Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
“Fiddler’s in the wild, sir.” Hawk proceeded to fill him in on the circumstances, and Mendez felt his gut twisting with every word.
Fucking Grigori Androv. The asshole was a criminal. He’d bought Zoprava a year ago in an attempt to look legitimate, but he hadn’t given up his other businesses.
He also had powerful friends, which meant he remained largely untouched by the law. Whenever he felt the heat of an investigation or unwanted attention on his activities, he donated a large sum of money to some charity or other and moved the focus there.
Mendez pressed a button to bring his aide into his office. The aide, a crisp first lieutenant from West Point—God, he hated West Pointers sometimes, even though he was one—popped in immediately.
Mendez put his hand over the phone. “There was a fire last night on Ridge Road. Get me the report. And get me the report on Grigori Androv.”
“Yes, sir,” the man said before executing a perfect about-face and retreating through the door.
“So this girl stole a flash drive from Androv and mailed it to Paris. And Fiddler wants to go get it.”
“Jesus H. Christ,” Mendez said. He ran a hand through his hair, absently noting that it was time to see the barber, before bringing his mind back to the problem at hand. If Androv wanted this girl dead, then he wasn’t going to stop until she was. Putting her in protective custody wouldn’t be enough to keep her safe forever.
Fuck, his boys certainly knew how to get into trouble on their own. Give them a few days R & R to get drunk and fuck their brains out, and what did they do?
Some of them ended up as fugitives from Russian megalomaniacs. He should reel Fiddler in hard and put a stop to this—but he wasn’t going to. Aside from the fact he wasn’t letting an innocent girl’s life be put in danger, he also wasn’t turning down an opportunity to get something he could use against Androv in the future.
“You’re providing mission support?” he asked Hawk.
“That’s good. HOT can’t officially do anything….”
“I hear a
Mendez blew out a breath and stared at the wall again. Dammit all to hell. He couldn’t send assets in, couldn’t officially involve HOT. He had a lot of freedom from typical military bullshit in this organization, something he’d fought long and hard to get. But he still answered to the Pentagon and the president—and he wasn’t abusing HOT’s autonomy. If he did, he could lose everything he’d gained for HOT over the years.
But he could ask Sam for help.
Samantha Spencer was CIA and she had access to things he didn’t—just like he had access to things she did not. Thinking of Sam made his balls ache. Over the past few weeks, he and Sam had renewed their friendship in a way he was definitely enjoying.
Sex with Sam was good—and there were no strings attached, which he liked. She liked it too, and that meant it worked for them both.
“Give me some time to work a connection. Can you continue providing support?”
“Yes, sir—I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Mendez couldn’t suppress the grin that spread over his face. Special Ops soldiers stuck together in a way civilians could never understand. He loved that about this community, loved being a part of it. Loved taking care of the men and women under his command.
Even though he would chew their asses for getting involved in shit situations every single time.
“You’re calling the Alpha Squad members when we hang up, aren’t you?” Because no way would Hawk or Fiddler not let their team know what was happening.
Hawk cleared his throat. “Do you really need to know that, sir?”
“No, probably not.” It gave him plausible deniability, though that was just a sham since he knew the truth. He shook his head. God, he loved these guys. And this job. But he was still kicking ass and taking names when he got the opportunity. Damn hotheaded fuckers. “Keep me informed. I’ll be in touch soon.”
As soon as Hawk clicked off the line, he dialed Sam.
“Johnny,” she said in that smooth voice of hers when she picked up. “I was just thinking about you.”
He leaned back in his chair and enjoyed the way her purr went to his groin. “Funny, I was thinking about you.”
“Business or pleasure?”
He laughed. “Both, if I’m honest.”
“Oh, Johnny, I always want you to be honest.”
He believed that was true—and it was refreshing. “I need something, Sam. Off the record.”
“Hmm, sounds like we should get together and discuss it. Amongst other things.”
“Your place or mine?”
“Mine. I’ll cook. You bring the wine.”
He snorted. “You don’t cook, Sammy.”
“No, but I can dial up a mean takeout.”
He looked at his watch. “I can be there in an hour. Is that enough time?”
“Perfect. I’ll see you then.”
hase lay awake on the sofa bed, his gun tucked beneath the cushion where he could reach it quickly, and stared up at the ceiling. A quick glance at the clock on the burner phone told him it was shortly after one a.m.
He hadn’t slept well. Every time he fell asleep, he pictured Sophie in that damn robe, her eyes round and innocent—and filled with heat. It was a lethal combination, that naïve sexiness and blatant hunger in her gaze.
He’d gone too far though. Telling her he’d make her feel good if she let him. He hadn’t meant to do it, but the way she’d said that she couldn’t wear a bikini at her parents’ pool parties and that she’d had to be careful what she ate—well, that pissed him off. Immensely. And he’d wanted her to know that she was desirable the way she was, that the Southern California environment she’d grown up in had been wrong, not her.
Then there was the revelation that she’d never been intimate with Androv. That had floored him, made a hard stab of need twist in his groin. He couldn’t begin to figure out what was wrong with a man who didn’t try to get Sophie in bed as quickly as possible.
Gay or impotent. That about covered it.
Chase gave up trying to sleep and sat up. A message pinged onto this phone and he opened it. It could only be from Hawk at this point. His personal cell phone had perished in the apartment, but he’d get a new one and restore it tomorrow. Until then, it was the emergency burner—which he’d also discard and replace tomorrow. Just in case.
. Team notified. Be there at 0800.
HASE TOOK A DEEP BREATH
. They knew now and the wheels were in motion.
He went into the kitchen and rummaged in the refrigerator for a beer. One would be enough to relax him and then maybe he could sleep. He closed the door and popped the top, then went back into the living room—and stopped when Sophie emerged from the bedroom.
She wasn’t wearing the robe anymore. She’d found a T-shirt and some shorts in one of the drawers and put those on instead. Her arms crossed defensively over her breasts when she realized he was there.
“I didn’t know you were awake.” Her voice was raspy.
“Yeah. Couldn’t sleep.”
“Want a beer?”
“I think that would be good, yes.”
He went back into the kitchen. When he turned around with the beer, she was there.
“Hungry?” he asked.
“I could eat something. You?”
“How about some of those potato chips?”
She was silent for long enough that he thought she was probably warring with herself. But then she shrugged. “Why not? It’s been a rough couple of days.”
He got the bag off the counter and led the way back to the living room. He settled on the sofa bed and picked up the remote. She stood as still as if a canyon had suddenly opened between her and the bed.
“It’s a couch made into a bed, Soph. Sit on the other side and prop your legs up. Think of it like a recliner.”
She hesitated, but then she came around and perched on the opposite side of the bed from him. He leaned against the back and crossed his legs before offering the open chip bag to her.
She reached in and took a couple. He noticed that she didn’t stuff them in her mouth but rather sat them on her lap and ate one at a time. Slowly. Making it last.
“Did you meet a lot of movie stars?” he asked, unaccountably annoyed at how careful she was with a fucking potato chip.
She swung her gaze to his. “What?”
“Movie stars. Living in LA. Do Tyler and Justine hang out with Brad and Angelina?”
She snorted. “Hardly—but yes, I’ve met a couple. Mostly they hang out with other musicians.” She shrugged. “LA is like any other big city—you don’t know everyone.”
He took a sip of his beer and thought back to the few times he’d been there. “That’s how my mom talked me into going for a visit. She told me I’d meet movie stars like Pamela Anderson, who I was enjoying regularly in
reruns. Didn’t happen though.”
Sophie laughed. He liked the sound of her laugh.
“Actually, I think Mom and Pam know each other. Mom was on
once. The Hoff saved her from drowning.”
She nodded. “It’s true. Mom wanted to act, but she’s not really that good at it. Stick her in a bikini and it doesn’t matter though.”
“Why do you want to act?”
Her smile faded and she toyed with a chip. He wished she’d eat it instead of playing with it. It was as if she was arguing with herself over every single bite. She hadn’t done that with the MRE, probably because it had been nearly twenty-four hours since she’d had anything besides a few crackers. But she had done it with the soup and grilled cheese.
“It’s just something I always wanted to do.”
He didn’t believe her for a second. “There’s got to be more to it than that. Come on, Sophie. Spill it.”
She leaned her head back against the couch and closed her eyes. “What’s it matter?”
He started to reach for her arm to give it a squeeze, but something stopped him. “It matters.”
“Fine…” She sighed. “I used to pretend to be someone else when I was growing up. I hated being fat, hated being made fun of—so I pretended I was someone prettier or more interesting. A princess, a movie star, an orphan—didn’t matter so long as I wasn’t me. It felt good to get lost inside another life, so I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I want to pretend to be someone else.”
He didn’t know what to say. He’d thought her life so fucking perfect. Resented her for it. And here she was tearing his theories apart. Making him feel sorry for her. He could tell her she was perfect as she was, but he’d already done that once. He could tell her that Tyler and her mother were fucking fools for making her feel less than important, but he’d already done that too.
“Are you pretending now?”
She turned her head on the back of the couch and fixed him with those remarkable eyes. “I’m always pretending, Chase. I’ve been pretending for so long that I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
“So stop pretending. There’s no movie script that can compare to what’s going on in your life right now. You’re on the run with a handsome and brilliant dude who makes Rambo look like an amateur—that’s me if you didn’t know—”
She laughed and he kept going, trying to be serious though he wanted to laugh too.
“And there’s an evil Russian trying to track us down. We’re on the run, desperate, hiding out in a hovel—”
She snorted. “This is not a hovel. It’s a very nice little house.”
“Fine, hiding out in a very nice little house. Waiting for daybreak. Subsisting on potato chips and beer—anything could happen, anything… But we’re the good guys, Sophie, and the good guys always win.”
She was smiling as she gazed at him. He liked that. “Do they really?”
He thought of all the mudholes, all the rotten missions in all the war-torn places he’d been, and he knew it wasn’t true. Sometimes the good guys didn’t win. Sometimes the good guys got killed. He’d seen it happen more than once. Marco and Jim—God, that was a long time ago now, and he still remembered it like it was yesterday. They’d lost Marco and Jim, and they’d gotten Sam “Knight Rider” McKnight and Garrett “Iceman” Spencer in their places. Time moved on, people came and went, and justice didn’t always prevail.
He wasn’t telling her that, however.
“Yeah,” he said softly, holding her gaze. “They do.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I am. It’s my job.”
She was silent for a while, watching the TV as he flipped through the channels. There was nothing on, but he kept going. Finally he settled on a hockey game rerun.
“I’m sorry that I made you feel bad when we were kids,” she said.
He turned his head to look at her. Her face was in profile, the light from the TV illuminating her skin.
“You didn’t know. It’s not your fault.”
She met his gaze then. “Do you really mean that, or are you just trying to make me feel better?”
He blew out a breath. “No, I mean it. It was easy to blame you for having everything I didn’t… but the truth is that Tyler chose to abandon my mom and me. It was nothing to do with you. Hell, he married Justine years after we were both born, so there’s that too.”
“It had to hurt when you heard he’d adopted me… but Chase, he did it because my mom pushed him. He did it to make her happy. It wasn’t because of me. Truthfully, he’s always felt like just a guy my mom lives with.”
Now he felt like the one who needed to apologize. “Does that bother you?”
She shrugged. “It used to, but no, not anymore. I’ve had a good life and I’ve had advantages. I know that. And I’m sorry you feel like those advantages were denied to you.”
“When you say it like that, I sound like a fucking whiny asshole.”
Her eyes widened. “That’s not what I meant—”
“No, I get that. I’m kinda ragging on myself here. But you know why I hate Tyler? It’s not because he failed to buy me a car or, hell, every fucking thing I wanted, which is what I thought rich people did. No, I hate him because of what he did to my mother.”
He watched as the Bruins scored again, wondering why in hell he was telling her these things. She hadn’t said anything, but he knew she was waiting for the rest of the story.