Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
His breath gusted in her ear, and a shiver rippled down her spine. Goose bumps rose on her neck, her arms, and her nipples tightened.
“We have to wait here,” he told her, his voice barely a whisper. “Not long.”
She nodded, her skin prickling and tingling. It was as if he’d nibbled the shell of her ear when in fact he’d done no such thing. But try telling her body that as parts of her that had no business being awake right now decided to respond.
Her nipples were tight little points now. And then there were the itchy, achy, gotta-have-it sensations zipping around in her nether regions. She turned her head to ask him what they were waiting for, but his face was still near her ear and her mouth hit his jaw—and maybe part of his lips. She gasped, and he stiffened.
When she would have jerked away, he held her tightly and wouldn’t let her go. He shifted so his face wasn’t there anymore, so her mouth wasn’t touching him, but he didn’t let her escape the prison of his embrace.
She was already hot from the run, but her face flamed even hotter. God, what must he think? She was certain she was the only one who felt this odd sexual heat. If he had felt it, she knew he’d let her go like a hot potato. No, pretty much the only thing he felt for her was anger and disdain.
Her ears throbbed with heat, but the pounding of her blood was beginning to subside enough that she could make out other sounds. One of those sounds became tires on pavement. She turned, searching for the road—and then she saw it, a dark, wet ribbon stretching into the night.
An SUV came around a corner, headlights shining bright. And then they went out and the parking lights shone for a second. On again, off, on.
“That’s our ride,” Chase said, easing away from her and starting down the embankment that lay before them.
“How can you be sure?”
He turned to look at her. “Would you rather stay here and wait for the dogs to catch up?”
Sophie gulped. And then she took the plunge over the side of the embankment, her wet boots squelching as she hurried to catch Chase since he’d started toward the road again.
The SUV inched forward until whoever was inside spotted them. The window slid down and a man leaned out.
“Hey, Fiddler. Heard you needed a ride.”
“Yeah, got a bit of a problem here,” Chase said as he came up to the SUV and grasped the rear door handle behind the driver.
“And this is the problem, I take it?” the man said as Sophie approached.
“Yep.” Chase dragged the door open, threw his bag in, and motioned for Sophie to get inside. She didn’t like being called a problem, but she did as instructed without calling him on it. Besides, from his perspective, it was certainly true.
The door slammed and Chase went around to the passenger side. When they were situated, the man at the wheel flipped on the headlights and smashed the gas. Sophie was thrown back against the seat as the SUV accelerated.
“Who is she?” the driver asked.
Chase rolled his neck from side to side before answering. “Hawk, meet Sophie Nash. Sophie, meet Jack ‘Hawk’ Hunter, the best sniper to ever take aim at a target.”
The man’s gaze met hers in the rearview.
Sophie smiled. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Hunter.”
He laughed. “Just Hawk. Or Jack. Polite,” he said to Chase. “Gina would love that. Any chance you and Sophie are, uh, a couple…”
Chase snorted. “No way in fucking hell, dude.”
Sophie’s heart pinched, but then Chase turned and speared her with a look. “Technically, Sophie’s my stepsister.”
“We weren’t raised together,” Sophie interjected. She didn’t know why she felt the need to say it, but she did. Maybe because of the way her body had reacted to him earlier.
“Nope, we definitely weren’t.” Chase’s eyes glittered as he stared at her, and then he turned to face front again.
Hawk shrugged. “Sorry. It was just a thought. You know how Gina is these days. The mere hint of romance and she’s planning a wedding.”
Chase laughed. “Jesus, dude, she just held a wedding at your place a couple of weeks ago.”
“Yeah, but now she’s waiting for the next teammate to fall and gleefully plotting where to put the swans.”
“Swans? Shouldn’t she be writing songs or something?”
Sophie had no idea what they were talking about, but she was damn glad to be in a closed vehicle for a change. She melted against the seat, her body tired and achy and ready for the promised shower and some sleep. She had no idea what time it was, but she felt as if she hadn’t actually slept most of the day.
She stifled a yawn as Hawk and Chase continued to talk about this Gina person and her desire to host weddings. Sophie gathered at some point that Gina was Hawk’s wife and that they had two children.
“You got somebody for this case?” Chase asked after a while, and Sophie’s ears perked up.
Hawk shook his head. “Sorry, dude, I don’t.”
Chase’s jaw flexed. “Her daddy”—he put a twist on the word daddy—“can pay a lot to protect her. Surely you have an operator willing to take this on.”
Sophie sat up straighter. She didn’t want someone else. She wanted Chase. But before she could protest, Hawk spoke again.
“Man, I wish I did. But Hunter Security Services is too new, and all my operators are on assignment. It’s you or no one, Fiddler. Sorry.”
rigori Androv’s cell phone rang. He picked it up and answered with a clipped “You had better have news for me.”
The man on the other end was silent for a moment. “We have dogs, sir. They’ve found the trail—but no sign of the girl or her companion yet.”
Grigori gripped the arm of the sofa he was sitting on and squeezed it. Fury hammered through him. If he could reach through the phone and slice the guy’s neck, he’d do it just for the pleasurable rush it would bring him.
Incompetent fools. They could have had Sophie when she’d been in that apartment, but they’d gotten stupid and lazy. Grigori
have someone’s head over that one. He’d sent his right-hand man down there just a couple of hours ago to deal with them. Sergei would make sure the job got done right.
“You will keep looking. You will not stop until you find them. I want the girl alive—but kill the man. Don’t fuck up again.”
Grigori ended the call and then went over to the liquor cabinet and poured two fingers of scotch into a glass. He took a fortifying sip of the smoky liquid as he walked over to look at the view from his penthouse apartment. Central Park was a dark island surrounded by the blazing lights of New York City. Traffic moved far below, white and red lights inching through the narrow corridors between tall buildings.
He turned the glass from side to side in his hand, absently, and contemplated what he planned to do to Sophie Nash when he got her back in his possession. He snorted and took another sip of scotch.
In truth, he would do nothing. He couldn’t mar her skin, and he damn sure couldn’t violate her body. No, she was worth too much the way she was. He had buyers for a girl like her, and he wasn’t going to ruin his profit by punishing her—though she deserved it.
He’d taken too much time with her. When she’d caught his eye at the charity event last month, he’d known she would fetch a pretty price. She was a lush beauty with abundant curves, and there were men who would pay a premium for that. If she was a virgin, even better.
She wasn’t, as she’d told him haltingly one night when he’d asked, but it didn’t really matter because he would market her as a virgin anyway. There were ways to ensure the end buyer believed he’d gotten what he’d purchased.
He should not have lost his temper with her when she’d come to tell him she wanted to stop seeing him for a while. Had he not done that, she would have never run away. And she would not have taken his flash drive.
The mere thought of the theft twisted his gut into knots. It was not the only flash drive with the information stored on it—he’d lost access to nothing—but it still contained critical intelligence. Things he would not want anyone else to know.
It was encrypted, of course. But someone with skill could break it eventually. That was always the way of it. He knew because Zoprava funded a network of hackers in Russia, presumably to test the limits of his software but really to steal credit card numbers and other personal information from people around the world. They then packaged and sold that data to third parties who exploited it for gain. Of which he got a cut, naturally.
If someone like one of his hackers got ahold of the drive, they’d decrypt it in hours. He could not afford to take the chance.
Therefore, he needed Sophie back—and he needed that drive. Once it was secure, he would put her on a plane and send her to his private auction in Monte Carlo where she would be sold to some fat billionaire who would take her home and use her for his pleasure until he was tired of her. Then she would either be put into a brothel or killed. It mattered not to him.
His phone rang again and he answered, hoping it was news to put him in a better mood.
“She visited a shipping facility before she boarded the train.” It was Sergei’s voice. “There was a security camera.”
“She mailed a package and she paid with a credit card. We don’t know where she sent the package yet, but Evgeny is trying to hack into the system. As soon as he does, we’ll have an address.”
Had she mailed the flash drive? Or something else? Whatever it was, he couldn’t afford to ignore this piece of information. She’d run from his office, stopped to mail a package, and boarded a train. Odds were good the package was something he wanted.
“How long will this take?”
“Evgeny says the network security is good. It will take some time to break through. A day, no more. He will call me when it is done.”
Grigori swore in both Russian and English. “As soon as you know, you will call me. I do not care what time it is.”
“Of course, Grigori.”
“Where are you now?”
“We’ve just landed in Baltimore at BWI.”
“Find her, Sergei.”
HE SAFE HOUSE
was located in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It wasn’t Waterman’s Cove, where Hawk lived with his wife Gina, but it wasn’t too far from there either. Tucked on a side street, the house was a small cottage in the older part of town. The street was lined with similar homes—small boxy houses with brick or wooden siding, cars in the yards, chain-link or wooden fences, barking dogs, and the glow of a cigarette coming from a porch or two even though it was late.
Hawk pulled around to the side of the house where there was a carport and a door leading inside. He put the vehicle in park and turned to look at Chase. “I’m sorry I can’t take this off your hands, but I just don’t have the manpower yet.”
“I get it, brother. Thanks for helping us this far.”
Hawk nodded. “The house is clear. One of my guys checked it out before we arrived, and everything is set. I’ll be back in the morning—with a passport for her,” he added, jerking his chin toward the backseat where Sophie appeared to be sound asleep. “I’ll need one of yours to make them match.”
Chase’s gut twisted. “Match how?”
He knew it made sense to pair them up, and he knew what the most likely version was. Shit, he didn’t even want to take Sophie with him, but there was no other way. There was no one to protect her while he was gone. It was too dangerous to leave her alone in a safe house, and far too dangerous to have Hawk take her home and stash her in his house with Gina and their kids.
Hawk merely looked at him. “You know how. It’ll go much easier if you play a married couple on your way to Paris for a romantic honeymoon.”
Hawk thumped him on the shoulder. “Come on, you’ve had to do worse for the job. Besides, the two of you will figure it out.”
“Yeah, we’ll figure it out.” Chase rummaged in his bag, fished out a passport—he had several, as they all did—and handed it to Hawk. “You think Mendez will have a shit fit?”
Hawk snorted. “Oh hell yeah. But this is personal, just like it was for me when Eli was kidnapped. And we worked that out, right? Y’all had my back, and we got the sonofabitch who took my son and tried to hurt Gina. I’ll have your back on this one—and so will everyone else. I’ll let them know what we’ve got going, so don’t sweat it.”
Chase’s chest grew tight. Man, he loved his job. Loved his teammates. They were a brotherhood—and yeah, he included his female teammates in that designation—who stood together through everything. Until he’d joined HOT, his mother was the only family he had. But now his family was big and bad and willing to step up and fight for one of their own even though they didn’t share a drop of blood between them.
“Anything you can get on Androv would be good too,” he added as he stepped out of the Tahoe and shut the door.
“I’m on it, brother. I’ll be back as soon as I can, and we’ll get this show on the road.”
Chase nodded and reached for the handle to the backseat. He opened the door, his gaze sliding over Sophie’s form. She was slumped to one side, her seat belt cutting right between her breasts and showcasing their luscious fullness. She’d taken her jacket off and laid it on the seat. Her arms were bare and the tank top she wore clung to every curve.