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Southern Nights: Enigma 1 - Come For Me

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When an ex-military security expert's wife is taken hostage along with her colleagues, he'll use every weapon in his arsenal to get her out safely. But when it turns out someone they both trust is working with the bad guys, she'll have to fight alongside him to gain their freedom.

Olivia Brannan arrives at her Atlanta financial firm on what should be one of the best mornings of her life. But she walks into eerie silence, greeted only by bloodstains. Her quiet, civilized workplace is under attack. When she can't reach Dain, her uber-protective hero, she realizes she must stay alive on her own until help arrives. And she must decide—is she prepared to kill to save herself and the gift she has for her husband?

Dain Brannan is a client security specialist at JCL Security. He's one of the best in the business. But even in his worst nightmares, he never expected to have to use his skills to rescue his beloved Livie. When thugs take her firm's personnel hostage, he'll do anything to save her—including go around or through the police. Can his team do what the SWAT teams cannot—bring her and her colleagues out alive?

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Exclusive Excerpt

“Tap out, stupid bastard.”

“Tap out’s for sissies,” Saint wheezed. Considering Dain had the man’s shoulder pressed into his carotid, cutting off blood flow, getting out a single recognizable word would be amazing—three was a fucking miracle.

“Ten seconds, Saint,” Elliot said nearby, warning the man how much time he had before he was likely to black out. “Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five—”

King swore from the other side of the mat. “Saint!”

Without warning Dain’s captive flipped his long legs into the air, his spine bending in ways that would seem impossible with his neck immobile. But he had the length in his torso to manage. In a blink his knees were on either side of Dain’s head and his calves were locked at Dain’s nape. Before Dain could duck his head to slip out of the hold, Saint flung him over his long body, loosening his legs at the end to keep from breaking Dain’s neck.

“One!” Elliot yelled as Dain’s back slammed into the mat. With a quick kippup, Saint’s massive weight landed on top of him, crushing the air from his lungs without warning.

“Goddamn.” It was Dain’s turn to wheeze.

“Dain!”

The yell from the workout room door brought all their heads up except Dain’s, stuck beneath one of Saint’s bony knees.

“Code Red,” Jack Quinn called. There was no hesitation in their response; all four team members were on their feet and running for the door in seconds.

“Where’s the party?” Dain yelled as they raced after his boss down the hall toward one of the conference rooms. Jack shook his head but didn’t answer, causing Dain’s heartbeat to pick up speed. Jack Quinn was the head of JCL Security, and the man was anything but reactionary; if he said it was bad, it was bad. Code Red was never anything less. They weren’t on assignment right now, though. Had someone else’s op gone sideways?

The four of them packed through the door to the conference room behind their boss. The massive table that dominated the space was empty, but at the end of the room the wide-screen TV hanging on the far wall blared one of the local channels. The sound assaulted Dain’s ears as his eyes adjusted to what was on the screen: a close-up of a female reporter he recognized from the usual early morning newscast holding a microphone to her red lips, the wind blowing her blonde hair into her eyes as she spoke.

“Officer Mays, what can you tell us about the situation? Any updates?”

The camera panned to a petite, dark-haired policewoman Dain recognized as one of the Public Information Officers at the Atlanta PD. “No updates as of yet. We are still establishing communications with the suspects and determining how many hostages are currently in the building.”

“Is the entire building at risk?”

The glint of impatience in Mays’s eyes wasn’t reflected in her words. “Not at this time. All floors except the top have been evacuated. Only the fourth floor suite is involved.”

“Where—”

Dain had barely gotten the word out of his mouth when the camera panned back behind the anchorwoman to the building in question. A familiar building. The one that held Georgia Financial Management Services.

Livie.

No. Fuck no. “Jack!”

His boss stood on the opposite side of the table, the office phone to his ear, but he jerked it down to tell Dain, “I’m trying to find out. Hang on.”

The blonde was speaking again. “For those who are just joining us, would you please recap what is known at this point?”

Officer Mays nodded. “We received a 911 call this morning alerting us to a situation at Georgia Financial. Responding officers determined that gunmen were present, as were employees we believe are being held hostage. Negotiations are forthcoming, and in the meantime, we have asked the public to avoid this area until the situation has been resolved.”

“Do we know how many hostages are inside? How many gunmen?”

Mays’s face revealed nothing. “Not at this time. We want to assure the public that the APD will do everything possible to resolve this situation. The safety of the hostages and of our citizens is of paramount concern.” With a nod at the camera, Mays walked away.

As the anchor promised more information soon and tossed the segment back to her cohort in the studio, Dain fought for breath. “King, I want to know what they know,” he barked.

“I’m on it,” King said roughly behind him before rushing from the room. Their PR liaison knew everyone who was anyone at the Atlanta Police Department. Dain gave his team member’s assurance an absent nod, his gaze still fixed on the television, the screen now showing the local studio and the male news anchor who normally had the blonde sitting next to him. Dain couldn’t remember his name and didn’t care. He picked up the remote and muted the chatter.

“Elliot,” he snapped.

The only female member of his team stepped to his side. Her petite stature forced her to look up at him, one eyebrow quirked in question. Worry clouded her eyes.

“Go to my desk and get my personal cell.”

Elliot nodded and ran for the door. Dain tried to force air in and out while he waited. Based on the strain in his heart and lungs, he was pretty sure he didn’t succeed worth a damn. The TV screen was showing a segment on grills. Who the hell cared about grills when his wife could be in danger? But he didn’t dare look away in case they showed more news on the standoff.

Jack slammed the phone down on its cradle with a hissed “Fuck.” No answers, then. Hopefully King—

Elliot swung through the door. “Here,” she said and tossed Dain’s cell phone across the room before her short legs could carry her to him. He snagged it out of the air and thumbed it on blindly.

“Come on, come on.” Livie had gone in to work early. She would’ve called—shit! He wasn’t thinking straight. Dain, who never lost his cool on a job, couldn’t think past the fact that his wife was in that damn building.

“She would’ve called my office phone if there was a situation, wouldn’t she?” Assuming she could call at all, but he refused to think about that. “Can you check my office voice mail?”

“Already done,” Elliot said. “No messages.”

He blessed her under his breath as his phone came online. A red circle with the number one inside sat in the upper right-hand corner of the phone icon.

One message.

He couldn’t breathe.

Forcing himself not to tighten his grip until the phone crumbled to bits in his hand, he tapped the icon, navigating his way to voice mail. Livie’s name waited at the top of the message list.

He tapped the Play button, then Speaker. Livie’s voice broke through the chaos in the room—or maybe that was just his pounding heart.

“Dain?”

He swore, the words blistering his throat with the effort to keep them quiet. He upped the volume, not about to miss a single word, a sound, anything.

The sound of her throat clearing came through, then a stronger, “Dain, there’s something wrong here. Stan’s— Stan’s dead. There’s blood.”

Livie. His wife…she was with a dead coworker. Dain choked on the emotion welling in his chest; he couldn’t stop the reaction no matter how unprofessional it was. He’d been in life-and-death situations before, but never… “Wife,” he whispered, straining to hear her next words. Would they be her last?

“I can’t find everyone else. I’m going to the kitchen. I’m in the kitchen, okay?”

“That’s good.”

It took him a moment to register Jack’s voice. He stared blindly at his boss. “What?”

“The kitchen. There will be weapons there, right?”

Right. And he’d trained Livie to recognize them.

“I’ve got to go. I’ll call your office after I call the cops, okay? I’m all right. I am…”

Livie hesitated on the recording as Dain met Elliot’s horrified gaze. “What’s the time?” Elliot asked him. When he shook his head, she nodded toward the phone. “The time on the message—what is it?”

He barely had the presence of mind to hit Pause before checking. “Nine thirty?” But that made no sense. Livie had left by seven. Why would she just be arriving at the office at nine thirty?

What time was it now? The clock on the conference room wall read 10:04. So Livie had called the police. She’d said she was going to, so surely—

Jack’s voice broke through Dain’s daze. “Play the rest.”

He stared down at the screen. Thirty seconds were left on the recording. If he played them, would Livie disappear at the end? Or would waiting mean she waited for him in real life too?

“Stupid idea. Trying hard to blanket the chaos in his head with a numbness that was usually second nature on an op, Dain clicked Play.

“Dain? Listen, I need to tell you, just in case. I know I’ll be fine, but just in case…” A pause. Tell him what? He bit down on the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood, forcing back a scream. Tell him what? “Dain, I’m pregnant. Do you understand? I’m pregnant, husband. I’m having our baby, so you come get me, damn it. Come get us.” He heard a sigh that shook so much it told him exactly how scared she was. “I love you, Dain.”

When the message stopped, so did his heart. Pregnant?

“Fuck!” No way could he be numb after that. Tears stung his eyes, made the phone screen waver in front of him.

He raised the cell to hurl it across the room. Saint’s broad hand stopped him midswing. “I think we might need that, Boss.”

Dain cradled the phone to his chest and forced himself to get a grip. Blinked away the tears. Took a deep breath. Livie needed him; he had to focus. “I’m so going to spank her ass when this is over,” he choked out.

Elliot muffled a laugh behind closed lips.

King rushed into the room, and Dain forced back the emotions clouding his head once again. “What do we know?” he asked, sliding the phone into his back pocket. His team seemed to recognize the shift into work mode; they gathered around the table and started laying out the facts.

“Jerry gave me the basics,” King said as he joined them. “Livie works for Georgia Financial, doesn’t she?”

Dain didn’t need anything else; he saw the truth in King’s expression. “How many combatants?”

“More than one; that’s all Jerry knows. They received a phone call from a female that was cut short. Officers responding to the call found the doors locked. When they tried to force entry, the suspects showed themselves—and their weapons. Threats against the employees. The cops backed off.”

Following procedure. Dain understood it even as his heart protested.

“SWAT is on site now, setting up. The Crisis Negotiation Team is en route. Unfortunately that puts us in a holding pattern.”

“The call from the female, who was it?”

King shook his head. “Jerry didn’t have a name. Why?”

Because he needed to know if it had been Livie. Because he needed to know if his wife was alive before he completely lost every bit of the control he was known for.

He needed his wife, damn it. He couldn’t breathe without her. Couldn’t imagine waking up a single morning without her beside him, safe and sound. He wouldn’t—no, couldn’t accept anything else.

If that meant he had to be the one to make her safe, he would. Or die trying.

Southern Nights: Enigma 2 - Deceive Me

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Elliot Smith has trained hard to live alone and work alone, even when it comes to her job as a security specialist for JCL Security. No relationships, no ties, except the one to the man who kidnapped and murdered her mother. She’ll do anything to kill Martin Diako, the untouchable South African pirate king. When Deacon Walsh walks into her office, she finally sees a chance to do just that.

Deacon went from soldier to mercenary warrior to stay-at-home dad, and now his past is back to haunt him. Martin Diako, the father of the terrorist Deacon killed two years ago, is coming for revenge, and he has his sight set on Deacon’s daughter. An heir for an heir. Deacon will do anything to protect her, even if it means asking for help. But the security team he’s hired comes with an added complication: the only woman to interest him since his wife died.

Deacon always leads his team, and Elliot protects hers. They might have one chance at their enemy—if they can work together. Will their hunger for each other pull them together, or push them apart?

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Chapter One

“I’m not a fucking nanny, Dain.”

“Not with a mouth like that.”

Elliot shot a deadly look Saint’s way, but her team member shrugged it off. She seriously considered strangling the man with the crucifix he wore around his neck, but it wouldn’t matter. Their boss would simply replace him with someone even more annoying just to get back at Elliot for the inconvenience. Instead she turned her back to the room and sought calm outside the floor-to-ceiling windows providing a perfect view of downtown Atlanta.

Okay, the calm came from avoiding the three amused sets of eyes behind her, but whatever.

The members of her team remained silent, though she could feel their stares burning into her back. Good men. She couldn’t have asked for better. Dain Brannan, or Daddy as they sometimes called him, was the head of their particular team here at JCL Security, the one who took care of the rest of them. Saint, or Iggy—the six-two, massive warrior took personal exception to the use of his full name, Saint Ignatius Solorio—was the joker of the bunch, always saying what everyone was thinking but would never politely admit. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of weapons that made him invaluable despite the constant temptation to kick his ass. And then there was King—Kingsley Moncrief. No one would guess from looking into the man’s assessing eyes that he’d been raised with a silver spoon in his mouth. Acting as their client and media liaison was a natural role for him, but Elliot had never doubted how lethal King could be in the field.

All three men stayed quiet, waiting for her cool head to take over. Waiting for the pressure of their silence to push her into complying. They knew her as well as she knew them.

“I don’t want to be shoved into a role because I have the requisite vagina,” Elliot bit out.

When Dain chuckled, she whipped around to glare at him. He raised a hand to stop her in her tracks, a smile still on his lips. “Think about it, Otter. A four-year-old girl. Look at us.” He gestured at the two men flanking him, both over six feet and muscular. Tough. Scary, if you weren’t Elliot. “Do you really think a child is going to be particularly comfortable with us? Or that she’ll trust us as fast as she needs to? This isn’t some forty-year-old visiting dignitary’s wife we can simply talk into complying; it’s a kid.”

Elliot refused to let Dain’s use of her call sign influence her. “She would trust you. Everyone trusts you.” And they did. Dain wasn’t called Daddy only because he watched out for his team.

“Maybe. But with you, it’s guaranteed.”

Because she was tiny. The truth of the knowledge burned in her gut. She didn’t like appearing weak, though she wasn’t above using it to her advantage. She’d taken down many a fighter in the ring because they thought she was an easy target. They learned otherwise quickly, much to their detriment.

So yeah, she got it. That didn’t mean she wanted to admit it.

Elliot sighed like a teenager being forced to wash dishes instead of a kick-ass security specialist being assigned a new client. “Do I really have a choice?”

No, of course not.

The side of Dain’s mouth quirked up in a smirk she knew meant he thought he’d gotten his way. Again. Bastard. “Not really.”

Another sigh. “Fine.”

That earned an all-out laugh. “Fine. Can we meet the client now?”

Elliot grumbled under her breath as she followed Dain to the door of his office. King chuckled as he fell in line behind her. Saint, of course, simply had to add an, “And don’t forget to watch your mouth, little Otter.”

Elliot growled back at him before she stepped into the hall.

JCL Security was headed by Conlan James and Jack Quinn. Their reputation in the United States security community was unparalleled. Even Elliot had heard of them before Dain found her and convinced her to join his team two years ago. She respected her bosses, and Dain’s influence on her life had been such that she’d do pretty much anything he asked, but he’d also never asked her to babysit children. She knew nothing about children. Even when she’d been a child, she hadn’t been “normal,” so how the hell—heck—was she supposed to understand how to handle a child? The mere thought had her wishing for a paper bag to hyperventilate into as their group came to the door of Jack Quinn’s office.

Dain glanced over his shoulder, one last assessment of his “troops” before presenting them to his commanding officer. His gaze settled on Elliot, and the warmth she recognized there eased the panic in the pit of her stomach. When he nodded, she found herself squaring her shoulders and putting on her game face.

Dain gave a peremptory knock and opened the door.

Here we go.

Her gaze shot immediately to the head honcho’s desk, but the sight of Jack was blocked by a set of wide shoulders wrapped in a tight black T-shirt. Wide, muscular shoulders. Elliot saw the same sight nearly every day—all of her team members were “built,” so to speak; they all dressed in what she called military casual, fatigues and tight tees. None of them had ever made the breath catch in her throat like this man did.

Brown hair left shaggy at the top, cut close in a semimilitary style as it tapered to a cropped V at the base of his skull. Tanned skin along his neck and heavy arms. The man’s back narrowed to a tight ass and legs that told her he was just as strong as Saint or King or Dain, so what did he need with them?

Oh, right. Kid.

Forcing herself to stop eating up his manly form with her eyes, Elliot fell into line next to Dain to one side of Jack’s desk.

Their boss made the introductions, alpha to alpha. “Dain Brannan, this is Deacon Walsh.”

Deacon? Actual name or military call sign? Their team all had call signs they went by while on mission, but clients typically didn’t. There hadn’t been time to brief them on more than the very basics of the assignment—number of clients, degree of threat. A call sign gave her a small hint as to why the guy looked like he’d be the last person asking for their help, though.

“Please, call me Dain.” The two men shook hands, and that was where Elliot focused. On their clasped hands, not on the sudden uneasy squirm in her belly. She didn’t understand what was wrong with her. She didn’t question clients, and she sure as hell didn’t have a…reaction…to them. But there was no doubt that everything feminine in her, all the parts she’d thought were good and dead, thank God, were doing weird dances in this man’s presence. And she didn’t like it. She didn’t like it one fucking bit.

“Deacon, meet my team: Elliot Smith, Saint Solorio, King Moncrief. Elliot will be assigned to your daughter’s personal protection, of course.”

“No, she won’t.”

That jerked her head up. Her gaze clashed with grim brown eyes in a grim, hard face. Deacon Walsh stared down at her like she was a puppy who’d just pissed on his boot. “Excuse me?”

“I said, no you won’t.”

Dain shifted next to her. “Elliot is the best member of our team to—”

“You’re not assigning your weakest guard to my daughter simply because she’s a woman.”

It had been Elliot’s argument too, sort of, but instead of cheering, she gritted her teeth. Was this bastard saying she was too little to kick ass if she needed to?

She didn’t even realize she’d tried to step forward until Dain’s hand came out, blocking her advance. Elliot settled back on her heels and waited. Of course, she glared daggers into the man’s stern eyes while she did it, but what were they gonna do, fire her?

The thought almost made her snort. She held back just in time.

“Mr. Walsh…”

Dain’s words were cut off with an abrupt slash of Walsh’s hand. “My daughter is top priority on this assignment. Nothing else matters but her. She needs more than one scrawny wom—”

“Did you just call me scrawny?”

Elliot felt more than saw her team members take a step back, Dain included. A warm rush of pride filled her at their acknowledgment that she could fight her own battles, but she didn’t allow it to get in the way of her focus on Walsh. His gaze swept over her, and though she thought she detected a hint—a very vague hint—of embarrassment in their depths, mostly his eyes held frustration and anger. So did his response.

“I sure as hell did.”

The final word was barely past his lips when Elliot struck. A fake palm heel to the big man’s chin had him jerking back instinctively, giving her a mere second to connect a kick with his inner thigh. She did avoid the groin, though—no need to thoroughly piss off the client, after all. Her grin was probably a tad too exultant as the strike brought Walsh’s head forward, right into her elbow.

“What the fuck!”

“Smith!”

Chuckles from her teammates mixed with Dain’s and Jack’s shouts as she grabbed Walsh’s closest arm and turned, putting her back to his chest. When she dropped to one knee, Walsh flipped over her head. Ah, the joys of leverage. He hit the floor back first. A quick arch and push brought him to his feet—just in time for Elliot’s swift kick in the ass. Walsh stumbled forward.

Dain caught him, fighting hard to keep the grin on his face under control.

No more than fifteen seconds had passed, but Elliot was already briskly brushing her hands together like she’d finished taking out the trash. Or proving a point. Said point might get her fired, but what the hell. They were used to her lack of communication skills around here.

Jack sputtered behind his desk, his face a shade of red she’d never seen on him before. Not very flattering.

A loud laugh pulled Elliot’s focus to the client. Walsh bent, his back to her, the long furrow of his spine drawing her attention right down to the best ass she’d ever laid eyes on—and in her line of business, she’d laid eyes on a few. A warm hum that had nothing to do with a good fight sparked deep inside her.

Dain shook his head, one hand coming up to rub tiredly at his eyes. Elliot shot him a sheepish look.

Jack cleared his throat. “Mr. Walsh, I apologize—”

Walsh’s raised hand precluded any apology. “No need, Jack.” He turned, and Elliot read the amusement in his expression with relief. So maybe she wouldn’t be fired today. “I believe I’m the one who should be saying those words. Nice job, Smith.”

Not Miss Smith, which was what most clients labeled her with. Just Smith. As if she was one of the guys. The final bit of resentment fizzled out. Okay, I can work with that.

That was when she noticed the heat in her cheeks. Looking anywhere but at their client, her gaze met Saint’s. When she moved to stand next to him, he leaned in to whisper, “Don’t bother being embarrassed now, Otter. Too late.”

She punched him in the ribs. His groan was covered by Dain clearing his throat.

“Let me assure you, Mr. Walsh”—Dain threw her a “we’ll definitely talk about this later” look—“that Elliot will be much more circumspect with your daughter than she has proven to be here, won’t you, Otter?”

If she said no, she might get out of the whole nanny duty thing, but one glance at Dain said she’d pushed as far as he would allow her to. She cleared her throat of rebellion. “Of course.”

Walsh’s gaze skimmed her before returning to Dain. “I have no doubt.” He turned to Jack. “Now that we have that clear, perhaps we should get to the point.”

“Right.” Jack gestured them over to a conference area, where he, Walsh, and Dain took seats. Elliot stood next to Saint and King, lined up like good little soldiers behind Dain’s seat, looking on as Jack opened a thick file on the coffee table before him and pushed it toward their team lead.

Dain planted his elbows on his knees and leaned forward over the intel. “Objective?”

“Protection,” Walsh said before Jack could speak. “My daughter is the primary objective. Despite my performance here today”—Walsh didn’t look her way, though his tone was filled with chagrin—“I don’t need protection from this bastard. But I can’t be with Sydney 24-7. I need someone who can.”

“What bastard?” Dain asked.

Jack answered this time. “Martin Diako.”

Elliot froze, even her breath stilling at the name. Martin Diako. She stared at the back of Dain’s head, pinning her composure on her lifeline to the man who’d taken her under his wing.

Martin Diako. Fuck.

Deacon and Sydney Walsh needed protection from Martin Diako. The man known as Mansa in most circles. Ruler. The monster in charge of the biggest modern-day African pirating organization operating today. The monster responsible for ruining an untold amount of lives in the last forty years, including Elliot’s own.

The monster who was her father.

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Did you know there’s a FREE follow-up novella to Deceive Me? Download your copy of Surprise Me and learn new secrets about your favorite ENIGMA characters.  

Southern Nights: Enigma 3 - Destroy Me

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Some mistakes don’t deserve forgiveness.

 Lyse Sheppard planted the bomb that almost killed everyone close to her, including the man she loved. Now in hiding, she spends her days making amends the only way she knows how—using her genius computer skills to save women enslaved by the bastard who blackmailed her. And every night she punishes herself by watching the man she lost live his life without her.

 Fionn “Irish” McCullough can’t let go of the rage Lyse ignited the night she betrayed his team. Betrayed him. After months of searching, he’s no closer to finding his prey—until a mysterious message points him toward Ireland and a deadly threat against the only family he has left.

 Caught in the twisted web of his past, Fionn must choose between revenge and keeping his mother safe. But the one weapon he needs—and the one touch he craves—may be the woman he can never forgive.

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Chapter One

hese are not the droids you’re looking for.

One of the most overquoted lines in all geekdom, probably because it fit so many situations, including this one. Or rather, Lyse Sheppard had only found one “droid” she was looking for, but he wasn’t alone.

She shifted in her hard chair, the one from the dinette set that she’d snitched for a computer chair because all her focus had been on equipment, not comfort. She’d arrived in Ireland with nothing—no surveillance capability, no protection, not even a place to stay. The past two months she’d been able to establish her home base, but she forgot about padding until nighttime arrived and she was consigned to this damn chair. To aching hips and watching her former team live their lives without her.

Watching Fionn McCullough live without her. Not that he’d ever lived with her.

And why would he? She was just Bat Girl, right?

Pat the nerd on the head and give her a cookie.

Even knowing Martin Diako was dead—go, Elliot—Lyse hadn’t stopped watching over her friends, making sure they were safe from repercussions. Deacon and Elliot and Sydney. Trapper. Alvarez. Even Elliot’s team at JCL—King, Saint, Dain with his heavily pregnant wife.

And then there was Fionn.

Her heart sped up as he appeared on her computer screen. The image was grainy, rough. CCTV wasn’t the best source if you wanted clarity. It allowed her to follow her target with ease, though, watch his back.

This time his back—and backside—was being watched by a slender woman with long dark hair.

Lyse’s hands began to shake.

No, not this time. Turn it off. Don’t do this to yourself.

It was sound advice; she knew that. Just as she knew she wouldn’t take it. Not because she didn’t want to. She wanted with everything inside her to reach out, click the button, and turn the monitor off. But there was no button to shut her brain off. It would follow the path of Fionn’s sexy Lexus with the gleaming navy paint into the night, maybe to his house, maybe a hotel, who knew? It would follow him and the woman inside, and even if they were out of camera range, it would imagine exactly what happened the minute the door shut behind them.

Because torturing herself was her specialty—and no more than she deserved. 

Two months later and it still killed her inside to watch him. That was the point, after all. You didn’t try to blow your friends up and get away with it scot-free. Fionn might not be here to punish her, but he did just fine half a world away, whether he knew it or not.

His car was parked at the very back of Milligan’s lot, just out of range of the camera. The same place he parked every time he came, which was frequently. Milligan’s Pub was a favorite of Fionn’s. A couple clicks of her mouse and she’d switched to the surveillance camera used by the car dealership directly behind the bar. The one pointed in the direction of the chain-link fence and Fionn’s car on the other side. Under a streetlight. Perfect view for surveillance.

Fionn led the woman to the passenger-side door. He didn’t kiss her; Lyse never saw him kiss the women he was with. Instead he opened the door and ushered her in. His lips moved without sound, his cocky grin telling her all she needed to know about the conversation she couldn’t hear. And then he closed the woman in and circled the back of the car.

She squeezed her eyes shut, her lungs doing the same. Turn it off. Turn it off, Lyse. Stop punishing yourself for something that happened months ago.

Two months. Eight weeks. The night her life had ended. The night Fionn could’ve died.

She opened her eyelids, forcing herself to watch.

Fionn started the car, rolled down the windows. A pale hand appeared on his chest. Slid down.

A whimper escaped Lyse’s tight throat.

He turned off the car. His seat eased backward, giving her a better view of his face. It was the perfect face. Not as pale as most gingers. Wide green eyes that could narrow into intimidating lasers when he was angry. A strong nose, high cheekbones. A full mouth that made women fantasize, especially when he gave you that grin. Panties melted away when the man grinned.

Just like he did now, as the woman crawled over the center console and shimmied her way onto the floorboard between his knees.

A fist clamped down on Lyse’s heart.

Fionn seemed to prefer risky locations, in his job and with his women. Tonight appeared to be no different. The woman bent forward. Lyse didn’t know if the door blocking her view was a blessing or a curse. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew this wasn’t only punishment; this was all she’d ever have of Fionn. As close as she’d ever get to her fantasies of him, the ones filled with the gravelly grunts and groans that escaped him now, she was sure. She’d imagined them over and over through the years. Hopeful years. Stupid years, filled with stupid fantasies for a stupid girl.

And yet her body heated at the thought of being between his legs, touching him, taking him in her mouth.

Stupid. What kind of woman watched a man with someone else and got aroused?

A desperate one. A damned one.

She clicked the mouse again, and the camera zoomed in just in time. Fionn’s face tightened. A soundless cry escaped him, his body jerking, emptying himself in the ultimate pleasure. Lyse watched, unblinking, until her eyes burned and her throat closed completely. Until the hard knot in her stomach grew so big, so full of bile and self-hatred that it rose up her throat and forced her away from the screen.

Thank God the trash can was close by. No puking on the keyboard, Sheppard.

When the heaving finally stopped—and when she could walk without her knees giving out—she carried herself and the trash can into the bathroom down the hall. The chilled water felt good on her flushed face, rinsing the bitter taste from her mouth. Hot tears mingled with the cold, but she pretended they weren’t there. Pretended she was okay. It was the only way to get through each day. Giving in to the pain didn’t help when it would only come back tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Avoiding her reflection in the mirror kept the illusion of control intact for a few more, precious seconds.

She couldn’t even hate Fionn for what she’d seen. He was the resident lady’s man at Global First; everyone knew it. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t made for it. The man was an Irish god—one she wished she’d never met, most days. But then she wouldn’t be able to tear her heart out night after night, would she?

She walked back into the bedroom, grateful that whatever he’d done with the woman, she’d at least missed that part. Though watching him cradle her on his lap, his big hands running over her hair and down her spine, might be worse. Lyse could practically feel those long, rugged fingers on her skin. She shivered beneath the dream touch, then shuddered at her sick imagination.

The clang of water running through the pipes jerked her back to reality. Sean in the bathroom. Her next-door neighbor must have an early shift at the restaurant. Though their shared wall was insulated enough that they both had privacy, nothing could quiet the noisy pipes that ran through them.

She glanced at the clock display in the bottom corner of her computer screen to confirm the time, and relief flooded her. Time for coffee. It might be the middle of the night in Georgia, but here in Ireland the sun was just over the horizon. Though she didn’t deserve the reprieve, she clicked off her view of Fionn and began to cycle through her regular checks—Deacon’s property, Trapper’s apartment, the Global First compound—grateful when emotion began to ebb in favor of her critical thinking. Ones and zeros, observations didn’t require feeling. With anyone else she could shut it off, do the job. Retreat when the fuckup that was her life became too much to handle, which was exactly what she did now. Retreat. There was no shame in regrouping, right?

Right. Keep telling yourself that.

She rubbed at the ache in her chest, eyes on the screen.

The last house on her list wasn’t a team member; it was a house here in North Quigley Village. A quiet neighborhood off one of the main streets that bisected the town. The houses were small, cottages really, with bigger yards that allowed for plenty of the gardening that flourished in Irish country summers. The owner would be getting up soon, following her normal routine. Lyse paused her surveillance and rewound twenty-four hours, quickly scanning the video. Nothing unusual. Her finger tensed, about to close the program.

And that’s when she saw it—a shadow. Not near the house, but up on the street. The neighbors were all in bed, everything still, quiet in that way that only occurred in the dead of night. The dark, amorphous shape near the top-right corner of the screen didn’t cross in front of the house, simply lingered there near the hedgerow. Someone else might’ve thought it was a shadow cast by the full moon or a neighbor’s still-lit lamp, but Lyse had watched hours of surveillance on this particular house. She knew every branch of the trees, every nuance of the night hours as they passed. This shadow shouldn’t be there, but it was.

The emotional girl inside her retreated, allowing the intelligence-trained woman to take over.

An hour later her analytical mind and quick fingers had supplied a face, a name, and a trail that led her back to a part of Fionn’s life he’d kept a closely guarded secret from everyone but Mark Alvarez and Deacon Walsh. A secret she shouldn’t know and had prayed would never rear its ugly head—but it had.

She knew it and the shadow knew it, but Fionn didn’t. And now she had a decision to make: keep herself safe, or protect the one woman Fionn had always loved?