Authors: Laura Griffin
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mma was gone.
One minute, she was in the safe house. The next minute, no Emma.
Ryan looked up and down the street as his friend's pickup truck whipped around the corner and screeched to a halt beside him. Jake hopped out and eyed the Dodge Charger parked at the curb.
“She didn't take the rental car?” Jake asked him.
“No,” Ryan said, with a knot in his gut. “This witness said she got into a black Land Rover with some guy.”
Jake shifted his attention to the elderly woman standing on the sidewalk with a bouncy Chihuahua at her feet.
“He was very tall,” the woman provided. “Caucasian. He was dressed nice, too, like a businessman.”
“Did he get in front or back?” Jake asked.
“Back. Somebody else was driving, I guess. And she got right in with him.” Her brow furrowed. “There wasn't a struggle or anything. I would have noticed that.”
“Which way did they go at the stop sign?” Ryan asked.
The woman gazed down the street for an eternity as Ryan clenched his hands at his sides. “Left.” She looked up at him. “Yes, they turned left on Bella Vista, which curves around to the front of the neighborhood.”
Ryan was already jumping into the pickup, but Jake stopped to get the woman's contact info.
“You didn't pass a Land Rover on the way in?” Ryan asked as Jake peeled away from the curb.
Which meant too much time had elapsedâas much as five minutes. Ryan had been in the shower three minutes, tops. So Emma must have taken off the instant he'd turned his back on her.
Ryan scanned the street ahead as they blew through the stop sign and skidded around the corner. Emma was gone.
Ryan never should have left her alone, not even for a minute. He should have dragged her into the damn shower with him. He'd wanted to, but he'd somehow managed to control himself, and now Emma was paying the price.
it.” He pounded his fist on the door.
“Could she have gone willingly?” Jake glanced at him.
“She could have called an old boyfriend to pick her up, or maybe an Uber. You said she had a meeting, right? So maybe she called a ride.”
“You sure? Maybe you did something to piss her off.”
Ryan shot him a look.
“Shit, you did, didn't you? I bet she ditched you.”
Ryan gritted his teeth. He'd never been ditched by a woman in his life. And yeah, he'd never been with a woman as headstrong as Emma Wright, but still.
Her storming out of the house and leaving for her meeting without him, that was her being pissed off at him. Her getting into the back of a car with some guy? No way. That was something else.
Ryan tried her cell number again, and again no answer. A cold fist squeezed around his heart. She'd been taken. He could feel it.
“So what the hell happened?” Jake asked. “You two have a fight?”
But she was pissed off at him, and she had been since this morning, when he'd dropped the bomb that he'd called her father to help deal with the escalating threat to her safety. Emma's dadâa freaking congressman, no lessâwas probably already on a plane from Washington to help arrange a security detail his daughter didn't want.
And she was probably ticked about some other things, too. Such as his refusing to sleep with her until she all but begged him.
begged him. He could still hear her breathy little pleas as he'd touched her.
“She's pissed at me,” Ryan admitted. “But she wouldn't just take off like this.”
Jake lifted an eyebrow skeptically. “Still, we should check in with her meeting, see if she showed.”
“She's got a ten thirty with Special Agent Alexa Mays in the Los Angeles FBI office,” Ryan said, and he knew that meeting was at the root of everything happening. Emma had been poking around for weeks, dropping her father's name and calling in every favor she could to get someone to talk to her about the plane crash she'd been in last month.
The plane crash that had killed an American ambassador's wife.
The plane crash that only Emma had survived.
Ryan's SEAL team had fast-roped into the Philippine rain forest on a search-and-rescue mission. They'd found no survivors with the wreckage, but they
found a few surprises, including evidence that the plane had been shot down. Five painstaking hours later, Ryan had discovered Emma injured and hiding in the jungle. He'd gotten her the hell out of there, only to run into her again in San Diego, where she'd been snooping around, asking questions about the investigation into the incident.
Ryan scanned driveways and side streets as they raced by but saw no black Land Rover. He muttered a curse.
“Women do funny things,” Jake said.
“What about the rental-car key?” Ryan held it up. “She dropped it on the sidewalk by the car, likeÂ .Â .Â .” Fear gripped his chest, making it hard to breathe.
“Like a fucking distress signal.”
Jake halted at the stoplight at the front of the neighborhood, and Ryan spotted a food truck parked at a construction site. He shoved open his door and jogged up to the group of workers waiting for tacos, immediately zeroing in on one who looked like a veteran. The guy stood off to the side, arms crossed, looking Ryan up and down.
“Anyone see a black Land Rover come through here a few minutes ago?”
The buzz-cut guy stepped forward, frowning. “Black rims, tinted windows,” he said. “Big guy driving.”
“That's it.” Ryan's stomach clenched. “Which way did he go?”
Ryan cursed and rushed back to the truck. Just a few minutes east was the interstate. They could be anywhere by now.
Ryan turned around as the vet stepped closer.
“They tore through here pretty quick. Looked to be in a hurry.”
Special Agent Alexa Mays strode into the lobby, and Jake's heart gave a kick. He'd expected someone butch-looking, but Mays was feminine and slender, with a cascade of dark hair all the way down her back. Her gaze locked on his as she crossed the room.
“Lieutenant Jake Heath?”
“Yes, ma'am.” His attention dropped to the gun at her hip, and his pulse quickened.
“You must know some very important people to get in here without an appointment. What can I do for you?”
Jake studied her. She wasn't intimidated by his size. She was fairly tall herself, probably five-eleven. And still, she had the nerve to wear heels with her dark suit. She had a calm, intelligent look about her and didn't seem at all dazzled to have a SEAL in her midst. If anything, she seemed annoyed.
She glanced at her watch. “Listen, Lieutenant, I don't have much timeâ”
“I'm looking for Emma Wright.”
“Emma Wright,” she stated. “The embassy employee? Renee Conner's assistant?”
Jake nodded. “You seen her this morning?”
“No, why? Is she even stateside?”
“Emma said she had an appointment with you at ten thirty,” he said.
“I don't have an appointment with Emma Wright or anyone else at ten thirty.” Another glance at her watch. “What I
have is a phone conference with the assistant director in fifteen minutes to discuss the operation you and your team conducted five weeks ago.”
Jake stared at her. “You
Special Agent Alexa Mays, right?”
The corner of her mouth curled up in a smile. “Last time I checked.”
“And you didn't set up a meeting with Emma Wright to talk about the plane crash?”
“Well, someone claiming to be you did. Emma was on her way to the appointment when she disappeared.”
She looked up at him for a long moment. “You're serious.”
“I've never spoken to Emma Wright in my life.” A little worry line formed between her brows. “And you're telling me she's
Ryan popped open the sliding glass door of Emma's room and slipped inside. The place smelled like herâa soft, womanly scent that put a sharp yearning in his gut. He ignored the feeling as he tucked his knife into the pocket of his jeans and got to work.
Emma had been gone four excruciating hours, and the local police were still wasting time. They hadn't even managed to cut through the red tape needed to pull up the traffic cameras in the area where Emma had gone missing. So Ryan and Jake had taken matters into their own hands.
Ryan scanned Emma's hotel room now, searching for some sort of clue. He noted the makeup scattered across the dresser, the rolling suitcase parked beside the closet, the laptop open on the desk beside a half-finished bottle of water. He ducked into the bathroom, where he found more cosmetics by the sink, along with a prescription bottle. Ryan read the label. The pills were for insomnia, and the prescription had been filled by a Seattle pharmacy two weeks ago.
Guilt lanced through him. She'd been having trouble sleeping since the plane crash. She hadn't shared that with him, but he should have guessed.
He went back into the bedroom and turned his attention to her computer. The keyboard came to life when he tapped the screen, no password protection. Shaking his head, Ryan clicked into her e-mail and scrolled through recent messages from the offices of various government agencies. Emma had been rattling cages in an effort to get someone to talk to her about the plane crash. Ryan skimmed through the e-mails but learned nothing useful except that Emma didn't like taking no for an answerâwhich he knew all too well.
His phone buzzed, and he dug it from his pocket.
“Anything there?” Jake asked.
“Still looking. What about Mays?”
“She didn't set up the meeting.”
Ryan paused. “Come again?”
“Mays never talked to Emma.”
“Emma told me the agent called her last night.”
“She didn't,” Jake said. “She's running Emma's cell phone now to see who might have placed the call. Evidently, impersonating an FBI agent is a big fucking deal, particularly if the impersonator is involved in a kidnapping.”
made Ryan's gut clench.
“Good news is, we definitely have the feds' attention now,” Jake said. “Mays is all over this. And I convinced her to leapfrog the local cops and pull up those traffic cams.” Jake's sweet-talking abilities were legendary in the teams, even more so than Ryan's. He'd made the right call sending Jake to talk to the agent instead of doing it himself.
“What'd she get?” Ryan asked.
“Turns out a black Land Rover LR4 blew through that intersection at the front of the neighborhood at 8:38 this morning.”
Ryan checked his watch. He closed his eyes and fought the tight grip of panic.
He was no stranger to panic. He'd been through it during drown-proofing drills in BUD/S training and then later when he'd come inches away from losing his life to a bullet. In his profession, panic was unavoidable, but it wasn't helpful. Ryan had learned to lock it deep inside him, where it couldn't distract him from his mission.
And his mission right now was to find Emma and make her safe. It had been his mission once before, but this time was different. This time, she wasn't some anonymous person he'd been sent to rescue. She was
. And the thought of her in the hands of some fuckhead who wanted to hurt her made it impossible to breathe.
“Bro, you there?”
“There's more,” Jake said. “Mays was able to see the tag. It's a California plate, and the vehicle is registered to an Orion Shipping.”
“She told you all that?”
“Ah, I might have taken a peek at her laptop when she stepped out of the conference room to take a phone call.”
“I want to talk to Mays,” Ryan said. “Put her on.”
“No can do, man. She booted me out of there when the shit started to hit the fan. I'm calling you from my truck. But listen, I looked up Orion Shipping, and turns out it's a Filipino company.”
“Filipino,” Ryan repeated.
“Yeah, I know. What are the odds that's a coincidence?”
Ryan didn't believe in coincidences.
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling torn. New information was progress, so he was glad to have it. But now any hope that Emma had randomly caught a ride with a taxi service or an ex-boyfriend was gone. She'd definitely been abducted.
“Ryan, you there?”
“Get your head in the game. We need to figure out who would want to hurt Emma and why.”
Ryan was pretty sure he knew the
part, but the
was still a mystery. “Emma's been poking around, trying to dig up anything she can about the investigation into the plane crash,” Ryan said. “The preliminary report is out, and she heard a rumor they're planning to attribute it to pilot error. Emma knows as well as we do that that's bullshit.”
“Okay. I figured it was something like that,” Jake said. “But are you saying there's a cover-up? What does someone want with her?”
“They want to shut her up.”
A grim silence ensued.
Ryan looked around Emma's hotel room, desperately searching for anything he'd missed, anything that might offer a clue. This was hell. Ryan could feel her, he could smell her, but she was nowhere. His gaze landed on a white lace bra dangling from the closet doorknob. It was just like the one he'd taken off her last night, and a knife twisted inside him.
God damn it, why had he left her alone? He never should have let her out of his sight.
“Okay, so let's assume there's some kind of cover-up happening, and Emma's threatening to blow it,” Jake said. “Whoever has her probably wants to know exactly what she knows, what she witnessed before and after the plane crash, and who she might have told already. That means he can't just eliminate her. He needs time to talk to her first. Somewhere private.”