Authors: Tara Janzen
Way too damn close.
He dug in his pocket and pulled out a fistful of pills, feeling a sick twist of pain eddying into life at the base of his skull—the headache from hell. Green, blue, red, yellow, purple, orange, every color was a path to salvation. All he had to do was choose the right ones, and nobody did that better than he. Skull cracking open was best dosed with two of the red gelcaps, the gut-churning symptom of impending doom needed a yellow.
And over and over and over again, from one month to the next, from one week to the next, and especially since the ketamine, from one day to the next he needed more and more pills just to maintain the status quo.
It wasn’t a good sign, and he knew it.
He picked the brightly colored red and yellow gelcaps out of his palm and tossed them in his mouth before shoving the rest back in his pocket.
. He was so fucked. These guys knew more about him than he did, and he couldn’t think of a better way to get himself killed tonight, because he would not be taken alive. Not ever, not by anyone. Been there, done that for endless eons of pain under Souk’s tender care. Capture was not an option, and yet he was here, in their lair. The fools. Whatever he’d been before, he wasn’t that now, not even close, and this game was played only one way: for keeps. They had Scout, and he’d come to get her back.
The tiny twist of pain in his medulla oblongata curled tighter, squeezed harder, and he closed his eyes.
Yeah, right, focus on the mission—if you can make it through the next couple of breaths
. He lowered his chin toward his chest and tried to ease the pain tightening and twisting and exploding in increasingly larger
bursts where his spine met his brain. Streaks of light flashed across the darkness behind his eyelids—not a good sign, but not the worst.
Then he got the worst—or damn close to it.
An elevator door opened somewhere off to his right, and he heard the sound of footsteps, of someone entering the garage.
, Jane thought, coming to a stop and looking around at all the cars parked everywhere. As far as she knew, the elevator from the main entrance only went to one floor, and this wasn’t it. She was supposed to be at the main office, not in the garage, but she was definitely in the garage.
Letting her gaze slide over all the automotive muscle on display, she was impressed as hell, as usual. This was where the big bad boys kept all their biggest baddest toys.
She’d been working at the Toussi Gallery for Superman’s wife for about six years or so, managing it for the last two, but other than her first unexpected visit, she’d only been inside 738 Steele Street a dozen or so times.
The place was very cool, a whole huge floor full of old Chevys, and Dodges, and Fords
—and under any other circumstances, she’d be looking around. But she was here on a mission, and she needed to get up to the office.
Walking over toward a Mustang named Babycakes, she took her phone out of her purse to give Superman another call, let him know she’d ended up in the wrong place, when something caught her eye—movement.
Next to Corinna.
A guy—tall, dark, probably handsome, and probably
Christian Hawkins. She started toward him, reaching back in her purse and taking Conroy Farrel’s wallet out, curious as hell to see what Hawkins made of it, especially when he saw the guy’s photo on the Paraguayan driver’s license.
“Do we have Brandt on the phone yet?” Dylan asked, making a point of not pacing.
“No, but I’ve got movement in the northeast quadrant of the seventh floor,” Skeeter said from her console of security camera monitors. “I’m putting it up on your screen.”
Dylan watched the picture appear on his computer and swore under his breath.
“Jane Linden.” Skeeter identified the woman walking toward Babycakes at the same time as he did.
“Hacker!” Dylan called out to the red-haired woman huddled over a computer and a double-shot latte at the far end of the office.
Hawkins was already coming around his desk and heading for the door. “I’ll go get her.”
Cherie Hacker looked up over her computer with the slightly glassy-eyed gaze she got when she was deep in the guts of a program.
“Yes, boss?” she said.
“Did you shut down my elevator?” It was a rhetorical question, and he didn’t wait for an answer. “Get it back up and running—now. Creed, status?” he said, keying his mike.
“I see her, Dylan.” The Jungle Boy’s voice was calm in his ear, smoothly steady. “She’s entering the garage at two o’clock.”
“Do you still have a shot?”
“Superman is coming out to get her. If J.T. moves on her …” He paused, thinking, running through his options
at light speed and not coming up with anything he liked, which only left the option he didn’t like.
“Say again, Dylan. I didn’t copy.” He heard Creed in his ear.
“If he moves on her … take him down.”
. He didn’t look over at Skeeter. She knew as well as he did that the risk had to be taken.
“Status all,” Dylan said, speaking to the rest of the team.
“Quinn, second floor clear, coming up to seven in the east stairwell.”
“Travis, third floor clear, coming up to seven in the south stairwell.” The Angel Boy gave his status and location.
“Zach here. I’m still on Wazee, and I think we’ve got company from the Company out here, cruising our neighborhood.”
By “Company,” Zach meant CIA, and that was the last damn thing they needed, but if anybody could have spotted his former employers, it was Zachary Prade.
“We have an enemy at the gate?” Dylan asked.
“Copy, Dylan, a black Mercedes.”
“Stay with them. Everyone else, stand by.” He looked over at Skeeter, who was looking at him.
“What enemy at the gate?” she asked.
“CIA,” he said.
“Lancaster,” she countered, and Dylan knew the odds were stacked way in her favor for being right. “What do you want to do?”
It was his call. Bottom line, it was always his call, and this one, like all the others, was about percentages and odds. Dylan didn’t know what the Halox might do to J.T., but he knew J.T. didn’t have a chance if Lancaster
got hold of him. None. Randolph Lancaster had shown his hand, and it was death and destruction. Atlas Exports proved his treason beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But he also knew Conroy Farrel, and Farrel had been outrunning and outgunning Lancaster for six years. Odds were, he could do it again today, unless they screwed him up with the Halox and it still didn’t drop him hard enough for them to capture him—like what had happened with the ketamine.
“Creed,” he said into his mike. “Stand by. Unless J.T. poses an imminent threat to Jane or Superman, I want you to hold red. We’re going to have to bring him in the hard way.”
There was another pause.
“Copy. I tried the hard way in Paraguay and got my clock cleaned.”
Yeah, Dylan remembered, but in this game, nothing was ever easy.
Footsteps, one after the other, drawing nearer
—the gender given away by the light
snap snap snap
of small, sharp heels.
Gritting his teeth, Con covered his face with his hand and leaned against the doorframe of the GTO, everything inside him resisting the disaster building in his head—the trail of pain widening and deepening and plowing a path through his skull, heading toward the soft tissue of his brain. He
succumb to annihilation—
never … never … never
. Through that door lay madness.
Been there, done that, not going back.
He drew in a long breath, fighting the pain, waiting for the pills to kick in, and he listened.
She was headed straight for him.
He took another breath, and her scent hit him like a freight train, sensual, female, and feral
, the woman from the street, the long-haired brunette with the slinky curves and the catlike grace.
His head came up, and he opened his eyes a bare slit. White light streaked across his vision, but he could see her coming toward him—phone held to her ear, her attention on him, a half smile of recognition curving her mouth. She knew him, or thought she did, and for a single, perfectly clear moment, he had only one thought: that he
wanted to know her, too. Whoever she was, he wanted the memory of her to come back to him.
And if that wasn’t the kind of crap that could get a guy killed, thinking about a woman when you were in the enemy camp, Con didn’t know what would.
The sound of another door opening, from above and behind the woman, had him lifting his gaze higher, away from her to a man standing at the top of the stairs leading to the offices.
“Jane!” the man called out, and with the one word, Con felt everything inside him shift. The hard, cold thing that was his heart froze solid, and he could barely breathe.
that voice, the quality and the timbre of it. One word, four letters,
, and he was transported to a long-ago place,
place. The smell of oil and grease and tires, of gasoline and exhaust, the heat of summer nights and hot cars running fast, stolen cars with the thrill of the boost still jumping him up.
It wasn’t just a memory, a fleeting possibility. He
he’d stolen those cars, and he’d stolen them with the man at the top of the stairs and brought them here, to this place.
The woman hesitated, still looking at him, her brow furrowing in confusion before she started to turn toward the man who’d called her name.
, Con decided, breaking into a run and pulling a concussion grenade from the inside pocket of his dark gray jacket.
Divide and conquer, confuse and overcome
That was the mission. That’s what he’d come to Denver for—to prevail at any cost, to free Scout.
And then he was hit, a sharp, piercing pain stabbing into his arm, through his coat.
. It knocked the breath out of him, but he reacted instantly, reaching up and pulling the dart out.
. He glanced at the syringe barrel before tossing
it away from him. Halox was written on the side,
. Another damn tranquilizer that had made a lightning-fast transition into a street drug. He didn’t know what effect Halo-Xazine would have on him, but he knew it probably wouldn’t be doing him any good.
, he told himself,
and keep moving until you drop. You can worry about the damn Halox later, if you make it out of here alive
He slid the pin out of the grenade and, without hesitation, lobbed it behind him to keep whoever had shot him from doing it twice. The concussion grenade landed with a blinding flash of light and an explosion of sound. He kept moving, rounding the front of the GTO, picking up speed and pulling another flash bang from his pocket and tossing it to the far end of the garage, past the woman, to land at the bottom of the stairs. His aim was impeccable, and all hell broke loose on impact with more blinding light and explosions, but no shrapnel. He wasn’t going to detonate anything too damn dangerous until he knew exactly where Scout was being held or until he knew Jack had her out of the building.
Then these boys were on their own.
But not the woman.
He shot a quick glance in her direction.
No. Not the wild thing.
In all the mayhem of exploding light and deafening noise, she’d dropped to the floor and was trying to scramble back to her feet, her hands over her ears, her face stark with fear and shock.
Right. He was such a great guy—and she looked like a deer in the headlights, like she didn’t know which direction to go next.
In two steps, he was by her side, lifting her off the floor, and in another two, he was back at the GTO,
shoving her inside. Flash bangs wouldn’t kill her, but they’d been specifically designed to disorientate and scare the hell out of people. In her case, they were doing their job, but the guy at the top of the stairs didn’t look too damn fazed, and the other guy, the one coming out of the office, the one slipping a rifle sling over his shoulder, didn’t look too damn scared or disorientated, either. The first guy had drawn his pistol, and both of them were moving quickly down the stairs to the garage’s main floor, their faces hard set, their intentions clear.
They were looking for him, but he was already on his way out, up a staircase on the east end of the building to the tenth floor, to get Scout.
Time to rock and roll
, Jack thought, hearing the explosions and raising his AR-15 carbine. He put one shot into each of the two security cameras on the near side of 738 Steele Street’s roof, then, with an easy, smooth grace, slipped over the side of the Bruso-Campbell Building on the zip line. Seconds after Con’s first flash bang went off, he’d crossed the alley and swung himself over the low wall on Steele Street’s roof.
Con’s diversion and his own speed were his two greatest assets, and Jack didn’t waste time. He ran across the roof, passing an odd seating arrangement made up of a couple of old lawn chairs and a wooden crate bolted to a ragged square of Astroturf, making sure to trigger the proximity alarm before he reached the metal door that led down into the building—a very secure door.
He had his charge ready, packed it on the lock, inserted the detonator, and headed back over the side of the roof, using the collapsible grappling hook to secure his rappelling line. The building had thirteen floors, and he dropped two floors before stopping his descent just shy of the tenth-floor balcony.
“Alpha Two, ready,” he said into his radio.
“Alpha One, on your count.”
He could hear Con running, the sound of his boots on metal stairs, and knew the boss was heading in his direction, right on time.