Alpha one, p.10
Alpha One, p.10Cynthia Eden
“Promises, promises?” The taunt snapped out. “Because I don’t think I can trust you on this, Logan.” The pain from the past struck out at her. “I trusted you before, remember? We were going away together. I was there that night. Ready to leave everything I knew behind. I was there for hours.” She couldn’t hold back any longer. “Where the hell were you?”
His fingers were too tight on her arms. Logan knew it. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to step back. There was so much anger, no, rage in Juliana’s eyes. He hated that.
Even as he knew he could do nothing to change the past. “We were just kids, Julie. Two confused kids.”
“I was twenty. You were twenty-two. It’s not like we were playing in the sandbox back then.”
She wouldn’t make him flinch. Terrorists, killers—he’d faced plenty in his time. He’d taken bullets and been sliced by knives. He hadn’t flinched then.
I hate the way she’s looking at me. “We were too young. It wasn’t love. Wasn’t meant to be forever.”
She just kept staring at him, as if she could see through his lies. “No, it wasn’t.” Her breath rushed out. “I counted the minutes on that stupid clock in the bus station. That stupid, huge clock that hangs over the counter. I counted until midnight, when I had to give up.” Her stare was burning him alive. “At midnight, I promised myself I’d never let you betray me again. But...I guess I was wrong about that, too.”
The woman was carving his heart out of his chest with every word she uttered.
“Forget it.” Then she shoved away from him with more force than he’d expected. “So I get an implant, huh? That’s the next big deal? Someone to slice me open, whether I want it or not.”
He wanted the tracker on her, just as a precaution. After the way things had gone down at the cabin, he wanted to make sure he’d have a way of finding her. “Hostages, witnesses—they’ve been taken before. They’re stripped, their bags are tossed. We realized a few years ago that we needed technology that wouldn’t be ditched so easily.” The tracker was tiny, barely noticeable at all, and easily inserted under the skin. A little piece of tech that Uncle Sam hadn’t shared with many others.
“A few hours after the insertion, you’ll barely even notice it’s there.”
She finally glanced away from him. “I’ll notice.” Her words were clipped. So unlike her usual voice. “But I’ll do it anyway because if Guerrero does get to me, the EOD had better haul butt to save my life.”
Juliana had already turned from him and headed for the door. He should let her go but he had to speak. “I really am...sorry.” The apology came out sounding rusty and broken.
She pulled open the door. “For what?” Juliana didn’t bother looking back at him. “Leaving me before...or setting me up now?”
Both. “I wanted you to be happy. You wouldn’t—you wouldn’t have been happy with me.” The line he’d told himself for years. She deserved better. She’d have better. It was only a matter of time until some Prince Charming took her away.
His hands were clenched so tightly that his knuckles ached.
“Don’t tell me what I’d be,” she said, her spine stiff and too straight. “I’m the only one who understands how I feel and what I want.”
Then she walked through the door, calm and poised. So what if she was barefoot and her cute little toenails were flashing bright red? The woman had held court too long in her life not to walk with that easy grace.
“Come on, Doctor,” she called out and he knew that Liz Donaldson had to be close by. “Let’s get this over with.”
Logan exhaled slowly. He looked up and stared straight into the mirror that was less than five feet from him. His reflection stared back. His jaw was lined with stubble, eyes and face worn.
She wouldn’t have been happy. The words were stubborn, but they weren’t his, not really. Her father had been the one to first speak them.
You can’t make her happy. When she finds out what you did, how do you think she’ll ever be able to look at you again?
His teeth ground together, but he managed to say, “Come on out, Jasper. I know you’re in there.”
After a moment, he heard the slow approach of Jasper’s booted feet. Then the Ranger was there, filling the doorway, shaking his head even as he crossed his arms over his chest. “You are one dumb SOB,” Jasper said.
“Don’t push me now,” Logan ordered. Jasper was always pushing. In the field, in the office—everywhere. Death wish? Yeah, he had one.
Jasper’s mouth lifted in his usual sardonic smile. “Left her there all alone, huh? Didn’t even go to see the pretty girl at the bus station. That’s cold.”
He stared at Jasper but didn’t see him. “A blue dress that fell to her knees. A ponytail pulled to the side. A small black bag at her feet.” He forced his hands to unclench. “She was sitting five feet from the front desk, turned so that she could see the entrance.”
But he’d been there long before she’d arrived, hidden in the shadows, watching what he couldn’t have.
A furrow pulled up Jasper’s brows. “You were there, but you didn’t say anything? Man, what are you—crazy? Why’d you let a woman like that walk?”
“You know what I am.” Jasper had seen him at his worst, covered in blood, fighting for his life. More animal than man. He’d seen Logan when his control broke and the beast inside broke free.
Born to kill.
He’d been told that for so long.
“No, man, I know what you think you are,” Jasper said with a sigh. “But I tell you this...if a woman like her ever gave me the look—the kind of look I saw her give you—I’d do anything for her.”
He had done anything. He’d given her up. That had been everything. “Don’t push me on this,” Logan warned. He’d hate to have to kick his friend’s butt again.
But Jasper just blinked slowly and kept his smile. “Maybe I should be talking to her, comforting her.”
“You stay away from her.”
“Like that, huh?” Before he could answer, Jasper gave him a long, considering look and said, “At twenty-two, I can still see you being a dumb kid who could manage to give her up. But now, after everything you’ve been through, after all we’ve done, I’m betting that sweet slice of paradise is pretty tempting, isn’t it?”
She’d tempted him from day one and was still tempting him. When he’d had her beneath him at that cabin. When he’d been touching her skin, feeling her soft flesh beneath his...
“You really think you can let her go again?”
Logan didn’t speak.
Jasper nodded. “Thought so.” Whistling, he stalked away.
This time, Logan didn’t look at his reflection. He didn’t want to see the man who stared back at him. The man who just might be desperate enough to try to force Juliana to stay with him.
Even when he knew she deserved more.
* * *
JULIANA SAT ON THE small bed in the lab room, her head down, staring at the tiled floor. Logan stood in the doorway for a moment, watching her.
But then her head tilted back, and her gaze found his.
Silence, the kind that said too much.
He hesitated, then said, “I’ve got clothes for you. Shoes.” Logan strode forward and put the bag down beside her. Then, because he couldn’t help himself, his hands rose toward her.
“Easy,” he whispered. “I just want to check...” He brushed back her hair, knowing exactly where Liz would have placed the implant. His finger slid up her neck, then slipped around beneath the heavy weight of her hair. The bandage was small, barely an inch long, and flat.
“I’m fine,” Juliana said. He stood close to her, intimately close. And Logan didn’t remove his hands.
He didn’t want to. “Are you sure? Any pain, any—”
She shook her head.
Step back. He pulled in a breath and dropped his hands. “Once you’ve change
Her hand grabbed his arm. He was the one who tensed then. “Where are we going this time? Another cabin in the woods? Another safe house?”
Confusion filled the darkness of her gaze.
“No more hiding.” The order had come from above. From the man who’d formed the EOD. Syd had picked up rumors online that Guerrero was on American soil. Rumors they suspected were fact. He was close...they just had to make him come in even closer.
And Logan’s boss wanted them on the offensive.
“We need to make Guerrero afraid. We want him to worry that he’s been compromised.” Mercer’s words. He’d talked to Logan on the phone less than five minutes ago. “When the woman is hiding, he knows he has the power. Get her out. Put her in public. Make Guerrero think we’ve got the evidence on him. He needs to be the one running.”
Easy for Mercer to say. He didn’t know Juliana. She was just a witness to him. An important one, no doubt, but the idea of putting her in danger wouldn’t rip his guts out.
“Where are we going?” Juliana asked again, then her eyes widened. “Unless...maybe there’s no ‘we’ now, maybe the EOD—”
“We’re staying with you.” As if anyone could pry him away when she was in danger.
She nodded, exhaling.
“But we’re not hiding. Guerrero’s power is fear. He wants you afraid. Pulling you away from everything you know. He wants to isolate you. That’s key for him.” The man knew how to intimidate and control his enemies.
And his friends. Luis Sanchez...hell, he still couldn’t believe the guy had chosen to shove a knife into his heart instead of talking.
He pushed the memory away, just like he did all the bloodstained memories that wanted to haunt him.
As far as the EOD was concerned, it was time for a new tactic with Juliana. “My boss—Mercer—he wants you seen in public. We want to make Guerrero become the one who’s afraid. We want him to think that we’ve found the evidence. That we’re secure. The idea is that he’ll get desperate when he thinks we’re closing in, and desperate men make mistakes.” He’d seen it happen over and over again.
“Do I have a choice in this?”
Her words stopped him cold, and in that instant...
Logan realized that some things were more important than following orders.
“Yes.” He kept his voice calm with an effort. “You do. If you want me to take you out of Mississippi, to get you as far from Guerrero and his goons as I can, you say the word.”
Her lips parted.
“If you want to stay here, to stand off against him and make him become the hunted, then we’ll do that. It’s your life. You make the choice.” He’d back her up, even if he had to go alone, without the other EOD agents riding shotgun.
So Logan waited.
Her hand rose. Touched the small bandage on the back of her neck. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life running.”
Logan knew people who had spent years running. That life—it stunk. Always looking over your shoulder, never letting your guard down.
But there was something else she needed to understand before she made her choice. “Mercer’s worried we have a leak at the EOD. That if we tried to take you to another secret location...” It wouldn’t be secret. “Guerrero shouldn’t have found us so quickly. Shouldn’t have known the things he did.”
So Mercer was saying that hiding wasn’t an option. No, that hiding with the EOD wasn’t an option.
Logan was pretty sure he could make Juliana disappear just fine on his own.
He could see the struggle on Juliana’s face. Safety...where did it lie?
With me. If she’d just trust him again.
“No hiding.” Juliana gave a slow nod. “That’s not...that’s not the way I want to live. I don’t want to be afraid, every day, that he’s coming after me.”
Did she even realize how strong she truly was?
“I want to go after him. I want Guerrero to fear. He took away so much.” She swallowed and exhaled slowly. “It’s time for me to take away from him.”
“Let him think I have the evidence. Let him think we’re tearing his life apart.” Her words came stronger now. “And then let’s destroy him.”
“We will.” A vow.
* * *
DIEGO STARED AT THE MAN before him. A man who sat, bound, with his arms and legs tied to a chair. A black bag covered his head and the fool was screaming at the top of his lungs.
Did he actually think help would come?
Diego sighed. “Why were you getting ready to leave town, Mr. McLintock?” Because he had been. Diego had sent a man to follow McLintock months ago. Back when he’d first realized that the senator was holding back.
The senator had to trust someone. Someone had been there to help with all the deals.
The someone who’d just stopped screaming.
“I—I was just going to visit my mother. She—she lives in Florida.”
It was the wrong response. Ben McLintock should have been asking why he was being held. Demanding to know who’d taken him.
Not rushing to answer with a pat response.
“After all that happened with the senator, I—I needed to get away.”
Diego nodded to his men. The bag wasn’t needed any longer.
One man stepped forward and yanked it from McLintock’s head. McLintock’s gaze flew around the small room, then locked on Diego.
“You know who I am,” Diego said as he stared right back at the other man.
McLintock gave a small nod.
“That will make things easier.” Diego lifted his hand and gave a little two-fingered wave. His man, Mario, knew what that signal meant.
A knife was immediately shoved into McLintock’s shoulder.
The senator’s aide screamed.
Diego dropped his hand. “You were working for the senator.” The authorities had to know that, too. So he’d had to be so careful when he made his move on this man. But lucky for him, McLintock had been the one to escape from the guards that the government had put on him.
His man had been driving the taxi that picked up McLintock.
“I—I don’t know what—”
Sighing, Diego lifted two fingers.
“No!” McLintock said. Mario paused and Diego cocked a brow. “I—I was... I just delivered packages for him, okay? I didn’t even know what was in them, not until the feds came in and started asking all their questions.” Blood soaked his fancy shirt. “Then Aaron offered me money to keep quiet.”
Sure, as if Diego believed that was the way things had gone down. This man had known about the deals. Probably from day one. He’d been taking money, stashing it away just like James had.
But James hadn’t escaped. Neither would McLintock.
“Where’s the evidence?”
“I don’t know. I swear!”
Diego gave his two-fingered wave. The knife sank into McLintock’s left shoulder this time. More screams. More blood.
“I’ll ask again.”
“I don’t know!”
The knife sank into his left thigh.
“I need that evidence...”
“J-James said he was giving it...to his daughter...s-safekeeping...”
The knife sank into his right thigh.
“I don’t know anything else!”
He could almost believe him.
“Please...let me go...”
Was the many crying now? How pitiful. “I will,” Diego promised him. What would be the point in keeping him? A few more moments, and he’d know if McLintock had any more secrets to tell. After that...
He could go free.
“Tell me, what do you know about the bomb in the cemetery?”
McLintock flinched. “Nothing!”
“Lies just make the pain last longer.” He knew exactly how to get to this one. Pain. McLintock how
“I didn’t set it! I didn’t!” McLintock was definitely crying now.
He also sounded honest. Pity. McLintock had been one of the few with open access to the senator’s house and to his car. But if it hadn’t been McLintock, then that did narrow down his pool of suspects.
Diego nodded to Mario. “You know what to do.”
A muscle flexed in Mario’s jaw.
“Y-you’re gonna let me go, right?” McLintock was soaked in blood and straining against his bonds. “You’ll let me go?”
“Of course.” Diego turned away. “Once I’m sure you don’t have any other secrets to tell...”
Fear tightened McLintock’s face.
“So perhaps you’d better keep talking,” Diego advised, “or else Mario will keep cutting.”
* * *
THE MANSION THAT SAT high up on the hill, its stone walls stark and cold, had never seemed like home to Juliana.
The building had felt more like a tomb.
It sure looked like one from a distance.
“We’ve got a press conference scheduled for eight o’clock,” Gunner said from his seat up front. “You’re gonna focus on Guerrero during that talk. Time to start rattling the SOB.”
Right. She nodded. She’d say or do whatever was necessary. No more fear. She wasn’t going to stand in the middle of any more bloodbaths. As it was, Juliana had more than enough gore floating around in her mind to give her plenty of nightmares, thank you so much.
The SUV pulled to a stop. A cop car was behind them, another in front. Their escorts. Juliana knew that a large guard force would stay at the mansion. Added cover, sure, but the bodies were also designed to attract extra attention for them.
Here I am. Come and get me.
So they could get Guerrero.
Gunner exited the SUV and headed for the main entrance. Juliana knew the heavy iron security gates would have already closed behind them, locking the vehicles inside.
She glanced over at the house. This had been her father’s place, not hers.
“Why did you always hate it here?” Logan’s quiet question surprised her.
Shrugging a little, she said, “Because it’s cold inside. It’s just a big fancy tomb.” Her palms flattened against her jeans. “My mother died one week after we moved into this house. She was coming home and a drunk driver slammed into her.”
Alpha One by Cynthia Eden / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes