.”

Another part of the
anticipate
rule. The fact she lived seven miles from the warehouse and a block from the military base they sometimes flew in and out of would assure her arrival before the jet.

“Good.” His head bobbed.

“Nikki, wait.” TJ rushed from his computer den with a beautiful silver bracelet. “This is the perfect time to try out the communicators Kenzi and I have been perfecting.”

Knight’s youngest daughter was a former Army National Guardsman with an aptitude for electronics. The petite woman also possessed the ability to get in and out of places undetected. She was their retriever. And the only one who pushed the boss to his limits.

“You remember how to use it, right?” TJ asked as he secured the device around her wrist. “It’s waterproof, fireproof, bulletproof…just about
anything
proof.”

She eyed the silver bangles connected to a medium-sized heart, which opened to an electronic face full of options. They’d tested it many times. She lifted her gaze to his. “Yes, I remember. You’ve only put us through thirty drills.”

“Thirty-four,” he corrected with a grin. “But you can’t put a number on safety.”

Brooke approached, slipping her phone into her pocket. “TJ, access my email. My contact is sending us all he knows.”

“Will do, my little Karma-chameleon.” With a wink, he was off to his sanctuary while a ghost of a smile tugged at Brooke’s mouth.

The brunette glanced at her and sobered. “You’ve got this. You’ll be fine.”

There was enough resilience shining in the woman’s eyes to fill Nikki with the confidence she needed to nod and mean it.

As Brooke turned and headed for TJ’s sanctuary, her boss grabbed a mug, but instead of filling it with coffee, he removed a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and proceeded to pour out a healthy shot. Her mind worked to remember the last time she’d seen him drink alcohol before mid-morning and came up blank.

An anthrax scare wasn’t enough to test the nerves of Jameson Knight, and it couldn’t be his youngest, since Kenzi was away on assignment. She frowned.

What set him off?

“Here,” he said, shoving the mug into her hands. “You’re going to need this.”

The stiff drink was for
her
?

She laughed. “Sir, I’m okay to fly. I don’t need liquid encouragement.”

“It’s not for the flight.”

Her amusement disappeared a second before her heart dropped to her stomach. “Then what is it for?”

“This.” Lisa waved a file as she approached, along with her husband. “Trust my father, Nikki. Drink up.”

Red flags spiked through her mind, stiffening her shoulders and stealing her breath. She glanced at Sam, but his deadpan gray gaze gave nothing away. The urge to panic gripped so tight she shook. “What aren’t you telling me?” She studied the quiet trio.

Lisa touched her arm. “It was Cage’s partner who was murdered.”

Her head snapped back from the force of her heart rocking in her chest. “What? How can that be?” She snapped her gaze to her boss. “You said it was the murder of a Jacksonville detective.”

He nodded. “It was.”

“But Cage is in Miami.”

Lisa’s fingers slid around her arm. “Not anymore. He transferred to Jacksonville over a year ago. It’s all in here.” She set the file on the counter next to the untouched whiskey.

Whiskey…

She grabbed the mug and drank every drop before setting it back down. Dammit. This was bad. Very bad. If only she could refuse the mission.

She tried. Even got as far as opening her mouth, but nothing came out.

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