Authors: Tara Janzen
“We need to bring J.T. in first, secure him,” he said to the blonde. “Then we’ll go after Lancaster.”
“No.” She was adamant, her arms crossing over her chest, her chin firming up, her gaze meeting his with mutinous intensity. Her name was Skeeter Bang-Hart, and out of all the bad girls in the world, she was his. “We go after Lancaster now, take this party to him, give him something to worry about besides trying to kill J.T., and you, and probably the rest of us while he’s at it. He needs to go
, Dylan. He needs to go down as hard and as fast as we can make it happen, and SDF can make it happen pretty damn hard and fast.”
She wanted blood. She’d wanted it since she’d found the invoices deep-sixed in the no-access files he’d
hijacked off an ultra-secure computer in Washington, D.C., but Dylan wasn’t going to let her have it, not yet.
He shook his head. “This party started eight weeks ago in Paraguay, in Conroy Farrel’s compound on the Tambo River, and it’s going to end here, at Steele Street, when we have him back. Then we’ll take Lancaster out.”
She crossed her legs, tightened her arms, and looked at him long and hard. “You lost him in Paraguay, Dylan, you and Hawkins and Creed and Zach, all four of you, even after Creed hit him with a tranquilizer dart damn near big enough to drop an elephant. The girl was a secondary target at best, and if he doesn’t want her back, we’ve got nothing.”
Count on Skeeter to lay the failure of their last mission on the line, but she was wrong about the girl.
“He wants her.” Guaranteed. “You saw her. She’s not worried. She hasn’t been worried from the beginning. Angry, yes, but not scared. She knows he’s coming for her, and she doesn’t think we have a chance in hell of stopping him. That he might fail hasn’t crossed her mind, and four days ago, she started actively looking for him, actively preparing for her escape. He’s here now, Skeet, and I need you here, too, you and Gillian. This isn’t the time to be splitting the team up. We need everybody on board, everybody in place. How’s Cherie doing with the changes on the security system?” Cherie Hacker, a world-class computer nerd and electronic security expert for Steele Street, had been fine-tuning the building ever since they’d brought Scout Leesom to Denver.
J.T. was going to be thinking about how to get inside, and Dylan had decided to make damn sure he could, almost at will. When he hadn’t shown up in the first four weeks after the botched mission in Paraguay, Dylan had decided to loosen the security here and there and tighten
it in other places, hoping to lure him into making his move. In effect, Dylan had left half the building unlocked. There was risk in the plan, but if he’d thought it would bring J.T. in, he’d have laid a trail of bread crumbs from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, straight to Steele Street’s front door.
“She’s got all the outside doors wired into one set of controls, including most of the garage doors, and she’s almost finished wiring the elevators,” Skeeter said. “We should get down to the office. Cherie’s got another shakedown planned in an hour.”
He checked his watch. “What about her Quick Mart runs—how are those going?”
“Right on schedule, every day,” Skeeter assured him.
The Quick Mart runs were a long shot, sending Cherie out for coffee, making it look like the building was wide open for people to just come and go as they pleased. It was more bait, a low-percentage shot compared to the high-priced piece on the tenth floor, but Dylan was putting everything he had into play. If he didn’t get to J.T. first, Lancaster would, and that was a possibility he wasn’t willing to accept.
“Who’s on the street with her today?”
“Zach,” she said.
Zachary Prade was one of the original chop shop boys. An ex-CIA agent, he’d been so deeply undercover in the drug trade at one point that Dylan had lost track of him for years. Zach had “been there, done that” in dozens of hellholes around the world. He could more than handle Cherie’s coffee run.
Dylan stood up and offered Skeeter his hand, and after a moment of meeting his gaze, she took it and let him pull her to her feet.
He held her there for a moment, then cupped the side of her face with his palm and leaned down to take her
mouth with his. The bad girl was all his, and she proved it with her kiss, melting into his arms, holding him close as he slid his hand down her neck and over her breasts, before letting it come to rest low on her belly. Yes, this girl was his, for now and forever.
Deep down, he knew she was scared for all of them, for what their investigation had uncovered and what it could mean for their future, but she would obey. He didn’t have a doubt. There’d be no takedown of Randolph Lancaster until he gave the order, and he would when the time was right. Chances were, the team would survive Lancaster’s betrayal despite the damage he’d done.
Conroy Farrel was a different matter. The chances of all of them surviving a live capture of the beastly creature J.T. had become were far, far slimmer. He was a warrior at heart and a monster by design—and there wasn’t an operator at Steele Street who didn’t know it.
Ketamine hydrochloride. Special K. Monkey Morphine delivered in an automatic syringe shot out of a .22-caliber rimfire rifle. He knew the drill.
Conroy Farrel rubbed the side of his neck where he’d been darted two months ago in Paraguay. With all the cutting-edge psychopharmaceuticals pumping through his bloodstream, he would have thought he could handle a few cc’s of the date-rape drug.
Think again, Con, old boy
The ketamine, a hallucinogenic animal tranquilizer, had damn near twisted him up and tranquilized him into the fifth dimension for weeks, and the guys who had doped him lived across the street from where he was standing in a Denver, Colorado, alley. Worse, far worse than the doping, they’d stolen his girl.
He’d come six thousand miles to get her back.
Con let his gaze slide up the length of the wildest, most contraption-like freight elevator he’d ever seen. It crawled up the side of the building at 738 Steele Street, all iron and steel, looking like a gothic suspension bridge set on end and, somehow, oddly, familiar—damned familiar. Shrouded in the shadows cast by the setting sun, all he could think was that the elevator reminded him of the bridge that spanned the Kwai River just outside
Kanchanaburi in western Thailand—not that he liked to think about Thailand too often. Bangkok had been nothing short of brutal on him, half a breath away from the deep sleep. Or maybe less than half a breath. Resurrection, he was sure, was the only thing standing between him and eternity.
And the only thing standing between him and his girl was the building across the street. If she was in there, he was going to get her, and if she wasn’t in there, he was going to get whoever was and ask them once where they’d taken her—only once. Scout was tough, as tough as she’d needed to be to survive alone in Southeast Asia, before he’d finally tracked her down on the streets of Bangkok. They’d celebrated her eighteenth birthday in Rangoon, her nineteenth in Vientiane, her twentieth in Phnom Penh, her twenty-first in Da Nang, and her twenty-second in Amsterdam—a promise he’d made her father, Garrett Leesom, a soldier like him, one of the world’s warriors whose last breath had been wrung out of him in the same hellhole that had all but killed Con.
Yeah, Scout was tough, like her father. These thugs on Steele Street wouldn’t have what it took to break her. But he had what it took to break them, and it would all come to bear on every single one of them, starting with a guy named Dylan Hart, until he had Garrett’s daughter back.
He reached into his pocket, felt the business card there, but didn’t pull it out. He didn’t need to pull it out. The words on the card had been burned into his memory the instant he’d seen them:
DYLAN HART, UPTOWN AUTOS, WE ONLY SELL THE BEST, 738 STEELE STREET, DENVER, COLORADO
. He’d found the card on his kitchen table in Paraguay the day they’d taken Scout.
These boys knew he was coming. Hell, they’d left him an engraved invitation—and they weren’t car salesmen. He didn’t give a damn what the card said.
No. They were operators of the highest order. They’d done what no one else had come close to accomplishing in six years: They’d gotten the drop on him. He hoped they’d enjoyed their momentary success. He hoped it had gone straight to their heads.
He shifted his attention to the roof of the building opposite the alley to 738 Steele Street, the Bruso-Campbell Building. The Bruso was a story taller than 738, a good vantage point.
Con couldn’t see him, but he knew Jack Traeger was up there on top of the Bruso, manning the listening post they’d set up, a laser mike sighted on one of the banks of windows fronting 738. No one could see Jack, and no one would, not until it was too late.
Con checked his watch—6:30 p.m.—then glanced back to the building. Right on cue, a classic piece of Sublime Green American muscle from 1971, a Dodge Challenger R/T, rolled out of the seventh floor onto the sleekly modern freight elevator on the opposite side of the building from the gothic contraption. Actually, rolled wasn’t quite the word. Lurched was more like it. He and Jack had been watching 738 for four days, and the list of rare iron they’d accumulated was nothing short of amazing. These Steele Street assholes knew their cars. He had to give them that.
What he didn’t know was why anyone with a car like the Challenger would let some ditzy-looking redhead abuse it every day at 6:30 p.m. She was pretty in a skinny sort of way, but she couldn’t drive worth beans. Fortunately, she never went more than three blocks to the closest convenience store, where she parked in a small lot next door and went inside to buy a pack of cigarettes, a couple of candy bars, and a machine-brewed double-shot latte. Then she’d get back in the Challenger and lurch her way out of the parking lot and back three blocks to 738 Steele Street.
Her name was Cherie.
He’d followed her into the Quick Mart once and had Jack follow her in once. The clerk and she were on a first-name basis, and from their chatter, he and Jack had figured out that she was some kind of computer tech.
She was also predictable.
The weak link in the Steele Street chain.
Every day she’d exited the building at 6:30 p.m. and returned within half an hour. Con needed her to do it only one more time.
While the Challenger made its descent to the street, he turned and started walking toward the convenience store, turning south on Wazee Street and making his way through all the folks leaving work late and hitting the bars early. This section of the city was called LoDo, for lower downtown. It had remnants of industry and a bit of ghetto to the north and enough restored old buildings to the south to qualify as a historical district, all of them renovated into restaurants, boutiques, bars, bookstores, cafés, art galleries, and architectural antique shops. On a late-spring evening, it was crowded with cars and people, office people, city people … beautiful people.
He slowed his steps for a second, and then another, his gaze locking on a woman a block away
—very beautiful people
He’d always had a soft spot for slinky brunettes, and this one moved like a cat, her long, straight hair tossed over her shoulder, lifting in the light breeze, her strides supple and easy.
Always had a soft spot for slinky women, from way back when
Yeah, always. That was a definite skip in his cylinders. A man with no more than six years’ worth of memories to fill out his scorecard had a damn sketchy concept of
Sketchy or not, though, she fit the bill, all legs and silky dark hair, slender curves wrapped in a short, golden sheath of a dress, very short. A leopard-print belt cinched the dress in at her waist, and she had jungle bangles on her left wrist, three of them: zebra print, tiger striped, and ebony. Wild girl. All the way. A short-cropped black leather jacket, very sleek, very stylish, topped the outfit, and each of her strides was taken in a pair of ankle-high, high-heeled, black suede boots. Large, black designer sunglasses covered half her face, and she had a big, slouchy, zebra-striped purse slung over her shoulder.
She looked like a model and walked like she owned the street, and there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that she did, especially this one.
As she crossed 19th, the clouds broke behind her and a shaft of sunlight caught the gold hoops in her ears, throwing glinting sparks of light into the shadows behind the lenses of her glasses. For a tenth of a second, he could see her eyes—not the color but the shape, the slight tilt of the outside edges and the thick sweep of her lashes.
No one else could have seen so much with so little, but his senses were ramped up, awareness hard-wired into his every cell the same way the muscles in his body were ramped up and hard-wired for speed and strength and reaction times that could be measured in hundredths of a second.
He didn’t take any personal credit for being so ripped. That was the way they’d made him, to be damn near indestructible, and he was. Dr. Souk had been the mechanic, but the orders for the torture he and Garrett had suffered in the name of demented science and the never-ending search for the perfect warrior had come down from a man in Washington, D.C., the spymaster. He was the brains behind some of the blackest operations ever
to come out of the CIA and the Department of Defense, Con’s nemesis, a man who pulled strings across half a dozen of the United States’ most clandestine agencies. He had a lot of names, but his given name was Randolph Lancaster, and getting it had cost more than one man his life.
Con had no regrets. Everyone in the game was playing on the same field, and everyone knew his life was at stake. Politics and war were just different names for power, and the price of power was predictably high and could be precisely measured—in dollars, yen, euros, rubles, riyals, and blood.
Keeping his pace steady, he allowed himself the luxury of letting his gaze travel over the jungle girl—urban jungle. She was “city” from the top of her head to the discreet black leather straps wrapped around the ankles of her boots. If beauty had an edge, she was it, the gloss of sophistication highlighting her attitude and the toughness he saw in the way she carried herself, in her awareness of her space. The sidewalk was crowded, but she had a way of not letting anybody get too close. He knew it wasn’t an accident, the way she kept herself apart, because he had the same skill, the same instinct. It was survival learned the hard way.