Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Cynthia Eden Shadow Agents Series Books 1-3, you’re in for a real treat:
by Cynthia Eden
Harlequin Intrigue brings you a collection of reader favorites from the Shadow Agents series by New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden. Get all three edge-of-your-seat reads, now available for the first time in one volume!
Juliana James has never forgotten the day Logan Quinn left her heart in pieces. But if she wants to stay alive, Juliana must trust the navy SEAL to protect her from a ruthless weapons dealer. Once she is safe, Logan will have a new mission: to get another chance with the woman he can’t lose again.
Veronica Lane knows that ex-Ranger Jasper Adams is the only man who can keep her safe. Posing as a ruthless mercenary is a cover for what Jasper is really doing—hunting a killer. What will happen once Veronica discovers that everything about him is a lie except his passion for her?
Gunner Ortez has been watching Sydney Sloan’s back since he save her life two years ago. Sydney knows Gunner is her only hope at completing their hostage-rescue mission. But the ex-SEAL who arouses her passion also poses the greatest risk to the secret she carries in her heart…and in her belly.
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free romance excerpt:
The first installment in the Shadow Agents series
by NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author
If Juliana James wants to stay alive, then she must trust navy SEAL Logan Quinn. But trusting Logan isn’t easy…he’s the man who broke her heart ten years before.
“You don’t deserve to die here.”
Juliana James looked up at the sound of the quiet voice. She couldn’t move her body much because she was still tied hand and foot to the chair in the dimly lit room. Tied with rough ropes that bit into her skin. Though she’d struggled for hours, she hadn’t been able to break free. She’d done nothing but slice open her flesh on the ropes.
“If you tell them…what they want to know…” He sighed. “They might let you go.”
Juliana swallowed and felt as if she were choking back shards of glass. How long had it been since they’d given her anything to drink? After swallowing a few more times, she managed, “I don’t know anything.” She was just trapped in a nightmare. One day, she’d been soaking up the sun on a Mexican beach, and the next—
It was a nightmare all right, and she desperately wanted to wake up from it. Ready to wake up—now.
John Gonzales, the man who’d been held captive with her for—what was it now? Three? Four days?—was slumped in his chair. She’d never met John until they were thrown together in this hell. They’d both been kidnapped from separate areas in Mexico. The men who’d abducted them kept coming and getting John, taking him.
And she knew her time was coming.
“I’m not…perfect,” John’s ragged voice whispered to her. “But you…you didn’t do anything wrong… It was all your father.”
Her father. The not-so-honorable Senator Aaron James. She might not know who had taken her, but once her abductors had started asking their questions, Juliana had figured out fast that the abduction was payback for something the senator had done.
Daddy hadn’t raised a fool. Just, apparently, someone to die in his place.
Would he even care when he learned about what had happened to her? Or would he just hold a press conference and look appropriately saddened and grievous in front of all the cameras? She didn’t know, and that fact made her stomach knot even more.
Juliana exhaled slowly. “Perfect or not…” She didn’t know the things that John had done. Right then, they didn’t matter. He’d talked to her when she’d been trapped in the dark. He’d kept her sane during all of those long, terrible hours. “We’re both going to make it out of here.”
His rough laughter called her words a lie.
She’d only seen his face a few times, when the light was bright enough in the early mornings. Appearing a bit younger than her own thirty years, John had the dark good looks that had probably gotten him plenty of female attention since he was a teen.
Not now, though.
“Do you have any…regrets?” John asked her.
She saw his head tilt toward her as he waited for her response.
Juliana blinked against the tears that wanted to fill her eyes. Regrets? “A few.” One.
A pause. Then “You ever been in love, Juliana?”
“Once—” and in the dark, with only death waiting for her, she could admit this painful truth “—but Logan didn’t love me back.” Pity, because she’d never been able to—
The hinges on the door groaned as it opened. Juliana tensed, her whole body going tight with fear. John was already swearing, jerking against his binds, but…
But the men weren’t coming for him this time.
They were coming for her.
Logan Quinn felt a trickle of sweat slide down his back. He didn’t move, not so much as a muscle twitch. He’d been in position for the past forty-three minutes, waiting for the go-ahead to move.
To storm that building and get Julie out of there.
Hold on, baby.
Not that she was his baby. Not anymore. But the minute Senator James had contacted him, asking for his help and the help of his team, Logan had known that trouble, serious trouble, had come to hunt him down.
Julie’s missing. You have to get her back.
That was all it had taken. Two sentences, and Logan had set his team up for a recovery mission in Mexico. His unit, part of the Elite Operations Division, didn’t take on just any case.
But for her, he’d do anything.
“There’s movement.” The words whispered into his ear via the comm link that all members of his recovery team used.
Logan barely breathed.
“I have a visual on the target.”
His heart raced faster. This was what they’d been waiting for. Movement and, hopefully…visual confirmation. They wouldn’t storm the place, not until—
“I see her. The girl’s being led down a hallway. There’s a knife at her throat.”
Logan held his position even as fury pulsed within him. Juliana would be scared. Terrified. This was so far from the debutante balls in Mississippi that she knew. So far from the safe life she’d always wanted to lead.
He’d get her back to that life, then he’d walk away. Just as he had before.
“South side,” that same voice whispered in his ear. Male. Gunner Ortez, the SEAL sniper Uncle Sam had recruited for their black-ops division. A division most said didn’t exist.
They were wrong.
“Second door,” Gunner said, voice flat and hard as he marked the target location.
Finally, Logan moved. A shadow in the night, he didn’t make a single sound as he slipped into the building. To his right, Jasper Adams moved in perfect sync with him. The Ranger knew how to keep quiet just like Logan did. After all their training, stealth was second nature to them now.
Logan came up on the first guard, caught the scent of cigarettes and alcohol. One quick jab, and the guard’s body slumped back against him. He pulled the guy into the shadows, dropped him in the corner and signaled for Jasper to keep moving.
Then he heard her scream.
The blood in Logan’s body iced over. For a second, his vision seemed to go dark. Pain, fear— he could hear them both in Juliana’s scream. He rushed forward, edging fast on Jasper’s heels. Jasper knocked out the next guard, barely pausing.
Logan didn’t pause at all. He drew out his gun and—
“Please, I don’t know!” It was Juliana’s desperate voice. The voice he still heard in his dreams. Not soft with the South now, but high with terror.
They passed the first door. The second was just steps away. Hold on, hold on…
“Company!” Gunner’s terse warning blasted in his comm link. They barely had time to duck for cover before the rat-a-tat of gunfire smashed into the wall above them.
Made. Logan fired back, once, twice, aiming with near-instant precision. He heard a choked cry, then the thud of bodies as two men hit the ground. Jasper covered him, moving quickly, as Logan kicked open lucky door number two. With that gunfire, the men inside would either flee…
Or try to kill their prey.
Option number two damn well wasn’t going down on his watch.
But as Logan burst into the room, three men turned toward him. He fired at the guy on the left as the man drew his gun. The guy’s body hit the floor. Then Logan drove his fist into the face of the attacker on the right. But the one in the middle…the one with his knife pressed against Juliana’s throat…
Logan didn’t touch him. Not yet.
“Deje a la mujer ir,” Logan barked in perfect Spanish. Let the woman go.
Instead, the soon-to-be-dead fool cut her skin. Logan’s eyes narrowed. Wrong move.
“Vuelva o ella es muerta,” the guy snarled back at him. Step back or she’s dead.
Logan didn’t step back. He’d never been the type to retreat. His gaze darted to Juliana. She stared at him, eyes wide, body frozen. A black ski mask covered his head, so he knew she had no idea who he was. But Logan knew she’d always had a real fine grasp of the Spanish language. She understood exactly what the man had said to him.
“Step back.” Her lips moved almost soundlessly. “Please.” Then she repeated her plea in Spanish.
Still, he didn’t move. Beneath the ski mask, his jaw locked. He kept his gun up and aimed right at her attacker’s head. One shot…
“Vuelva o ella es muerta!” Now the guy yelled his warning and that knife dug deeper into Juliana’s pale throat.
Instead of backing up, Logan stepped forward. Juliana screamed—and then she started fighting. Her nails clawed at her captor’s hand, and she drew blood of her own. The guy swore and yanked back on her hair, but that move lifted the knife off her throat. Lifted it off just enough for Logan to attack.
He caught the man’s wrist, wrenched it back. Even as Logan yanked Juliana forward, he drove the guy’s wrist—and the knife—right back at the bastard’s own throat.
When the body hit the floor, Logan didn’t glance down. He pulled Juliana closer to him and tried to keep her attention off the dead men on the floor. “It’s all right,” he told her, attempting to sound soothing in the middle of hell. More gunfire echoed outside the small room. The sound was like the explosion of fireworks. The voice in his ear told him that two more men had just been taken out by Jasper. Good. The guy was clearing the way for their escape. Logan’s hands tightened on Juliana, and he said, “I’m gonna—”
She kneed him in the groin.
Logan was so caught off guard by the move that he let her go. She lunged away from him, yelling for all that she was worth.
“Damn it,” he growled and hissed out a breath, “I’m not here to hurt you!”
She’d yanked the knife out of the dead man’s throat. She came up with it clutched tightly in her white-knuckled grip. “You stay away from me!”
“Easy.” They didn’t have time for this. Logan knew that if he yanked up his mask and revealed his identity, she’d drop the weapon. But he had mission protocol ruling him right then. Their team was to stay covered during this rescue, until the target had been taken to the designated safe zone. No team member could afford to have his identity compromised at this site. Not until everything was secure.
“Back up and get out of my way,” Juliana snapped right back at him, showing the fire that had first drawn him to her years ago.
He hadn’t obeyed the dead guy. Did she really think he’d obey her?
But then Jasper leaped into the room at the same instant that Gunner barked on the comm link, “Extraction. Now.”
Logan caught the whiff of smoke in the air. Smoke…and the crackle of flames. Fire wasn’t part of the extraction plan.
“Two hostiles got away,” Jasper grunted, shifting his shoulders, and Logan wondered if he’d been hit. He’d seen the Ranger take three bullets before and keep fighting. One hit wouldn’t slow him down—Jasper wouldn’t let it slow him down. “And I think those fleeing hombres want to make sure we don’t get out alive with her.”
No, they wouldn’t want her escaping. Too bad for them. Logan spun for the window. Using his weapon and his fist, he broke the glass and shattered the old wooden frame. He glanced down at the street below. Second story. He could handle that drop in his sleep, but he’d have to take care with Juliana.
“Clear,” Gunner said in his ear, and Logan knew the guy was still tracking the team’s movement. “Go now…’cause that fire is coming hard for you.”
Juliana’s captors had probably rigged the place for a fast burn. The better to leave no evidence—or witnesses—behind.
Logan grabbed Juliana’s hand. She yelped. He hated that sound, hated that he’d had to hurt her, but now wasn’t the time for explanations.
The knife clattered to the floor.
Now was the time to get the hell out of there. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close against his body. “You’ll need to hold tight,” he told her, voice low and growling.
But Juliana shook her head at him. “I’m not going out that window. I have to—”
“You have to live,” Jasper said from his post at the door. “That fire’s coming, ma’am, and you need to get through that window now.”
She blinked. In the faint light, Logan saw the same dark chocolate eyes he remembered. Her face still as pretty. “Fire?” Then she sucked in a deep breath, and Logan knew she’d finally caught the scent of smoke and flames. “No!” She tried to rip out of his arms and lunge for the door.
Logan just hauled her right back against him. Now that he had her safe in his arms, he wasn’t about to let her get away.
“Area’s clear,” Gunner said in Logan’s earpiece. “Extract now.”
Logan tried to position Juliana for their drop. The woman twisted against him, moving like a slithering snake as she fought to wrench back and break free. “I’m not leaving!” she snapped at him. “Not without John!”
“Extract.” Gunner’s order.
“Stop fighting,” Logan told her when she twisted again. “We’re the good guys, and we came to take you to safety.”
She stilled for a moment. Heaving a deep breath, she said, “Me…and John.”
Seriously, who the hell was John?
“He’s back there.” Her hand lifted and one trembling finger pointed to the doorway. The doorway that was currently filling with smoke. “We have to get him out.”
No other civilians were in the building. Only Diego Guerrero’s killers. Logan’s team members were pulling back and—
“I’m not leaving without him!”
An explosion rocked the building. Juliana fell against Logan’s chest.
Jasper staggered. “Go time,” Logan heard him say.
And yeah, it was. Keeping a hold on Juliana, Logan tapped his receiver. “Is there another civilian here?” He had to be sure. He wouldn’t leave an innocent to burn.
He motioned for Jasper to take the leap out. He had Juliana; there was no need for the other agent to stay any longer. Jasper yanked out a cable from his pack and quickly set up an escape line. In seconds, he began to lower his body to the ground.
“Negative,” Gunner responded instantly. “Now move before your butt gets fried.”
Gunner wouldn’t make a mistake. He and Sydney Sloan had the best intel there was. No way would they send the team in without knowledge of another innocent in the perimeter.
Juliana blinked up at him. “Y-your voice…”
Aw, damn. He’d lost most of his Southern accent over the years, but every now and then, those Mississippi purrs would slip into his voice. Now wasn’t a good time for that slip.
“You’re goin’ out the window…” Another explosion shook the building. Her captors were packing some serious firepower. Definitely don’t want her getting away alive. “Your choice—you goin’ through awake or asleep?”
“There’s a man trapped back there! He’s tied up—he’ll burn to death.”
She wasn’t listening to him. Fine. He grabbed her, tossed her over his shoulder, held tight and dropped down on the line that Jasper had secured for him.
By the time she’d gotten any breath to scream, they were on the ground.
“Take her,” Logan ordered, shoving Juliana into Jasper’s arms. “Get her out of here.” She was the mission. Her safety was their number one priority.
He’ll burn to death.
Logan wasn’t leaving a man behind.
He grabbed the cable and started hauling his butt back up into the fire.
“What the hell is he thinking?”
Juliana stared around her with wide eyes. She was surrounded by two men, both big, strong, towering well over her five foot eight inches. They had guns held in their hands, and they both wore black ski masks. Just like the other guy. The guy that, for a moment, had sounded exactly like—
“Alpha One,” the hulking shadow to her right said into his wrist. “Get back here before I have to drag you out of that inferno.” Wait, no, he wasn’t muttering into his wrist. He was talking into some kind of microphone.
Alpha One? That had to be the guy who’d jumped out of the window—with her in his arms. Her heart had stopped when he’d leaped out and she’d felt the rush of air on her body. Then she’d realized…he’d been holding on to some kind of rope. They hadn’t crashed into the cement. He’d lowered her, gotten her to safety, then gone back into the fire.
“There’s someone else inside… John…” Juliana whispered. The fire was raging now. Blowing out the bottom windows of that big, thick building. Her hell.
They were at least two hundred feet away from the fire now. Encased in shadows. Hidden so well. But…
But she couldn’t stop shaking. These men had saved her, and she’d just sent one of them right back to face the flames.
She couldn’t even see the men’s eyes as they glanced at her. The sky was so dark, starless. The only illumination came from the flames.
Then she heard a growl. A faint purr…and the man to her right yanked her back as a vehicle slid from the shadows. Juliana hadn’t even seen the van approaching. No headlights had cut through the night.
The van’s back doors flew open. “Let’s go!” a woman’s sharp voice ordered.
The men pretty much threw Juliana into the van.
“Where’s Alpha One?” the woman demanded. Juliana’s gaze flew to her. The woman had short hair, a delicate build, but Juliana couldn’t really discern anything else about her.
The man climbing in behind Juliana pointed to the blaze.
“Damn it.” The woman’s fist slammed into the dashboard.
But as Juliana glanced back at the fire, she saw a figure running toward them. His head was down, his body moving fluidly as he leaped across that field.
The van started to accelerate. Juliana grabbed on to the side of the vehicle. Were they just going to leave him? “Wait!”
“We can’t,” the woman gritted out as she glanced back from the driver’s seat. “That fire will attract every eye in the area. We need to be out of here yesterday.”
But the guy was nearly at the van. One of the guys with her reached out a hand, and her “hero” caught it as he leaped toward them. When he landed on the floor of the van, the whole vehicle shuddered.
Juliana’s heart nearly pounded right out of her chest. Her hero was alone. “John?”
He shook his head.
“Logan, what the hell?” the woman up front snapped. “You were supposed to be point on extraction,
not going back to—”
A dull roar began to fill Juliana’s ears. There were thousands of Logans in the world. Probably dozens in the military.
Just because her Logan had left her ten years ago that didn’t mean…
“There was no sign of another hostage,” the guy—Logan—said, and his voice was deep and rumbling.
A shiver worked over her.
Juliana sat on the floor of the van, arms wrapped around her knees. She wanted to see his eyes, needed to, but it was far too dark inside the vehicle.
One of the other men leaned out and yanked the van doors closed. The sound of those metal doors shutting sounded like a scream.
“’Course there wasn’t another hostage!” This came from the woman. “She was the only civilian there. I told you that. Don’t go doubting my intel.”
He grunted as he levered himself up. Then he reached for Juliana.
She jerked away from him. “Take off that mask.” She could see now. Barely.
He pulled it up and tossed it aside. Not much better. She had a fast impression of close-cropped hair and a strong jaw. Without more light, there was nothing else to see.
She needed to see more.
“You’re safe now,” he told her, and his words were little more than a growl. “They can’t hurt
His hand lifted, and his fingertips traced over her cheek. Her eyes closed at his touch and Juliana’s breath caught because… His touch is familiar.
His fingers slid down her cheek. Gentle. Light. It was a caress she’d felt before.
There were some things a woman never forgot—one was the touch of a man who’d left her with a broken heart.
This was her Logan. No, not hers. He never had been. “Thank you,” she whispered because he’d gotten her out of that nightmare, but she pulled away from his touch. Touching Logan Quinn had always been its own hell for her.
The van rushed along in the night. She didn’t know where they were heading. A heavy numbness seemed to have settled over her. John hadn’t made it out.
“We’re the good guys,” one of the other men said, his voice drawling slightly with the flow of Texas in his words. “Your father sent us after you. Before you know it, you’ll be home safe and sound. You’ll be—”
Juliana opened her mouth to scream as gunfire ripped into the vehicle, but in the next instant, she found herself thrown totally onto the floor of the van. Logan’s heavy body covered hers, and he trapped her beneath him.
“Get us out of here, Syd!” Texas yelled.
Juliana could barely breathe. Logan’s chest shoved down against hers, and the light stubble on his cheek brushed against her face.
“Hold on,” he told her, breathing the words into her ear. “Just a few more minutes…”
Air rushed into the van. Someone had opened the back door! Were they crazy? Why not just invite the shooters to aim at them and—
Three fast blasts of thunder—gunfire. Only, those shots came from the van. The men weren’t just waiting to be targets. They were taking out the shooters after them.
Three bullets. Then…silence.
“Got ’em,” Texas said just seconds before she heard the crash. A screech of metal and the shattering of glass.
The van lurched to the left, seeming to race away even faster.
Juliana looked up. Her eyes had adjusted more to the darkness now. She could almost see Logan’s features above her. Almost.
“Uh, Logan, you can probably get off her now,” that same drawling voice mocked.
But Logan didn’t move.
And Juliana was still barely breathing.
The words were so faint, she wasn’t even sure that she’d heard them. Actually, no, she couldn’t have heard them. Imagined them, yes. That had to be it. Because there was no way Logan had actually spoken. Logan Quinn was the big, strong badass who’d left her without a backward glance. He wouldn’t say something as sappy as that line.
Backbone, girl. Backbone. She’d survived her hell; no way would she break for a man now. “Are we safe?”
She felt, more than saw, his nod. “For now.”
Right. Well, she’d thought they were safe before, until the gunfire had blasted into the back of the van. But Texas had taken out the bad guys who’d managed to follow them. So that had to buy them at least a few minutes. And the way the woman was driving…
Eat our dust, jerks.
“Then, if we’re safe…” Juliana brought her hands up and shoved against his chest. Like rock. Some things never changed. “Get off me, Logan, now.”
He rose slowly, pulling her with him and then positioning her near the front of the van. Juliana was trembling—her body shaking with fear, fury and an adrenaline burst that she knew would fade soon. When it faded, she’d crash.
“Once we get out of Mexico, they’ll stop hunting you,” Logan said.
Juliana swallowed. Her throat still felt too parched, as if she’d swallowed broken glass, but now didn’t seem the time to ask for water. Maybe once they stopped fleeing through the night. Yes, that would be the better moment. “And…when…exactly…do we get out of Mexico?”
No one spoke. Not a good sign.
“In a little over twenty-four hours,” Logan answered.
What? No way. They could drive out of Mexico faster than that. Twenty-four hours didn’t even make—
“Guerrero controls the Federales near the border,” Logan told her, his voice flat. “No way do we get to just waltz out of this country with you.”
“We’re gonna fly, baby.”
Baby. She stiffened. She was not his baby, and if the guy hadn’t just saved her, she’d be tearing into him. But a woman had to be grateful…for now.
Without Logan and his team—and who, exactly, were they?—she’d be sampling the torture techniques of those men in that hellhole.
“We’ll be going out on a plane that sneaks right past any guards who are waiting. Guerrero’s paid cops won’t even know when we vanish.”
Sounded good, except for the whole waiting-for-twenty-four-hours part. “And until then? What do we do?”
She felt a movement in the dark, as if Logan were going to reach out and touch her, but he stopped. After a tense moment, a moment in which every muscle in her body tightened, he said, “We keep you alive.”
Her scream woke him. Logan jerked awake at the sound, his heart racing. He’d fallen asleep moments before. Gunner and Jasper were on patrol duty around their temporary safe house. He jumped to his feet and raced toward the small “bedroom” area they’d designated for Juliana.
He threw open the door. “Julie!”
She was twisting on the floor, tangled in the one blanket they’d given to her. At his call, her eyes flew open. For a few seconds, she just stared blindly at him. Logan hurried to her. She wasn’t seeing him. Trapped in a nightmare, probably remembering the men who’d held her—
He reached out to her.
Juliana shuddered and her eyes squeezed shut. “Sorry.”
His hands clenched. The better not to grab her and hold her as tight as he could. But this was a mission. Things weren’t supposed to get personal between them.
Even though his body burned just looking at her.
Faint rays of sunlight trickled through the boarded-up window. Sydney had done reconnaissance for them and picked this safe house when they’d been planning the rescue. Secluded, the abandoned property was the perfect temporary base for them. They could hear company approaching from miles away. Since the property was situated on high land, they had the tactical advantage. They also had the firepower ready to knock out any attackers who might come their way.
And with that faint light, finally, he could see Juliana. She’d changed a lot over the past ten years. Her long mane was gone. Now the blond hair framed her heart-shaped face. Still as beautiful, to him, with her wide, dark eyes and full lips. She was still curved in all the right places. He’d always loved her lush hips and breasts. The woman could—
“Stop staring at me,” she whispered as she sat up.
Hell. He had been staring. Like a hungry wolf who wanted a bite so badly he could taste it. Taste her.
She pulled up her knees and wrapped her arms around them. “Is John dead?”
Logan didn’t let any expression cross his face. Here, he had to be careful. The team wasn’t ready to reveal all the intel they were still gathering. Another reason we aren’t slipping out of Mexico yet. They could have gotten her out faster, but his team didn’t like to leave loose ends behind. So a twenty-four-hour delay was standard protocol for them.
“I searched down that hallway,” he told her, and he’d found the room they’d been holding her in. Seen the ropes on the floor near not one, but two chairs. John had been there. Only, no one had been in the room by the time Logan got there. “I didn’t find another hostage.”
“They got him out?”
He didn’t want to lie to her. “Maybe.” He’d been trained at deception for so long, sometimes he wondered what the truth was.
He took a slow step toward her. She didn’t flinch away. That was something. “Did they…hurt you?”
She touched her cheek. He could see the faint bruise on her flesh. “Not as much as they hurt John. They’d come in and take him away, and later, I’d hear his screams.”
Another slow step, almost close enough to touch. “So they took you, but they never questioned you?”
“At first, they did.” She licked her lips. Now wasn’t the time to notice that her lips were as sexy as ever. It wasn’t the time, but he still noticed. He’d always noticed too much with her.
Not for me. Why did he have a problem getting that fact through his head?
They were thrown together at the moment, but once they got back to the United States, they’d be going their separate ways. Nothing had changed for him. The senator’s daughter wasn’t going to wind up with the son of a killer.
And now he was a killer, too.
Logan glanced down at his hands. No blood to see, but he knew it stained his hands. After all these years, there was no way to ever get his hands clean. Too much death marked him.
He was good at killing. His old man had been right about that. They’d both been good…
Logan sucked in a deep breath. Focus. The past was buried, just like his father. “So when they were…questioning you…” The team needed this info and he had to ask. “Just what did they want to know?”
Her chin lifted. “They wanted to know about my father.” She paused. “What did he do this time?” Pain whispered beneath her words. Logan knew that Juliana had long ago dropped the rose-colored glasses when it came to her father.
As for what the guy had done this time…
Sold out his country, traded with an arms dealer, took blood money and thought that he’d get away scot-free. A normal day’s work for the senator. “I don’t know,” Logan said. The lies really were too easy. With her, it should have been harder.
She blinked. “You do.” She stood slowly and came close to him. Juliana tilted her head back as she looked up at him. At six foot three, he towered over her smaller frame. “But you’re not telling me.”
Being the guy’s daughter didn’t give her clearance. Logan was on Uncle Sam’s leash. The job was to get her home safely, not blow an operation that had been running in place for almost two years.
“What did you tell them about the senator?” Just how much did she know about his dark deeds?
“Nothing.” Her eyes were on his, dark and gorgeous, just like he remembered. “I didn’t tell them a thing about my father. I knew that if I talked they would just kill me once they had the information they needed.”
Yeah, they would have. He hated that bruise on her cheek. “So you didn’t talk, and they just left you alone?”
Her story just didn’t make sense. Unless Guerrero had been planning to use her as a bargaining tool and the guy had needed to keep her alive.
For a little longer, anyway.
Juliana shook her head and her hair slid against her chin. “When you found me…they’d taken me into the torture room.” She laughed, the sound brittle and so at odds with the soft laughter from his memory. “They were going to make me talk then. The same way they made John talk.”
But they’d waited four days. Not the standard M.O. for Guerrero’s group. All the signs were pointing where he didn’t want them to point. “This John…what did he look like?”
“Tall, dark…late twenties. He kept me sane, kept me talking all through those long hours.”
Yes, Logan just bet he had. But “tall and dark” could be anyone. He needed more info than that.
“You get a good look at his face?” Logan asked.
He offered her what he hoped was an easy smile. “Good enough that you could probably talk to a sketch artist back in the States? Get us a clear picture?”
A furrow appeared between her eyes.
“We’ll need to search the missing-person’s database,” he told her. Liar, liar. “A close image will help us find out exactly who John was.”
She nodded and her lips twisted. “I can do better than meet with your sketch artist.” Her shoulders moved in a little roll. “Give me a pencil and a piece of paper, and I’ll draw John’s image for you.”
He tried not to let his satisfaction show. Juliana was an artist; he knew that. Sure, she usually worked with oils, but he remembered a time when she’d always carried a sketchbook with her.
She’d always been able to draw anything or anyone…in an instant.
“We’ll want sketches of every man or woman you saw while you were being held.”
Now her shoulders straightened. “Done.”
Hell, yes. This could be just the break they needed.
“I want these men caught. I want them stopped.”
So did he, and Logan wasn’t planning on backing off this mission, not until Guerrero was locked up.
The mission wasn’t over. In fact, it might just be getting started.
He turned away from her. “Try to get some more sleep.” They could take care of the sketches soon enough. For the moment, he needed to go talk with his team to tell them about his suspicions.
But she touched him. Her hand wrapped around his arm and every muscle in Logan’s body tightened. “Why did you come for me? Why you, Logan?”
He glanced down at her hand. Touching him was dangerous. She should have remembered that.
He’d always enjoyed the feel of her flesh against his far too much.
With Juliana, only with her, he’d never been able to hold back.
Maybe that was one of the reasons he’d run so far. He knew just how dangerous he could be to her.
“The senator came to our unit.” Yes, that was his voice already hardening with desire—just from her touch. “He wanted you brought to safety.”
“Your unit?” Her fingers tightened on him.
He gave a brief nod. “We’re not exactly on the books.” As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the EOD, or Elite Operations Division, didn’t exist. The group, a hybrid formed of recruited navy SEALs, Rangers and intelligence officers from the FBI and CIA, was sent in for the most covert missions. Hostage retrieval. Extreme and unconventional warfare. They were the ones to take lethal, direct attacks…because some targets had to be taken out, no matter the cost.
“Does your unit—your team—have a name?”
Not an official one. “We’re called the Shadow Agents.” Their code name because their goal was to move as softly as a shadow. To stalk their prey and complete the mission with a minimum amount of exposure.
They always got the job done.
“My father really came to you? How did he even know you were—” Her hand fell away, and he missed her touch. Close enough to kiss, but never close enough to take.
It was the story of his life.
“He didn’t come to me for help.” The senator had nearly doubled over when he’d seen Logan sitting across the desk from him. “He came to my division, the EOD—the Elite Ops Division.” Because the FBI had sent him there. The senator still had power and pull in D.C., enough connections to get an appointment with the EOD.
Juliana shook her head. “I didn’t think he’d try to get me back.” A whisper of the lost girl she’d been, so many years ago, trembled in her words. Lost…but not clueless.
She knew her father too well. The mission to Mexico hadn’t just been about her. And if Juliana knew the full truth about the trade-off that had been made in that quiet D.C. office, she’d realize that she’d been betrayed by them both, again.
As if the first betrayal hadn’t been hard enough for him to stomach. For years, he’d woken to find himself reaching for her and realizing that she’d forever be out of his hands.
But she’s not out of reach right now.
He turned fully toward her, almost helpless, and caught her chin in his fingers. “I was getting you back.” Logan recognized his mistake. He was letting this case get personal, and that was the last thing he should be doing.
Hands off. Get her on the plane. Deliver her home.
But it had been so long since he’d held her. Even longer since he’d kissed her. One moment of weakness…would it really hurt? Would it really—
She rose onto her toes and kissed him.
Logan let his control go. For that moment with her, he just let go. Logan’s arms closed around her as he pulled her against him. Her breasts pushed against his chest, and he could feel the tight points of her nipples. She had perfect breasts. He remembered them so well. Pretty and pink and just right for his mouth.
And her mouth…nothing was better than her mouth. At twenty, she’d tasted of innocence. Now she tasted of need.
Seduction, at that moment, from her, wasn’t what he’d expected. But it sure was what he wanted. His hands tightened around her, and he held her as close as he could. His tongue thrust against hers. The moan, low in her throat, was a sound he’d never forgotten. Arousal hardened his body as her hands slid under his shirt and her nails raked across his flesh.
She was hot. Wild.
But this was wrong.
So why wasn’t he stopping? Why was he putting his hands on her curving hips and urging her up against the flesh that ached for her? Why was he pushing her back against the wall so that he could trap her there with his body?
Because I need her.
The addiction was just as strong as ever, just as dangerous to them both.
He jerked his head up and stared down at her. Juliana’s breath panted out. Her lips were red, swollen from his mouth. He wanted to kiss her again. One hot minute wasn’t close to making up for the past ten years.
A taste, when he was starving for the full course.
Get her naked. Take her.
She’d been through hell. She didn’t need this. Him.
He sucked in a sharp breath and tasted her. “This can’t happen,” Logan said, voice growling.
At his words, the hunger, the passion that had been on her face and in her eyes cooled almost instantly.
But she shoved against him. “Sorry.”
He wasn’t. Not for the kiss, anyway. For being a jerk and turning away? Yes.
But making love then, with his teammates in the next room? He wouldn’t do that to her.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing.” She walked away from him and didn’t look back. “I don’t want this. I don’t want—”
She broke off, but Logan stiffened because he could too easily finish her sentence.
Adrenaline. The afterburn. He understood it, had been through enough battles and enough desperate hours after them to know what it was like when the spike of adrenaline filled your blood and then burned away.
He headed for the door and kept his shoulders straight, like the good soldier he was supposed to be. “You should try to get some more sleep.”
They weren’t out of the woods yet. Until they were back in the United States, until death wasn’t hanging over her head, he would be her shadow.
That was his job.
Since they’d been forced together, he figured she deserved the warning he’d give her, and he’d tell her only once. “If I get you in my arms again like that…” His hand closed around the old doorknob, tightened, almost broke it off. Logan forced himself to exhale. If I get you in my arms again… He glanced back and found her wide, dark eyes on his. “I won’t stop. I played the gentleman this time.”
Right. Gentleman. Because he knew so much about that bit.
Her eyes said the same.
His jaw clenched. “I’ll be damned if I do it again. You offer,” he warned, “and I’ll take.”
Not the smooth words a woman needed to hear after her ordeal in captivity, but there wasn’t much more he could say. So he left. While he still could.
And of course, Jasper was waiting for him in the other room. The guy lifted a blond brow. His face, one of those pretty-boy faces that always fooled the enemy, hinted at his amusement. “Now I get it,” he drawled.
Angry, aroused, close to desperate, Logan barely bit back the crude retort that rose to his lips. But Jasper was a friend, a teammate.
“You’re always looking for the blondes with dark eyes,” Jasper teased as he tapped his chin. “Wherever we go, you usually seem to hook up with one.”
He was right.
Jasper smirked. “Now I know why.” The briefest pause as he studied Logan. “How do they all compare with the original model?”
Logan glared at his friend. There is no comparison. Instead of responding to Jasper, Logan stalked off to trade out for his guard shift.
Senator Aaron James stared down at the gun in his hands. Things weren’t supposed to end this way. Not for him. He’d had such big plans.
Easy money. The perfect life. So much power.
And everything was falling apart, slipping away.
The phone on his desk rang. His private line. Jaw clenching, he reached for the receiver. “J-James.” He hated the tremble in his voice. He wasn’t supposed to be afraid. Everyone else was supposed to fear him.
Once, they had.
Until he’d met Diego Guerrero. Then he’d learned a whole new meaning of fear.
“She’s dead.” The voice was low, taunting. No accent. Just cold. Deadly.
Aaron’s hand clenched around the receiver. “Juliana wasn’t part of this.”
“You made her part of it.”
His gaze dropped to the gun. “She’s not dead.” He’d gotten the intel, knew that Juliana had been rescued. The price for that rescue had been so high.
“You think this will stop me?” Laughter. “I’ll hunt her down. I’ll get what I want.”
Diego and his men never stopped. Never. They’d once burned a whole village to the ground in order to send a message to rivals. And I thought I could control him? Perspiration slicked Aaron’s palms. “I made the deals for you. The weapons were transferred. We’re clear.”
More laughter. “No, we’re not. But we will be, once I get back the evidence you’ve been stashing.”
Aaron’s heart stopped.
“Did you think I didn’t know about that? How else would you have gotten the agents to come for her? You made a trade, didn’t you, James?”
“She’s my daughter.” He hadn’t been able to let her just die. Once, she’d run to him, smiling, with her arms open. I love you, Daddy. So long ago. He’d wrecked their life together. Thrown it all away but…
I wasn’t letting her die.
“I want the evidence.”
He’d tried to be so careful. He’d written down the names, the dates of all the deals. He’d gotten recordings and created a safety net for himself.
But now he was realizing that he’d never be safe. Not from Guerrero.
“I’ll get the evidence.” A deadly promise from his caller. “I’ll get you, and I’ll kill her.”
The phone line went dead.
Aaron swallowed once, twice, trying to relieve the dryness in his throat. Things had been going fine with Guerrero until…I got greedy.
So he’d taken a little extra money, just twenty million dollars. It had seemed so easy. Sneak a little money away from each deal. Aaron had considered the cash to be a…finder’s fee, of sorts.
He’d found the ones who wanted the weapons. He’d set up the deals.
Didn’t he deserve a bit of a bonus payment for his work? He’d thought so. But then Guerrero had found out. Guerrero had wanted the money back. When Guerrero started making his demands, Aaron had threatened to use the evidence he had against the arms dealer…
My mistake. Aaron now realized what a fool he’d been. You couldn’t bluff against the man called El Diablo. The devil would never back down.