Alpha one, p.3
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       Alpha One, p.3

           Cynthia Eden
 
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  He tried not to let his satisfaction show. Juliana was an artist; he knew that. Sure, she usually worked with oils, but he remembered a time when she’d always carried a sketchbook with her.

  She’d always been able to draw anything or anyone...in an instant.

  “We’ll want sketches of every man or woman you saw while you were being held.”

  Now her shoulders straightened. “Done.”

  Hell, yes. This could be just the break they needed.

  “I want these men caught. I want them stopped.”

  So did he, and Logan wasn’t planning on backing off this mission, not until Guerrero was locked up.

  The mission wasn’t over. In fact, it might just be getting started.

  He turned away from her. “Try to get some more sleep.” They could take care of the sketches soon enough. For the moment, he needed to go talk with his team to tell them about his suspicions.

  But she touched him. Her hand wrapped around his arm and every muscle in Logan’s body tightened. “Why did you come for me? Why you, Logan?”

  He glanced down at her hand. Touching him was dangerous. She should have remembered that. He’d always enjoyed the feel of her flesh against his far too much.

  With Juliana, only with her, he’d never been able to hold back.

  Maybe that was one of the reasons he’d run so far. He knew just how dangerous he could be to her.

  “The senator came to our unit.” Yes, that was his voice already hardening with desire—just from her touch. “He wanted you brought to safety.”

  “Your unit?” Her fingers tightened on him.

  He gave a brief nod. “We’re not exactly on the books.” As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the EOD, or Elite Operations Division, didn’t exist. The group, a hybrid formed of recruited navy SEALs, Rangers and intelligence officers from the FBI and CIA, was sent in for the most covert missions. Hostage retrieval. Extreme and unconventional warfare. They were the ones to take lethal, direct attacks...because some targets had to be taken out, no matter the cost.

  “Does your unit—your team—have a name?”

  Not an official one. “We’re called the Shadow Agents.” Their code name because their goal was to move as softly as a shadow. To stalk their prey and complete the mission with a minimum amount of exposure.

  They always got the job done.

  “My father really came to you? How did he even know you were—” Her hand fell away, and he missed her touch. Close enough to kiss, but never close enough to take.

  It was the story of his life.

  “He didn’t come to me for help.” The senator had nearly doubled over when he’d seen Logan sitting across the desk from him. “He came to my division, the EOD—the Elite Ops Division.” Because the FBI had sent him there. The senator still had power and pull in D.C., enough connections to get an appointment with the EOD.

  Juliana shook her head. “I didn’t think he’d try to get me back.” A whisper of the lost girl she’d been, so many years ago, trembled in her words. Lost...but not clueless.

  She knew her father too well. The mission to Mexico hadn’t just been about her. And if Juliana knew the full truth about the trade-off that had been made in that quiet D.C. office, she’d realize that she’d been betrayed by them both, again.

  As if the first betrayal hadn’t been hard enough for him to stomach. For years, he’d woken to find himself reaching for her and realizing that she’d forever be out of his hands.

  But she’s not out of reach right now.

  He turned fully toward her, almost helpless, and caught her chin in his fingers. “I was getting you back.” Logan recognized his mistake. He was letting this case get personal, and that was the last thing he should be doing.

  Hands off. Get her on the plane. Deliver her home.

  Walk away.

  But it had been so long since he’d held her. Even longer since he’d kissed her. One moment of weakness...would it really hurt? Would it really—

  She rose onto her toes and kissed him.

  Yes.

  Logan let his control go. For that moment with her, he just let go. Logan’s arms closed around her as he pulled her against him. Her breasts pushed against his chest, and he could feel the tight points of her nipples. She had perfect breasts. He remembered them so well. Pretty and pink and just right for his mouth.

  And her mouth...nothing was better than her mouth. At twenty, she’d tasted of innocence. Now she tasted of need.

  Seduction, at that moment, from her, wasn’t what he’d expected. But it sure was what he wanted. His hands tightened around her, and he held her as close as he could. His tongue thrust against hers. The moan, low in her throat, was a sound he’d never forgotten. Arousal hardened his body as her hands slid under his shirt and her nails raked across his flesh.

  She was hot. Wild.

  But this was wrong.

  So why wasn’t he stopping? Why was he putting his hands on her curving hips and urging her up against the flesh that ached for her? Why was he pushing her back against the wall so that he could trap her there with his body?

  Because I need her.

  The addiction was just as strong as ever, just as dangerous to them both.

  He jerked his head up and stared down at her. Juliana’s breath panted out. Her lips were red, swollen from his mouth. He wanted to kiss her again. One hot minute wasn’t close to making up for the past ten years.

  A taste, when he was starving for the full course.

  Get her naked. Take her.

  She’d been through hell. She didn’t need this. Him.

  He sucked in a sharp breath and tasted her. “This can’t happen,” Logan said, voice growling.

  At his words, the hunger, the passion that had been on her face and in her eyes cooled almost instantly.

  “Julie—”

  But she shoved against him. “Sorry.”

  He wasn’t. Not for the kiss, anyway. For being a jerk and turning away? Yes.

  But making love then, with his teammates in the next room? He wouldn’t do that to her.

  “I don’t even know what I’m doing.” She walked away from him and didn’t look back. “I don’t want this. I don’t want—”

  She broke off, but Logan stiffened because he could too easily finish her sentence.

  You.

  Adrenaline. The afterburn. He understood it, had been through enough battles and enough desperate hours after them to know what it was like when the spike of adrenaline filled your blood and then burned away.

  He headed for the door and kept his shoulders straight, like the good soldier he was supposed to be. “You should try to get some more sleep.”

  They weren’t out of the woods yet. Until they were back in the United States, until death wasn’t hanging over her head, he would be her shadow.

  That was his job.

  Since they’d been forced together, he figured she deserved the warning he’d give her, and he’d tell her only once. “If I get you in my arms again like that...” His hand closed around the old doorknob, tightened, almost broke it off. Logan forced himself to exhale. If I get you in my arms again... He glanced back and found her wide, dark eyes on his. “I won’t stop. I played the gentleman this time.”

  Right. Gentleman. Because he knew so much about that bit.

  Her eyes said the same.

  His jaw clenched. “I’ll be damned if I do it again. You offer,” he warned, “and I’ll take.”

  Not the smooth words a woman needed to hear after her ordeal in captivity, but there wasn’t much more he could say. So he left. While he still could.

  And of course, Jasper was waiting for him in the other room. The guy lifted a blond brow. His face, one of those pretty-boy faces that always fooled the enemy, hinted at his amusement. “Now I get it,” he drawled.

  Angry, aroused, close to desperate, Logan barely bit back the crude retort that rose to his lips. But Jasper was a friend, a teammate.

 
You’re always looking for the blondes with dark eyes,” Jasper teased as he tapped his chin. “Wherever we go, you usually seem to hook up with one.”

  He was right.

  Jasper smirked. “Now I know why.” The briefest pause as he studied Logan. “How do they all compare with the original model?”

  Logan glared at his friend. There is no comparison. Instead of responding to Jasper, Logan stalked off to trade out for his guard shift.

  * * *

  SENATOR AARON JAMES stared down at the gun in his hands. Things weren’t supposed to end this way. Not for him. He’d had such big plans.

  Easy money. The perfect life. So much power.

  And everything was falling apart, slipping away.

  The phone on his desk rang. His private line. Jaw clenching, he reached for the receiver. “J-James.” He hated the tremble in his voice. He wasn’t supposed to be afraid. Everyone else was supposed to fear him.

  Once, they had.

  Until he’d met Diego Guerrero. Then he’d learned a whole new meaning of fear.

  “She’s dead.” The voice was low, taunting. No accent. Just cold. Deadly.

  Diego.

  Aaron’s hand clenched around the receiver. “Juliana wasn’t part of this.”

  “You made her part of it.”

  His gaze dropped to the gun. “She’s not dead.” He’d gotten the intel, knew that Juliana had been rescued. The price for that rescue had been so high.

  His life.

  “You think this will stop me?” Laughter. “I’ll hunt her down. I’ll get what I want.”

  Diego and his men never stopped. Never. They’d once burned a whole village to the ground in order to send a message to rivals. And I thought I could control him? Perspiration slicked Aaron’s palms. “I made the deals for you. The weapons were transferred. We’re clear.”

  More laughter. “No, we’re not. But we will be, once I get back the evidence you’ve been stashing.”

  Aaron’s heart stopped.

  “Did you think I didn’t know about that? How else would you have gotten the agents to come for her? You made a trade, didn’t you, James?”

  “She’s my daughter.” He hadn’t been able to let her just die. Once, she’d run to him, smiling, with her arms open. I love you, Daddy. So long ago. He’d wrecked their life together. Thrown it all away but...

  I wasn’t letting her die.

  “I want the evidence.”

  He’d tried to be so careful. He’d written down the names, the dates of all the deals. He’d gotten recordings and created a safety net for himself.

  But now he was realizing that he’d never be safe. Not from Guerrero.

  “I’ll get the evidence.” A deadly promise from his caller. “I’ll get you, and I’ll kill her.”

  The phone line went dead.

  Aaron swallowed once, twice, trying to relieve the dryness in his throat. Things had been going fine with Guerrero until...I got greedy.

  So he’d taken a little extra money, just twenty million dollars. It had seemed so easy. Sneak a little money away from each deal. Aaron had considered the cash to be a...finder’s fee, of sorts.

  He’d found the ones who wanted the weapons. He’d set up the deals.

  Didn’t he deserve a bit of a bonus payment for his work? He’d thought so. But then Guerrero had found out. Guerrero had wanted the money back. When Guerrero started making his demands, Aaron had threatened to use the evidence he had against the arms dealer...

  My mistake. Aaron now realized what a fool he’d been. You couldn’t bluff against the man called El Diablo. The devil would never back down.

  Instead of backing down, Guerrero had taken Juliana.

  His eyes squeezed shut. Juliana was safe now, but how long would that safety last?

  I’ll get you, Guerrero had said. This nightmare wasn’t going to end quietly. The press would find out about what he’d done. Everything he’d built—gone.

  I’ll kill her.

  Juliana was his regret. He’d pulled her into this war, and she didn’t even realize it.

  Now she’d die, too.

  No one ever really escaped Diego. No matter what promises Logan Quinn had made. You didn’t get to cheat the devil and walk away.

  The receiver began to hum. Fumbling, Aaron shoved the phone aside. Stared down the dark barrel of the gun.

  He wouldn’t lose everything, wouldn’t be made a mockery on every late-night television show. And even when the public turned on him, Aaron knew he’d still be hunted by Guerrero.

  There wasn’t a choice. No way out. When Guerrero caught him, El Diablo would torture him. He’d make Aaron suffer for hours, days.

  No, no, that wasn’t the way that Aaron wanted to go out.

  “I’m sorry, Juliana...”

  * * *

  JULIANA HELD HER BREATH as the small plane touched down, bounced and touched down again on a landing strip that she couldn’t even see. Her hands were clenched tight in her lap, and she didn’t make a sound. Fear churned in her, but she held on to her control with all her strength. The men and the woman with her weren’t scared, or if they were, she sure couldn’t tell.

  The woman was flying them. Sydney—that was her name. Juliana had heard Logan call her Sydney once. The group hadn’t exactly been chatty, but that was probably due to the whole life-and-death situation they had going on.

  The plane bumped once more and then, thankfully, settled down. She felt the plane’s speed begin to slow as it taxied down what she sincerely doubted was a real runway. They’d taken off from some dirt road in Mexico, so she figured they were probably landing in the middle of nowhere.

  “And we’re back in America,” Logan murmured from beside her with a flash that could have been a brief grin.

  She pushed her fingers against her jean-clad thighs. The better to wipe the sweat off her hands. “Does this mean I’m safe again?” she asked. He’d been her shadow nearly every moment. Close but not touching. And that was fine, right? She didn’t want him touching her.

  “This means...” He leaned forward and unhooked the seat belt that had kept her steady during the bumps and dives of the flight. “It means that it’s time for you to get your life back.” His face came close to hers. The face that she’d never forgotten. His black hair had once curled lightly but now was cut brutally short.

  The old adage was annoyingly true—a girl really did never forget her first lover.

  Over the years, Logan had grown harder. A thin scar under his chin looked as if it could have been a knife wound. And his eyes now creased with fine lines. No one else had eyes that shade of bright blue.

  Only Logan.

  Right then, his lips were only inches away. Had she really kissed him hours before? At the time, it had seemed like a good plan. Some hot, fast action to chase away the chill that had sunk into her bones.

  John is dead. She’d left him behind, and he’d died.

  She’d almost died, too, and she’d been so scared. Had it been so wrong to want to feel alive? For just a few moments?

  Then Logan had pulled away from her.

  Again.

  Apparently, it had been wrong. Same story, same verse. Logan Quinn wasn’t interested.

  And she wanted to forget. She wanted passion, not just him.

  Not. Just. Him.

  They climbed out of the plane. The guy called Gunner went first, sweeping out with his weapon up. Logan stayed by her side. A giant bodyguard who took every step with her.

  Two black SUVs waited for them. Logan steered her to the front one. Climbed in and slammed the door behind him.

  As soon as he and Gunner were inside, the SUV started moving. The driver tossed back a cell phone to Logan. “Another mission down, Alpha One.”

  She glanced over and found Logan’s eyes on her. Should a man’s gaze really feel like a burn? His did.

  He had the cell to his ear. Who was he calling already?

  “Alpha One checking in,” he said into the phone
. “Package delivered safely.”

  Being referred to as a package grated. She wasn’t a package. She was a person.

  Juliana glanced away from him. Empty landscape flew by them. Miles of dry dirt, dotted occasionally by small bursts of struggling green brush.

  “Sir?” Logan’s voice was tight as he talked to whoever was on the other end of the line. “Yes, sir. I understand.”

  The called ended. Short. Sweet.

  “Juliana...” He caught her right hand. Oh, now he was back to touching? “I’m sorry,” he told her, and he actually sounded as if he was.

  Curious now, she glanced over at him. “For what?”

  Logan’s handsome face was strained and his bright blue eyes told her the news was going to be very bad even before he said, “Senator James is dead.”

  Chapter Three

  The hits just kept on coming for her. Logan watched Juliana, clad in a black dress that skimmed her curves, as she bent and placed a red rose on her father’s closed casket.

  No one had been able to glimpse the body—folks didn’t need to witness the sight left after a gunshot blast to the head.

  His team had been with Juliana for the past four days. They’d stood guard, making sure that she returned to Jackson, Mississippi, without any further incident. Once in town, his team had taken over a group of rooms at a local hotel. He’d insisted that Juliana stay at the hotel, too, so that his team could keep a better eye on her. At first, she’d balked, but he hadn’t backed down. His instincts had been screaming at him, and Logan hadn’t wanted to let Juliana out of his sight.

  He’d expected her to cry at the news of her father’s death. After all that she’d been through, she was entitled to her tears.

  She hadn’t cried once.

  Her back was too straight as she walked away from the casket. Mourners began to file past her. One after the other. All offering their condolences and stopping to give her a hug or a pat on the shoulder.

  Logan watched from his position underneath the sweeping branches of a magnolia tree. The fresh scent of the magnolias was in the air. That scent had reminded him of her. The first time they’d kissed, they’d been under a magnolia tree. It had been raining.

  She’d trembled against him.

  “You know what we have to do,” Gunner said from beside him.

 
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