Authors: Christy Reece
He was handed a single photo, showing Shea following a slightly heavy, middle-aged woman in a parking lot. “That’s Cynthia Miller. Shea followed her inside the mall. When Mrs. Miller came out, Shea was behind her. Then two men and Shea grabbed her and forced her into a van.”
Ethan’s stomach clenched. Just what did Shea think she was doing? Going after Cole’s murderer was one thing, but terrorizing and abducting women? How had she gotten so deep that she was actually doing the exact thing she’d fought so hard to shut down? What the hell had happened?
“Ethan, you with me?” Gibson asked.
“Yeah, sorry. What?”
The sympathetic smile the older man flashed told Ethan that Gibson knew something of his and Shea’s history. “I was just saying that this vehicle is for your use. We don’t anticipate Shea returning to the compound at least until tomorrow afternoon, so you have time to go over the maps and reports, scope out the location, and cement the details of your rescue plan.”
Nodding, Ethan turned his gaze back to the approaching darkness. He’d come here to save Shea or die trying. This was a possible one-way trip for him, and Ethan accepted that as his due. He’d taken so much from her. The least he could do was give her his life if necessary.
Also by Christy Reece
Return to Me
To my sweet and beautiful sisters,
Debra and Denise,
who love the mountains of Tennessee
as much as Shea does.
Thanks for always being there for me.
I love you.
Naked and exposed, she lay on the bed. Angry tears flooded her eyes, blurring the white ceiling fan that whirred above her. With her arms wrenched over her head and tied to the bedposts, the rope around her wrists abraded and tore at the sensitive skin as she twisted and tugged. The binding around her ankles was so tight, she had lost feeling in her feet.
If only they had left her legs free, she’d be able to take out a few of the sons of bitches. But they knew that. Knew how dangerous she was. Knew she’d come here to kill them. She had failed. Waves of helpless fury rolled through her. Twice in a lifetime she’d failed Cole. She hadn’t loved him as she should have, and now her plan of vengeance against the people who’d killed him had been destroyed by her own stupid carelessness.
She lifted her head, straining her neck, and searched for an out, some kind of hope. She saw none. The room was large and white … a white so intense it hurt her eyes. No color, no warmth. The furniture, carpet, walls, even the drapery, all a shocking white. Her neck aching, she dropped her head back onto the pillow. A pristine, colorless prison. For some reason, the lack of color increased the terror building inside her.
Going deep cover had been a stupid idea. Even as she’d cooked up the plan, she’d doubted her ability to carry it off. She had many skills—going undercover wasn’t one of them. A part of her hadn’t cared … had only wanted to make Rosemount pay for killing Cole. If she’d been able to take the bastard out, even losing her life would have been worth it. Now that hope was gone.
Rosemount would kill her. How? When? It no longer mattered. The one thing she wanted, had worked for … lost to her forever.
An insistent little voice inside her whispered. It reminded her that there was someone else who wanted revenge just as much as she did. Someone who felt responsible for Cole’s death. Someone she’d once loved. Would he take over for her? Once he learned of her death, would he come here and wreak havoc for what they’d done to Cole? What they would soon do to her?
Sobs built, threatened to explode. Her heart screamed, “No!” She didn’t want that to happen. He was out of this life, out of this business. He needed to stay out of it. She could die easier, knowing that Ethan Bishop was safe.
Across the room, a door swung open, then closed. Footsteps approached. She froze, not wanting him to see her struggle. Refused to let him see her fear. He would want to see her weak and afraid. Damned if she’d give him anything he wanted.
Her eyes narrowed, glaring at the man who’d caused so much pain and destruction. Below average height, slender, almost thin physique. Curly, mousy-brown hair framed a thin, freckled face. Thick, round glasses made his mud-brown eyes appear abnormally large. Her astonishment the first time she’d seen him had been hard to hide. This was the man who’d been kidnapping innocent people for profit? The man responsible for Cole’s death? He looked like he would run from a puppy.
Donald Rosemount was below average in every way. There was nothing at all remarkable or attractive about him. Thousands could pass him on the street and never see him—one of the reasons he’d been able to maintain his anonymity. He looked ordinary, common. Unfortunately, he possessed an uncommon evilness.
“Well, my dear, don’t you look nice and juicy.” The slimy smile curling his thin lips made her want to gag. She refused to give him that satisfaction.
Trailing a skinny, death-cold finger up her neck, he caressed her cheek. His smile grew wider. “I’m going to enjoy taming you.”
She hid her quiver of revulsion with words: “Over my dead body, you freaking pervert.”
“Dead? Oh no, my beauty. Admittedly, my tastes are a bit, shall we say, unorthodox, but having you dead doesn’t interest me. There are so many other ways I can enjoy you.”
“Going deaf, asshole? I said. Over. My. Dead. Body.”
Excitement flashed across his face. “You’re going to be difficult, aren’t you?” He pulled a small leather case from his pants pocket. “I’ve got just the thing to ensure your full cooperation.” Withdrawing a hypodermic needle and a small bottle of clear liquid, he prepared an injection.
Her muscles locked. Drugs? Suddenly death was much more preferable. Why couldn’t he just kill her and be done with it? Or did he think he could get her to talk first? She almost laughed out loud. She didn’t have anything to tell. Hadn’t been in touch with the home office in months. This was an unauthorized op. She hadn’t been approved to come in and kill him. LCR didn’t kill if they could help it.
This wasn’t LCR business. It was hers alone.
A flush of hot pink brightened his cheeks as his eyes glittered with sick anticipation. “Sad to say, this won’t hurt near as much as I would like. I’ve asked time and again that additional pain additives be mixed in, but my scientists swear it dilutes the effectiveness. So I had to ask myself, What would I rather have? See you go through agonizing, hideous pain … but only for a short period? Or do I opt for just a slight physical pain and settle for the satisfying knowledge that an LCR operative is doing my bidding, without any remembrance of who she is or what she used to be?”
Confusion flickered on his face. “I have to tell you, it was a difficult decision. Seeing you writhing in pain would be so damned satisfying. Noah McCall and his people have caused me endless hours of aggravation. But alas, the pain would be short-lived and, after a while, could become somewhat boring.” He lifted a bony shoulder. “I do detest boredom.”
Her mouth was desert dry, making it hard for her to speak. “Rosie, before we met, I thought you were a halfway-interesting creep. Now I know you’re nothing but a wormy slug pretending to be a man.”
The tightening of his mouth was the only indication that her words bothered him.
Without permission, her body stiffened as the needle came closer. “Whatever you do, you will pay for it. I promise you that.” A useless threat, but it was the best she could do under the extreme terror pounding through her. Dear God, anything but drugs!
“Doubtful, my little wildcat. But even if I do, it won’t be from you.” He twisted her arm and pressed the needle into a vein.
She screamed. Not in pain—it hadn’t hurt. No, it was the pure anguish of being bound, helpless. Sweet God, she’d promised herself she’d never be helpless again.
Her eyes closed against the smug visage above her, images of her life danced behind her lids. The stepfather who’d raped her, the mother who’d allowed it, the hope and hopelessness of one foster home after another. And then Ethan … strong, confident, the love of her life, but in the end, just as damaged as she. Then later Cole, her husband, her salvation and her biggest failure.
Images blurred together, a colorful mishmash of sweet memories and gut-wrenching sadness: Cole’s beautiful eyes, Ethan’s strong arms, Cole’s disillusionment, and Ethan’s scarred, grief-stricken face …
A warm flush of heat and then agony ripped through her. She screamed again.
And then there was nothing. No past. No present. No future. Her life was without form, her memories dissolved, her soul stolen.
“You’re sure it’s her?”
“Yeah. She doesn’t even bother to disguise her appearance.”
Noah McCall shot from his chair and faced the window behind his desk. “I can’t believe she’d betray LCR. Nothing in her profile indicated this thread of evil inside her.”
Gabriel Maddox stayed seated as he watched the head of LCR flounder for an answer. Seeing Noah show emotion no longer surprised him, but the changes in his boss were still fascinating. Before McCall met and married his wife, Samara, Gabe would have sworn nothing other than God himself could have forced an honest emotion from the man. But in the months since he’d been married, Noah had done a complete about-face. Oh, he could still be a coldhearted bastard and no one dared cross him, but Gabe had heard him laugh on more than one occasion, and last month, when he announced that Samara was pregnant, damned if the man hadn’t blushed.
“How many abductions has she been involved in?”
“We’re sure of two,” Gabe said.
“I could have sworn she was about the straightest arrow LCR ever hired.”
Not a patient man by nature, Gabe knew better than to rush his boss in making a decision. Especially as hard as this one would likely be. Didn’t take a genius to know that the former LCR operative known as Shea Monroe would have to be dealt with, possibly taken out.
This decision wouldn’t be easy for McCall. He’d hired and trained every LCR operative since its beginning. Some of the younger ones called him Pop behind his back, though it was always said with an enormous amount of respect and even affection. Noah McCall had saved every one of their worthless hides and turned them into something. They might sometimes resent the tough restrictions he placed on them, but not one of them would speak against him.
Still, when an LCR operative went rogue, it affected everyone. Taking Shea down wouldn’t be enjoyable but might well be necessary.
McCall dropped back into his chair. “Anyone talked to Ethan lately?”
It sounded like a casual question. Gabe knew different. Noah McCall didn’t ask casual questions. Ethan Bishop had left LCR under a dark cloud. Few people knew the full reason for his dismissal, but speculation that he’d become a loose cannon was the number one theory. Gabe knew this speculation was correct.
“I talked to him a few months back,” Gabe said.
“So he doesn’t know about Shea?”
Gabe felt a slight nudge of guilt. “Didn’t see the need to tell him. When she went missing, we assumed she disappeared on purpose. Since Cole’s death, Shea’s not been at her best. Telling Ethan wouldn’t have accomplished anything other than making him feel more like shit than he already does.”
Noah turned his dark eyes on him and Gabe suddenly felt like an insect about to be skewered.
“And now that we know she’s working for the organization that killed her husband, you don’t think that’s something he’d be interested in learning?”
The answer Gabe gave was so lame, he inwardly winced as he said it. “Ethan doesn’t work for LCR any longer.”
McCall continued that black-eyed stare. “You want me to tell him?” His voice had softened, which meant only one thing—he was about to lose his temper.
Drawing a deep breath, Gabe gave the answer he didn’t want to give. “No, I’ll tell him.” He shot his boss a narrow-eyed glare. “You know he’ll go after her, don’t you?”
“Because despite the evidence, I think Shea’s worth saving. There’s no one in the world better able to see Shea for what she is. If she’s turned, Ethan’ll know what he has to do. If she’s in trouble, he’ll bring her home.”
“And if she’s turned, she might just end up killing him.”
An odd light flickered in McCall’s eyes. “Or she might end up saving them both.”
Gabe stood, knowing his boss wouldn’t change his mind, no matter what objections he gave. Noah McCall was of the opinion that almost everyone had something good in them. Since he’d turned around a lot of lives, Gabe wasn’t going to argue with him. But he’d seen what Shea had done to his friend. Loving a woman that much was damned dangerous. Shea had taken advantage of that love, and Ethan would never be the same man again.