Fatal Truth: Shadow Force International (3 page)

She was definitely all knowing. Emit took his foot off the brake and urged Rihanna, the name he’d given his favorite vehicle, forward. She was kitted out with all the latest security stuff, enabling her to withstand bullets, grenades, and even gas attacks. He and Cal had even given her her own private cache of weapons hidden under the back seat.

With her black body, tinted windows, and miles and miles of chrome, she probably looked like a demon from hell to Trace Hunter. Could be why the man braced even more as they crawled back up the hill.

Cal glanced at the display on the dash. “Bet Hunter’s balls are the size of marbles right now. Forty-two degrees and he’s wearing nothing but his ink and his Underroos.”

Afraid the former SEAL would flee into the woods, Emit kept Rihanna at a slow ten mph pace. “Asshat refused the clothes I bribed the guard to give him. Our introduction and instructions on where to find us were sewn inside.”

“And you brought me along on this venture because…?”

“You’re former Teams. I’m not. Thought he might be more cooperative if you made the offer to come work for us.”

They were fifty yards away now. Hunter stood straight as an arrow, showing off his muscled chest and tree-trunk legs, a definite snarl on his face as if daring them to take a strike at him.

Cal yawned, stretching as he continued to read Hunter’s file. As head of Emit’s new Shadow Force team, Cal had been back in the States from a tactical engagement in Costa Rica for less than an hour. “Doesn’t seem like the cooperative type. Says here Hunter was in solitary confinement fifty-one times in sixteen months.” Cal shook his head. “Fifty-one? Jesus. He also sent a handful of guards and over a dozen inmates—highly trained former Special Forces and Spec Ops, just like him—to the west block for medical treatment.”

Emit shrugged. “I don’t argue with Beatrice. She said the guy is perfect for SFI and we need men, even plain old bodyguards, since our client intake for Rock Star skyrocketed after you went
Die Hard
on us and saved the president in front of a packed house a few months ago.”

Cal got busy putting the file away, seemingly uncomfortable about being reminded of his heroics. “I saved the president before I joined your team. Besides, no one knows I work for you now. I’ve become yesterday’s news and that’s the way I want it. You built the security side of the business into a multi-million dollar company all on your own, and it doesn’t hurt that you’re providing bodyguards to all those young, pretentious actors on the West Coast who get their mugs on the front of
People
magazine every week. You should be happy with the notoriety.”

Emit
was
happy. Business wasn’t just good, it was booming. Protection services were the rage for Hollywood starlets, rock ’n’ roll bands, government officials, and the growing population of billionaires. Shit, at this rate, he was going to need his
own
protection detail.

But Shadow Force International—that was his dream. Ever since he’d watched
The A-Team
reruns on TV with his old man, he’d wanted to take guys like Cal and send them to hotspots around the world to help people.

Cal stared out the windshield. “Do I want to know why the government sent Hunter to Witcher?”

Men like Cal and the others—all previous Special Forces—had a unique set of job skills and the mental focus for the work, whether they were guarding rich actors or doing secret paramilitary missions in foreign countries.

If the government got pissy with them, however, the former SEALs ended up silenced and abandoned by their country. “He worked for Command & Control, just like Beatrice.”

Cal let go a soft whistle. “They turned on him like they did her?”

Emit shrugged. “Hunter knows something. Something big. They stuffed him in Witcher to keep him quiet. Beatrice has been trying to find out, but her sources won’t say. Or don’t know.”

“Why not kill him?”

“Might be why he’s ended up in solitary so many times. He was fighting for his life.”

A tight silence descended. Beatrice, who’d worked for the top secret Command & Control, had been in the same situation. Luckily for all of them, she and Cal had outwitted the assassin sent to kill her, but Cal still held a grudge. She was pregnant with his kid now and Emit had never seen a man more protective of his wife and future family. He knew the feeling. No one better touch his family either.

“Do I want to know how you got him out?” Cal said.

Emit shook his head. “Nope. Let’s just say Beatrice has contacts and talents you and I can only dream of.”

Cal looked indignant. “I have talents.”

“We all do. That’s what makes our team strong. You and Hunter should have no trouble bonding.”

Cal and Trace Hunter had a lot in common—they were both SEALs the government had turned its back on and labeled rogue agents. Emit only had one Shadow Force team of five men; Cal was the leader. Requests for private intelligence and rescue missions were backlogged and some of the people in need were running out of time. Emit needed a second team and fast. As he eased Rihanna closer to the spot where Hunter was making his stand, he hoped he was looking at his next team leader.

Braking, he slapped Cal on the shoulder and said, “You’re up.”

Cal blew out a breath and rolled his shoulders. “I have the feeling this is going to get bloody before it’s all over.”

“We need him, and if he stays out here alone, whoever stuck him in Witcher is going to catch up with him.”

Reaching behind the seat, Cal grabbed his overnight bag and a white sack filled with fast food. Emit had figured Cal needed some good ol’ American fat and grease on his return from Columbia. Cal hadn’t eaten any of it, complaining he’d picked up a bug down south.

“What’s your plan?” Emit asked.

“Food, clothes, the essentials.” Cal opened the door and winked at him. “Just simple kindness, bro.”

T
RACE STIFFENED A
fraction more when a man emerged from the Escalade. Two inches over six feet, probably one-ninety under his jacket. Moved like a soldier, his buzz cut military issue.

One hand was buried in the top of a soft-sided duffel, the other held a white paper sack with a red logo.

Trace distrusted him on sight.

There was no obvious weapon, so unless the guy planned to beat him to death with the bags, Trace decided it was safe to satisfy his curiosity. “What do you want?”

“Name’s Cal Reese. Just got back from an overnight op out of the country and didn’t use my change of clothes.” He tossed the duffel on the ground between them. “Thought you might like some pants and a shirt since it’s forty fucking degrees out here and you’re”—he motioned at Trace’s body—“slightly underdressed.”

“I didn’t ask who you were, I asked what you wanted.”

Reese held out the paper sack. “Lunch?”

A whiff of hamburger and greasy fries wafted from the bag, and damn if Trace’s nose didn’t flare. Fast food from his favorite chain—a place he hadn’t seen in eighteen months. He’d dreamed about that bacon double-cheeseburger, and each time he was about to bite into it, he’d wake up. How did this guy know?

Had to be a trick. Trace forced his starved senses to shut down so he could get back on track. “Who do you work for?”

The paper sack landed on top of the guy’s go-bag. “Not who you think.”

“You don’t know what I think.”

Reese nodded and he looked off in the distance. “I feel you, man. The government turned on you. You saw or heard something you weren’t supposed to, and now you’ve been branded a traitor and sent to a hellhole in the middle of Nowhere, Virginia.”

Something pinged in Trace’s brain. Cal Reese. Callan Reese, the SEAL who’d saved the president a few months ago. The story had been all over the news and, even inside Witcher, the inmates had been buzzing about it.

Now Trace really hated him.
Fucking bastard should have let Norman die.

But heroes, real heroes, always put their life on the line for their commander-in-chief.

“My boss and a few others pulled some major strings to get you out,” Reese continued. “But listen up, you’ll never truly be free. Someone will be gunning for you, more so now that you’ve slipped through the system. We can help you disappear for good without you actually ending up on a deserted island or dead.”

The smell of the food teased Trace’s nose again, making it hard to concentrate. He’d been surviving on little more than bread and water in solitary.

Walk away
.

He knew he should, but he was rooted to the spot.

One more minute
. He really did want to know what this guy was up to. “And in return?”

“We have a job for you. Best job around, if you ask me.”

A job. Of course. There was the rub. They thought they knew everything about him, that’s why they were here.

“I don’t kill people anymore.” He shot Reese and the guy in the Escalade a scalding look. “Unless they get in my personal space.”

Point taken, Reese held up a hand and took a subtle step backward. “We’re not here to force you into anything, and we don’t expect you to kill people. Not many people anyway, and certainly not innocents. If you work for Shadow Force International, every operation is off the books but we take matters of life and death seriously. We don’t believe in collateral damage.”

Shadow Force International? Trace had heard rumors inside Witcher, but then he’d heard rumors about mysterious paramilitary groups in there on a daily basis. Everyone wanted to believe that some Hollywood-inspired black ops team was going to crash through the concrete walls and rescue them from their dismal existence, giving them a new life.

“We’re looking for a team leader for a second Shadow team.” Reese rubbed his hands together, blew on them. “You don’t have to commit to anything right now. My card’s in the bag, along with some money, a couple of burn phones, and an unregistered, untraceable gun. It’s yours, the whole thing, whether you join us or not.”

Fuck, and all he wanted was that goddamn cheeseburger.

And maybe the clothes
.

Reese held out a hand. “Good luck, man.”

Trace stared at the outstretched hand. For some stupid reason, his own hand seemed to have a brain of its own and reached out to shake it.

Reese walked toward the vehicle, but stopped after a couple of feet and turned back. “I know about Command & Control. They tried to kill my wife. She’s the one who found you and picked you to join our team…and she’s never wrong. About anyone or anything. Give it some thought.”

At the mention of C&C, Trace’s insides went as cold as his nose and his fingers. Few people in the world knew about the group, and those handpicked for it rarely knew each other.

But Trace was fairly certain he knew the woman in question. “What did you say your wife’s name is?”

Reese smiled. “I didn’t.”

Trace watched as Reese climbed into the Escalade. Watched the vehicle drive away. Snatching up the bag of food, he found the burger and ripped off the foil wrapper. It had cooled but was still the most delicious thing he’d had in his mouth since his last night as a free man.

Once he finished the burger, he opened the duffle and dressed. There were even shoes. Half a size too small, but he didn’t care.

As Trace fingered the white business card inside with nothing but a phone number on it, he realized that Callan Reese had given him more than a survival kit.

He might have given him a lifeline too.

Witcher Prison

T
HE WOMAN MOVED
through the prison with purpose, ignoring the guards accompanying her and the catcalls of the prisoners as she passed the cells in the north wing—the most dangerous and violent housed inside these walls—on her way to see the one man ON16 had assured her could help.

A flash of her credentials and she was buzzed through the gate to the next section where the man was waiting in an interrogation room. Immediately, the cement floors gave way to carpet. The walls were painted. The carpet was a dark industrial blue and the walls were dull yellow, hardly an improvement, but anything was better than the depressing gray that covered everything in the prison section.

Her badge was scanned before she was led to an interrogation room. As she waited for the guard to open the door, she took a breath and steeled her mind. The clock was running. She had twenty minutes, tops, before her boss would know she was here and come after her.

After
him
.

She tugged at the hem of her suit jacket, a nervous habit. One she’d long ago lost through endless training. Yet, on the brink of her impending death, her training seemed a moot point. She’d foolishly believed she could outrun and outsmart the government who’d created her.

Maybe she
could
run and stay alive, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to stay in America, doing her job, and able to see her family and friends like normal. She didn’t run from threats. Wouldn’t run from this one if she could find another way.

Blackmail was the only option unless she wanted to conspire to kill the president. She couldn’t do it herself and, even with all the nefarious and downright crazy assassins she knew, none would touch that particular operation.

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