Authors: Kimberley Troutte
Amber was going to die.
One of the creeps who’d dragged her from Mr. Lee’s shop barked at her in Cantonese, “Where did you hide the data?”
She was inside a yacht, tied to a chair, scared out of her mind and feigning ignorance. “I don’t understand! I am American.” She yelled in English. “What do you want from me?”
Another man stepped forward. He had a red dragon tattoo peeking out of his tank shirt that spread across his arms. He slapped her across the face. The slap resonated in the cabin and rang her ears. Her eyes dripped tears.
“Where is it?” The first man bent over until they were eye-to-eye. Was this the leader? King Prick of the 14K?
Amber blinked. “What? I don’t know what you are talking about. You have the wrong—”
Slap. The other cheek got it, even harder than the first. Stars filled the room. Amber wiggled her jaw. Not broken, yet.
“Tell me where the data is,” the man growled. “And I will make your death swift.”
Fast or slow, it didn’t matter. They’d have to kill her. She wasn’t giving these bastards national security data. They’d kill Americans with those weapons—families, women and innocent children. She could be strong until they killed her. She had to do this so no one else got hurt.
Tossing her hair out of her eyes, she glared. “Go to hell.”
A guy in the corner stepped forward. He had a dragon tattoo on his neck. He also had a pistol aimed at her head.
“Not her head,
ll she talk with her brains all over the cabin?” Prick said in Cantonese.
“Shoot her kneecaps first. One and then the other.”
The muzzle was pushed against her left knee. “Tell us where you hid the data.”
“Please. I don’t know what you're talking about! Don’t hurt me.” She squeezed her eyes shut.
An explosion went off. It took a second to realize she hadn't been shot. She opened her eyes to surprised faces in the room.
“What in the hell was that?” Prick yelled. “Go!” He shoved dragon-neck guy out the door. “Find out.”
Footsteps pounded outside the cabin. “Yang! Something has happened.”
“No shit! Find out what it was,” Prick, who apparently was named Yang, demanded.
Two more explosions followed the first. The yacht lurched forward violently. The men stumbled. Yang was knocked to his knees. Amber was thrown forward, but the ropes held her to the chair.
“We’re under attack!” Yang proclaimed, grabbing the other man’s leg and pulling himself up to standing. “Get the lifeboats ready.”
“What about the girl?”
Yang cast one quick glance toward her. “See what’s going on out there. We’ll take her with us.”
The blast rocked through the water. Willy cheered and did his famous “Got you suckers!” underwater dance. Charlie gave him a thumbs-up and they all swam closer to the yacht.
Three large holes in the hull were sucking water out of the harbor. The behemoth would be resting on the bottom within the hour. There was no time to waste. Mack took the lead. They surfaced and studied the chaos on the already listing ship. Men raced out of cabins and scrambled on deck like incensed fire ants. Yelling, they cinched up their vests. Two lifeboats splashed into the water and men fought each other to get aboard. No woman in sight.
“One, two, three, execute,” Mack whispered.
Away from the lifeboats, the team climbed the ropes and silently landed on deck. Their weapons were ready, fingers on the triggers. Charlie motioned to a door. The last time he’d heard her voice through his microphone it had come from this quadrant. He hoped to God she was still alive.
One dude with dragon tats on his chest and neck opened a door and ran straight for them. Bad mistake.
“Keep cool, man, we don’t want to hurt you—“ Mack began.
The hostile was the mother of all dumb shits. He opened his mouth to alert his buddies that SEALs were aboard. Mack took him out before his vocal cords twitched. One down.
Charlie silently followed Mack inside the hall.
Amber’s chair started to slide. The yacht was listing. After all she’d been through, this was how it was going to end? She couldn’t believe the bastards left her like this! They said they were coming back to get her, but clearly, they changed their minds. She was alone. She struggled to wiggle free, but her feet and arms were bound too tight. The ropes wouldn’t budge. Damn the 14K. Drowning? That was not on her list of the potential last seconds of her twenty-four years. Sky diving or speeding motorcycle accidents were always top on the list. Added today was being shot by a Chinese triad while protecting the United States. But sinking to the bottom of Victoria Harbour? That was not going to happen.
She fought as hard as she could to pull her arms free. Her wrists burned like fire.
The door opened and four dripping men stepped inside. They wore wet suits and were fully armed. More military guys like Stocky from the
Ho King Shopping Centre? The triad would’ve shot her kneecaps, but these men scared her more. She’d seen enough military shows to know they used truth serum. She wouldn’t want to, but they might force her to tell where she’d hid the card.
“Stay away from me!” She yelled. “I don’t have it.”
“Quiet down, lady,” the first guy said. He had piercing blue eyes and wore a take-no-shit expression. “We’re getting you out of here. Willy, you and Charlie guard the door.”
“Like hell you are! I told you. I don’t have it and I’m not telling you were it is. Touch me and I’ll scream," Amber screeched.
The man rolled his blue eyes. “We don’t have time for this. Tavon get her and let’s go.”
Tavon was the biggest man she'd ever seen. “Copy that, Mack.”
Amber opened her mouth and Tavon clapped his massive hand over it. “Listen, lady. We can do this the hard way. I’ll make you pass out. Not kill you, but you’ll have the worst headache of your life when you wake up. Do you want that?”
She shook her head slowly.
“Right choice.” He removed his hand from her mouth and cut the ropes with his knife. “Are you walking out of here, or am I carrying you?”
She stood up, but her legs gave out from stress and being bound for so long.
“Fine.” Tavon scooped her up and threw her over his shoulder. “Carrying you it is.”
Mack whispered, “Move out.”
The two guys by the door—Charlie and Willy?—went first to make sure the coast was clear. They lead her along the edge of the yacht toward the railing. Gunshots rang out.
“Behind me!” Tavon put her down and shielded her with his massive frame. When Tavon lifted his weapon, she was able to peek through a crack between his elbow and side.
The shooter was on the top deck. “Let her go!” He yelled in Mandarin. “Or I’ll—”
Charlie—or was it Willy?—put a bullet between the man’s eyes before he could finish the sentence. Terrified, she huddled behind Tavon and waited for the next set of gunshots. The 14K was a group of organized arms dealers, for heaven’s sake! She’d never get off the yacht alive.
“Okay, let’s roll,” Mack ordered and they were on the move again.
Apparently, he wasn’t worried about a 14K ambush. And then she saw why. The triad had abandoned the sinking ship. They were jetting around it in lifeboats, pointing and yelling at each other. Tavon all but dragged her to the other side of the yacht. The other guys were putting their masks on.
Diving gear? “Wait. Where’s your boat?” she asked.
Mack had his breathing thing in his mouth so he pointed to a wooden Chinese
out in the water.
Um, no. That couldn’t be their boat. If the U.S. military had come to rescue her, wouldn’t they arrive in a Navy ship, or at least a speed boat? A
? How stupid did they think she was? Her previous suspicions were correct about these guys. No way in hell she’d go with them. She’d take her chances with the sinking ship.
One of the guys tapped his communications thingy by his ear. “We’ve got to move. I’m picking up chatter. Triad spotted us.”
“Everyone in the water,” Mack said.
Willy put a life vest over her head, cinching it tight around her waist. “There you go.” His hands remained on the vest too long, and too high. Her breasts were underneath all the bright orange fabric. “Safe and sound.”
“Bite me.” Amber crossed her arms. “I’m not jumping.”
Willy’s eyebrows hitched up. “Maybe later, sunshine. For now we all jump.”
Mack spit the breathing device out. “We’ll dive until it’s safe. Charlie, give her your rebreather once we’re in the water.”
“Sure, Mack, but we need to go now,” Charlie, the communications guy said.
“Jump!” Mack ordered.
She held her ground. “No friggin’way.”
Mack glared at her. “Tavon!”
“On it.” Tavon grabbed her.
“On no, you don’t! Let go of—” she started. Before she could finish she was sailing overboard and splashing into the cold water.
She came up spluttering and choking. Dammit! The life vest popped her up to the surface where she buoyed like a cork in the water. She glanced up at the yacht she’d just been tossed off. The bow was much lower in the water than the stern. Maybe it was a good thing she got off that sinking ship. But she wasn’t about to trust the men who threw her overboard.
Charlie swam up beside her. He took off his mask and handed it to her. “Put this on. I’m going to give you the quick and dirty diving lesson 101.”
“No.” Treading water, she stared at him. What was it about his voice that sounded familiar?
“You afraid of diving? I’ll be right beside you. Trust me.”
His voice drove her crazy. She knew that deep, teasing tone from…where? A dream? She’d never met this guy treading water beside her. She’d remember those dimples and sparkling green eyes. He was rugged and handsome. And no, she wasn’t going to trust him. He just killed a guy back there. Bam, one bullet between the eyes. He’d do the same to her once he got the memory card.
“Stay away from me.” Her teeth chattered from the cold water. She wasn’t going with them so they could get her to tell them that the memory card was hidden at Mr. Lee’s.
Surprise registered in his big green eyes. “Why? I’m trying to rescue you.”
Rescue her from the triad and then torture her for the data, all the same to him, right? Her gaze fell on his wet lips. For some irrational reason she thought about the Black Pirate. What would he do at a time like this? Give her a few bonus grenades that mysteriously stayed lit in the water so she could blast her way out of here? Take that, military men. A chuckle of insanity bubbled up her throat and she choked sea water.
“I’ve lost my mind.” It had been a freaking stressful twenty-four hours. She shook her head, but she couldn’t stop laughing.
“Stress. Let’s get to the
and—” He reached for her.
The giggles shut down in a hurry. “Don’t touch me!”
“Okay.” He floated backward, hands up. “Relax.”
“Relax? I’m treading water in Victoria Harbour while every low-life prickhead in Asia is after me and who knows what
deal is.” If she hadn’t seen him in action, she wouldn't believe he was deadly. A surfer, maybe, a trained killer, no. But then again, she hadn’t been the best judge of men lately. Jacques was a perfect case in point.
“My deal is to protect you.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Have we met before?”
She rolled her eyes. “Nice try, Aquaman. Save your pickup lines for a girl who cares. I’m not going with you.”
“Amber, we’re on your side.”
“Right. Why don’t I believe you? Oh, I know. Maybe it’s because you shot a guy back there without blinking an eye and the Incredible Hulk just threw me off a ship.”