Authors: Tara Janzen
“Roger,” he said. With the security cameras out, once he blew the door, the Steele Street boys were going to have to come looking if they wanted to know what was happening on the roof. And while they were hunting him there, he was going to be three floors down, rescuing the one woman on the face of the earth who was guaranteed to give him hell, a long-legged, slim-hipped, mixed-race beauty with the face of an angel, a right hook to match her righteous roundhouse kick, and a jerk boyfriend from Holland named Karl.
Scout heard the first explosion from somewhere down below and knew exactly what was happening: Con.
She’d known he would come. She’d known nothing on earth would keep him from coming for her, and for eight long, grueling weeks that knowledge had been both her hope and her despair.
The second explosion came fast on the heels of the first and speeded up her already racing heart, but she didn’t move from the chair where she sat at the kitchen table with her hands in her lap, her shoulders squared.
Con, dear God
. She would have spared him, if she could. But he was here, and she wanted out of this place, away from the hard, awful truths she’d been forced to face.
A third explosion rocked the night, the noise and vibration coming up through the floor, but she still didn’t budge, not an inch. He was somewhere in the labyrinth of car-filled garages below her. She didn’t know how many floors down, but he was here—and he had no idea what he was up against.
She’d known since her capture in Paraguay, and it still left her heartbroken half the time and confused all the time.
, she knew what he was up against. She was looking
right at it, and so help her God, it was looking straight back at her, standing not ten feet away, talking on a radio with a subgun slung across his chest and a .45 strapped to his thigh. His name was Peter Chronopolous, Kid Chaos, and everything Con used to be was molded in the curves and angles of the younger man’s face. It was written in the sudden determination tightening his mouth, in the breadth of his shoulders and the squareness of his jaw, in the way he moved.
The similarities were inescapable, and they proved everything everyone in this damn place had been telling her, that Con was a man named John Thomas Chronopolous, J.T., Kid Chaos’s older brother, and that he belonged to them.
Not to her.
Never to her.
She’d been hearing it nonstop, every day and every night in a hundred different ways from half a dozen hard men and two hard women, a blonde she might be able to take on her very best day, if the girl was in a slump, and an auburn-haired shooter she didn’t think anybody except Con could take.
She shifted her attention from Kid Chronopolous to the beautiful, extremely tough woman sitting across the table from her. She was dressed in olive drab BDU pants and a black T-shirt, looking like she was ready to rumble. Her hair was short and wild, a deep chestnut-auburn with blond highlights—gorgeous, like her face.
Red Dog was her name, and she scared the hell out of Scout, not because of anything she’d done. Red Dog, also known as Gillian, had been nothing but professional, but the woman wasn’t like anyone else Scout had ever known, except Con, and therein lay the second hard truth, the hardest truth of all.
“That’s him, isn’t it?” the female shooter said, listening, as they all were, to the explosions echoing up from
below. The loft on the tenth floor was a wide-open expanse of hardwood floors over a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide. It had floor-to-ceiling windows on the north and the west sides and a gallery’s worth of art adorning the inner walls.
, Scout thought. What a name for someone with the warmest brown eyes she’d ever seen. They were amber colored, filled with compassion, full of concern, but more than once over the last two months, Scout had seen them freeze over to an unforgiving shade of cold, rusted iron. The woman was fierce, her body chiseled, and her husband was the single most beautiful man Scout had ever seen. Red Dog called him Angel, but everyone else called him Travis.
“We’ve been over this, Scout,” the woman continued, her voice firm, with a thread of steel running through it. “The time is here, right now, today. This is your chance to help Con. Maybe the only chance you’ll get.”
Help him? Or betray him? That was the question that kept her up at night, and no matter how much information this crew of operators pumped into her, she still didn’t know the answer.
“I know what he’s been through, Scout,” Red Dog said. “If you help us bring him in, I can help him. I’m a walking pharmacy for the kind of drugs that can keep him alive and help restore his memory, help him with the trauma of what the drugs he was given do to him. I’ve been where he is.”
No, she hadn’t.
No matter what Gillian/Red Dog had been through, she wasn’t scarred like Con. She hadn’t been tortured like Con.
“It’s a miracle he’s lasted this long, Scout. He’s got to be on meds,” the woman continued. “You must have seen him take something. What was it? What kind of drugs is he taking to keep himself alive?”
Pills, she could have told the woman, colored gelcaps, and sometimes a Syrette for pain. Scout could have given her that information eight weeks ago, the first time she’d asked, but this time, like all the others before, Scout wasn’t telling her anything.
But the questions tore her up.
Con, the only person in the world she trusted, had been lying to her all these years. He’d said he needed vitamins and supplements to keep in shape, and sometimes the pain meds if his old wounds started aching and acting up. He’d never said he needed to pop up to twelve pills a day just to stay alive, to keep his blood flowing and his synapses firing. This woman said he did, that there was no other way for people like Con, not six years into his resurrection—and Scout believed her.
. The hard truth twisted inside her. The word explained too much—not just the pills, but how he’d survived the butchery that had left him so terribly scarred. She wasn’t an idiot. She’d known the pills were more important than he’d let on, but she hadn’t known the truth. Con was the biggest, baddest, toughest, strongest man she’d ever met, ever known—and, according to Red Dog, his life was hanging by a thread. He couldn’t last much longer, not without help.
Yes, Scout could have told the woman. He does get bad headaches, visual migraines. Sometimes his gut knots up on him. Sometimes pain takes hold of him, indescribable pain, like fire under his skin, and through it all, he pops the pills like candy, always maintaining, always self-assured, never like a man whose life could end at virtually any moment of any day.
The truth made her sweat, literally made her skin hot with flashes of anxiety.
“Are you going to help us?” the woman asked with a definite finality in her voice, reaching across the table and wrapping her hand around Scout’s wrist. Her palm
was callused, her fingertips rough, and she was strong—and Scout still didn’t move, not a twitch, not a blink. She knew Red Dog could crush her bones in an instant if the older woman wished, but Scout was biding her time.
Con was coming, and when he breached the door, she needed to be ready. She would move then, Red Dog or no Red Dog, but until that moment, she was deliberately as passive as she could manage, trying to keep her muscles soft and her mind clear.
She needed to talk with Con. She needed the truth from him. So she sat, and waited, carefully keeping both of her guards in sight, who were returning the favor one hundred percent. She hadn’t been out of at least one SDF operator’s sight since her capture.
When she failed to answer the question, Red Dog turned to Kid. “What’s the situation?”
“Two flash bangs in the seventh-floor garage,” the tall, dark-haired man said, the radio still to his ear. Like the woman, he was dressed in BDU pants, camouflage, but his T-shirt was olive drab. “One in the office, and Skeeter’s got a tripped proximity alarm on the roof. Unknown Tangos headed our way. No one got a positive ID on the guy in the garage, and the cameras are out on the roof.”
“It’s him,” Red Dog said, the barest hint of satisfaction shading her voice.
Scout knew the woman thought she was ready for whatever happened next—more than ready. She knew the whole Steele Street crew thought they had the situation under control, that they’d covered all their bases, but no matter how much they knew about J. T. Chronopolous, they didn’t know Conroy Farrel. They were expecting a man. They weren’t expecting Con.
And she hadn’t been expecting damn Jack Traeger, but the other unknown Tango couldn’t be anybody else, which just made her wish …
This was going down right now.
A shadow of movement down the outside edge of one of the loft’s huge windows caught her eye: Jack, half hidden by the adjacent brick wall, descending toward the loft’s balcony. He was hanging from a climbing harness, his red hair sticking half on end, as wild as he was, his face and the grace of his movements as familiar to her as the breadth of his shoulders and the quickness of his mind. He had a pack on his back, a carbine slung across his chest, and a small device in one hand.
. She held her breath for a heartbeat, recognizing an electronic detonator when she saw one. Red Dog’s hand instantly tightened on her wrist, her attention coming back full on her.
“What is it?” the woman demanded.
Scout dropped her gaze to the table, trying to keep from giving Jack away.
“You’re never going to get out of here, Scout, not until we have him.” Red Dog’s hand tightened even more.
It was as close to a threat as the woman had gotten in eight weeks. Then she got a little closer, tightening her grip again, applying another few pounds of pressure per square inch, enough to let Scout know this was serious, that she needed to make the right decision.
Scout’s gaze flashed back to the woman, ready to protest the painful grip or do something about it, if she could, and in that moment, Jack made his move. An explosion from up on the roof shook the rafters and the walls. Plaster and dust and bits of building material rained down inside the loft, and before any of it could hit the floor, Red Dog had released her and leapt for the .22-caliber rimfire rifle she’d positioned on the kitchen counter—a tranquilizer gun.
Oh, God. Oh, God
. The woman was so freaking fast. She had the weapon slung up and was signaling Kid Chronopolous almost before he’d broken for the door,
and he reacted damn near instantly. It all happened in a flash, the two of them moving like clockwork. When Kid disappeared through the door, Red Dog moved back toward her.
Oh, hell, no
, Scout thought. No way was she letting the tough woman get hold of her again.
She whirled out of her chair, grabbing it with one hand on the back, keeping Red Dog’s attention on her, not giving her even a second’s chance to turn around and look out the loft window—but Jack had disappeared. He’d dropped to the balcony and moved behind the door leading into the loft.
He was going to blow it. She knew it. Jack loved blowing up stuff. She hoped like hell that he used something a wee bit smaller than what had just gone off on the roof.
Still moving, her grip tight, she brought the chair around with her, letting it pivot and rise as she got her feet under her. Kid Chaos was long gone into the hallway and no doubt flying up three flights of stairs. He’d find Jack’s rappelling line quick enough. God, everybody else in the building had to be heading this way, chasing Con.
Using her momentum, she swung the chair sideways with all her strength, then released it at the apex of its arc, aiming it right at Red Dog, keeping the woman focused on her attack, on defending herself. When Jack blew the balcony door, Scout needed to get to it fast, like a bolt of lightning.
She wanted out, yes, the quicker the better, but she also couldn’t let Red Dog get a shot off and knock out Jack Traeger. Oh, no. That pleasure was going to be all hers, someday soon, she swore it, if the two of them made it out of there alive. Except she’d be doing it with a right hook instead of a dope dart.
But first, he was coming in.
The explosion on the roof was still sending plaster down from the ceiling when the balcony door blew and her rescue ranger burst through, materializing out of a cloud of smoke and debris with his carbine leveled at Red Dog, a typical damn grand Traeger entrance. Scout dashed past the woman, who’d easily blocked the chair but now suddenly seemed to be frozen to the floor. Red Dog didn’t make a move to stop her, and Scout didn’t ask why. The tenth-floor balcony door was less than ten yards away. Escape.
Jack signaled to her that they were going over the side on his rappelling line, then pulled a flash bang off his tac vest and lofted it past her into the room.
It all made perfect sense to her—ten floors on a rope. They’d pulled the move before. They’d pulled a lot of moves and maneuvers together over the years, before they’d gotten all sixes and sevens with each other. Still running full-out, Scout gauged her timing, and she and Jack came together in a fluid slide of bodies melding into one entity bent on escape, arms coming around each other, legs leaping in rhythm for the balcony railing.
Headed over the side, she looked back, one fleeting glimpse before the grenade landed, and saw what had riveted Red Dog’s attention and her rifle: Con, standing in the front doorway, his gun drawn, his gaze and the muzzle of his .45 locked on the auburn-haired shooter.
That’s what Christian Hawkins had yelled at Jane on his way out of the garage, and, sure, she could do that. As a matter of fact, her legs were too damn wobbly to do little else. And she’d scraped one of her knees raw when she’d landed on the garage floor. Her ears were ringing. Her breath was shallow, her senses reeling.
It had been Conroy Farrel standing next to Corinna, not Hawkins, and that only meant one thing to her: Conroy Farrel was John Thomas Chronopolous.