“Get in, get the woman, and get her out alive. Simple enough?”
Nothing was ever simple. Especially not a rescue operation. Jett raised one brow at the terse orders that had just been issued by the team’s handler. “How many hostiles are we talking here?” He’d just been hustled into the briefing room with two other members of his team. Two that he had to trust with his life—Maddox and Andreas. They’d worked other missions before, and they knew the routine. By this point, they all knew the fucking drill.
Complete the mission. Do whatever it takes. Failure is never an option.
“We don’t have an exact number on the hostiles,” their handler said. The guy was sweating in his white lab coat, and he kept pushing his glasses higher on his thin nose.
Maddox gave a low whistle. “So you want us to go in blind?”
“The target is the daughter of a very important man.”
That meant they were dealing with someone who had political pull and plenty of cash.
“Politician?” Maddox asked. “Or some fancy CEO?”
“Her father is the senior senator from Mississippi.”
Maddox gave a knowing nod.
“The abduction has been kept out of the papers, and we want to continue keeping this situation quiet.”
“Gonna be a bloodbath,” Andreas said, his voice flat and his blue eyes glacial. The guy never showed any feeling. Jett wasn’t sure he could feel. “That’s why you’re sending us in there.”
The handler—what was the guy’s name? Sometimes, it got hard to remember. There were so many bozos in white lab coats in the facility. So many who liked to keep their hands free of blood and death.
Jett looked at his own hands. They’d be stained with blood forever.
“Uh, it’s…” The handler coughed. “Your special skills are needed here for the extraction.”
Jett didn’t. Their “special skills” made them all freaks and perfect killing machines.
“No one can see you when you retrieve the woman,” the handler continued. “If you’re spotted by the hostiles, then they must be taken out. Recovering the target is the top priority.”
Jett exhaled. “Let’s just get the show on the road, all right?” He snatched the manila folder off the table. Flipped it open—and saw her.
Dark hair. Golden skin. Eyes a hazel mix that seemed to smile up at him.
“Savannah Jacobs,” the handler said. “Age thirty. Last seen in Biloxi, Mississippi. She was taken from one of the casinos. She’s being held for a large ransom, only these particular kidnappers have a habit of taking the money and still sending back their victims in pieces.”
Jett was still staring at her picture. Her face was oval, her mouth curved into a grin—one that flashed the dimples in her cheeks. She looked happy. Innocent.
Jett wasn’t sure if he’d ever been innocent.
Or fucking happy.
Mostly because…he couldn’t remember a damn thing about his life. At least, not before he’d woken in the Lazarus facility. And since he’d been part of Project Lazarus, his life had been nothing but a series of dangerous missions. Project Lazarus was called in when no one else had a chance in hell of pulling off the operation.
This woman… She’s real. A person who needs help. And I’m the weapon that will be used to free her. He made sure Maddox and Andreas saw her picture, then he returned it to the file.
“The ones who took her won’t be expecting a team like…” The handler cleared his throat. Pushed his glasses up higher. “Like you three.”
No, no one ever expected them. Who the hell would? Or could? You didn’t expect the dead to show up for a battle. But that was exactly what the Project Lazarus members were…
“Get her out, eliminate anyone in your way, and then contact me for pick-up,” the handler instructed. “Saving Savannah is mission priority. She must be recovered, no matter what it takes.”
Maddox nodded. Andreas looked bored. And Jett…he wondered if Savannah was scared. If the men holding Savannah had hurt her.
Eliminate anyone in your way. If they’d hurt her, if they’d hurt the woman with the sweet smile and warm eyes, he’d make absolutely sure their deaths were as painful as possible.
“Black Ops rules, as always,” the handler muttered. “Make sure anyone who sees your, uh, special skills, doesn’t live to spread the story.”
“When do we leave?” Maddox asked.
“Right now. We have a tentative location on the hostiles. Getting inside their base will be your job.”
“It will be child’s play,” Andreas muttered.
Yes, it would be.
Jett’s gaze slid to their handler. He was balding, and his forehead was slick with sweat. Mathaway. Silas Mathaway. That was the guy’s name. “You’re not telling us everything.” He could hear the guy’s heartbeat racing. And the sweat—talk about bucket loads.
Mathaway’s eyelids flickered.
“What are you holding back?” Jett pushed as he pulled out one of his knives. He polished the blade against the side of his shirt as he waited for an answer. He wasn’t walking into a trap.
“They…they’ve had her for over forty-eight hours.” Mathaway swiped at the sweat on his forehead. “By this time, they’ve usually sent the first piece to the family.”
The first piece? Jett’s jaw locked.
“They haven’t,” Mathaway rushed to add. “That worries…some people. People who think that the kidnappers could be changing their plans. People who think that something different is going on with Savannah.” He swallowed. “She’s very important. Critical, in fact. You have to retrieve her.”
Andreas grunted. “Don’t we always get the job done?” A rough laugh escaped him. “Or die trying?”
An absolute truth. If they didn’t succeed, they died on the missions. They never gave up.
Luckily, they did come back from death.
Jett slid his finger over the edge of the blade, kept his eyes on the handler, and demanded, “Anything else you’re holding back?”
“N-not a thing.”
But the team was waiting. The woman was in danger. And the idea of anyone cutting into her and sending pieces of Savannah back…hell, no. Not happening. Not on Jett’s watch.
Time to get the woman and kill anyone who got in his way.
She didn’t want to die.
Savannah Jacobs jerked against the rough rope that bound her wrists behind her back. She was sitting in a hard, wooden chair, with her ankles tied to two chair legs. She’d been in that room—that dark, cold room—for hours. A gag filled her mouth. She’d almost choked on it when she’d tried screaming before. Not that her screams had done any good.
No one had come to help her. She was starting to think that no one would.
Her eyes strained to see in the darkness around her. The only sliver of light came from the right, from beneath what had to be a door. The light shone near the floor. So small.
Her wrists twisted again as she tried to fight free of the ropes. No give. The rough hemp dug into her skin, cutting her.
A creak reached her ears, and the sliver of light…it got bigger. Bigger. Her heart thundered in her chest because when the door swung open, she could see the outline of a man standing there. Tall, broad shoulders. And his face—
For just a moment, she glimpsed his face, and real terror filled her.
She wanted to shut her eyes. Wanted to pretend that none of this was happening.
The floor groaned as he closed in on her. She tilted her head back. The gag nearly choked her again.
“Oh, Savannah…” His voice was familiar. Just as his face had been familiar. Just as everything about him was familiar. Terribly familiar. “It’s time, sweetheart.”
A tear leaked down her cheek.
“I’ve got to send them proof that I have you.” His hand brushed over her cheek, wiping the tear drop away. “Don’t worry. It will be something small. How about we just start with your pinky?” Then he moved behind her.
A moan broke from her, one that was muffled by the gag. Inside, she was screaming, begging…No, no, please don’t! Don’t cut me! Don’t do this! Please! But only that weak moan emerged from her.
Then she felt the edge of a knife against her hand. Felt it press to the base of her right pinky finger.
Oh, God. Oh, God…
“I’ll cover the sound of your approach,” Andreas announced in his low, dark voice. “They’ll never hear your coming.”
Andreas was speaking literally. They weren’t just normal soldiers. As part of Project Lazarus, they all had special powers, talents that their prey would never expect. Andreas had the ability to cloak sound—to distort it. The bastards waiting would never know that they were being hunted.
Jett stared at the small house that waited up ahead. A house cradled in the middle of a swamp. “I’ll make sure they never see me, too.” Because that was his power. Part of it, anyway. For this mission, he was the one going in the house. He was the one getting the woman.
Maddox would take care of the armed guards on the outside. Andreas would hide all the sounds—dying men could be freaking loud. Or they could never make a sound. These men would never have the chance to make a sound.
I count ten men. Five outside. Five in. The voice didn’t speak out loud. Instead, Maddox’s voice reached Jett and Andreas on the psychic link they shared. A link that few outside of Lazarus would ever understand.
There was a reason why Project Lazarus was kept off the books. A reason why no one without the highest classification of security clearance knew about the group. Most folks wouldn’t believe what Project Lazarus could do.
It was better that way. Safer.
Do we have a visual on Savannah? Jett asked, using the same psychic link to push the question at Maddox.
Shit. So, she might not even be inside, but…
With ten men there, the guys were sure guarding something.
Search the house, Maddox directed. If you find her, Andreas and I will have the extraction vehicle ready on the south side.
Fair enough. Time to get moving.
Jett gave a little salute to Andreas, and the Greek slipped away.
Jett exhaled slowly and called up the strange, dark power that he’d discovered shortly after waking up in a Lazarus lab. He’d opened his eyes and found a bright light overhead. He’d been strapped to a gurney, buck-ass naked. The room had been cold as ice. For a moment, he’d thought he was dead.
Then he’d realized…then he’d learned, he was dead. A dead man brought back to life.
A man without a past.
A man with no future.
A man whose soul seemed to be gone—or at least, a soul that seemed to belong to the US government.
Jett kept to the shadows as he advanced on the house. A quick glance showed him that Maddox was closing in, too. Maddox reached the five exterior guards first. Maddox lunged for the first bastard just as Jett—
“No!” A woman’s scream cut through the night. “Someone—help me! Please!”
She’d managed to spit out the gag. Managed it because she’d been so terrified that she’d knocked her chair over. The blade had been pressed to her pinky, and Savannah had freaked the hell out. She’d shoved her body—with all of her might—away from the blade. She’d crashed face-first into the floor, but the gag was out. And the chair had broken. She twisted and heaved and managed to get her upper body away from the chair, but her legs were still tied tightly and—
A knife pressed to her throat. “Savannah, what in the hell are you doing?”
Her breath heaved in and out. Her mouth was cotton dry. She licked her lips, but that didn’t help the dryness. Or the terror. “L-let me go.” She’d screamed just moments before. Had someone heard her screams? Would someone come to help her?”
“That’s never going to happen.” The knife stayed pressed to her throat, but she felt his fingers on her cheek in a chilling caress. “You’re mine now. You don’t get to leave me.”
No. She was going to get out of here. Somehow. “Don’t cut me. M-my father will pay—”
“Oh, I have no doubt that he will. He’s going to pay everything that I ask…and more.” Rough laughter. “But guess what, Savannah? I’m not going to give you back. Even when he pays, even when I take every cent that he has…you won’t ever go back.”
He meant those words. She knew it, with utter certainty. He was going to keep her. Kill her. She would die in this room.
“I don’t like it when you cry,” he muttered.
And she didn’t like it when he put a knife to her throat. Or when he threatened to cut off her pinky. Or when he kidnapped her.
“I have to send in proof. It’s part of the process. Don’t you get that?”
“Please…” She was begging and she didn’t care. “Don’t hurt me.”
Then… “I’m sorry, but it has to be done.”
No, no, it didn’t. She braced her body, ready to fight with every bit of strength that she had. It had been a while since he’d brought her food or water. When was the last time? Nausea rolled through her, her body was shaking, but, dammit, she’d fight.
Footsteps thundered toward them. Then a voice blasted, “Boss! Boss, dammit, something is happening outside! The men—they’re gone!”
And she was released. Shoved back toward the floor.
“What?” A lethal fury vibrated in that one word. “The cops know better than to get involved with my business.”
What did that mean? Were the local cops on his payroll?
“Someone is here. Someone is fucking with us.” The words tumbled out with a nervous fury from the man who’d just raced into the room.
Savannah didn’t move. She barely breathed. But she did hope. She hoped like crazy.
“Stand guard at her door. No one comes in or out until I return, got me?” And then the “boss” was leaning toward her once more. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll be back for you.”
She wasn’t his sweetheart. She didn’t want him anywhere near her.
He kissed her cheek.
She shuddered. Hated him. Wanted to take his knife and shove it into his heart.
But her hands were still tied behind her. Her feet were still roped to the chair legs and he—he was leaving. He hurried toward the door. Slammed it shut. She saw just the tiny sliver of light and…and the shadow that came from the guard he’d left on the other side of the door.
The gag was gone from her mouth. He hadn’t bothered to shove it back in. He hadn’t bothered to pull her off the floor. She was sprawled with chunks of the broken chair, her shoulders hitched up, her arms burning. Savannah rolled, trying to get free. If she got free, she could use one of the broken pieces of wood as a weapon. She could slug the guard outside and run.
She twisted again and jerked hard, biting back a cry of pain as more wood broke but the ropes didn’t give and—
A hand flattened over her mouth. A hand that just came right out of the darkness. She stiffened, every muscle in her body clamping down as fear drove straight into her heart. Then she erupted, heaving, straining, wanting to fight whoever the hell this new bastard was.
“I’m here to help you. Not hurt you.” His hand was still over her mouth, and his voice was whisper-soft. “I need you to calm down.”
She was way past the point of being calm. She was in extreme hysteria mode. A man had been in the darkness of her room? Just hiding? How long had he been there? How long had he been watching her? Oh, God, oh—
The last of the chair broke away. She rolled and the rope cut into her legs. Her shoulder nearly popped from the socket, and she cried out in pain and fury, but the sound was muffled by his hand.
He cursed. “Have to do this the hard way, huh? Shit.”
Did he think she was going to make this easy for him?
But suddenly, he was on top of her. A big, heavy, muscled form that crushed her. His hand was still over her mouth. Her arms were lodged behind her, and the position hurt. Tears pricked her lashes.
“Don’t cry,” a rough rasp. “Give me a second. I’ll cut the rope.”
But…he rolled her. She felt the sharp blade of a knife between her wrists. She remembered the other man’s promise to take her pinky finger, and she shuddered. Don’t! Don’t! But this fellow didn’t cut her finger off. Didn’t slice her wrist. He just sawed through the rope, freeing her hands. She hadn’t realized just how tight the rope had been, not until feeling came flooding back to her fingertips. Feeling that started as pinpricks of pain then erupted into a full-on burning.
He hauled her up toward him, pulling her onto his lap and still keeping a hand over her mouth. “I know it hurts, but don’t make a sound. I’m trying to figure out our escape plan here, okay?”
An escape plan? Then he…he really was there to help her?
Savannah clamped her mouth shut behind his hand, not letting the pain-filled sounds escape. She’d choke down the pain. She’d do just about anything to get out of there.
“If I move my hand from your mouth, do you promise not to scream? Because if you do, only the bad guys will be running in here. Then I’ll have to kill them, you’ll have to watch, and you’ll probably freak the hell out.”
She was already freaking out. Had he missed that part? But Savannah nodded quickly to show him that she promised. That she wasn’t about to scream.
His hand lifted from her mouth.
She didn’t scream.
“Good.” His voice was so low. It had been low the whole time. Just a gruff whisper that barely reached her ears. In the darkness, he was nothing more than a big shadow. She couldn’t see his face. Savannah could only feel him, all around her.
Him…and his knife. The knife that was now sliding near her ankles.
“Gonna cut you free,” he breathed the words in his rough, dark voice, “it will hurt at first. The same way your fingers are hurting. Just don’t cry out, okay?”
He gave a little jerk, as if she’d somehow just caught him by surprise.
Then he was cutting through the rope at her ankles. Finally freeing her legs and yes, it hurt, but she didn’t care.
“I need to check you for injuries. I’m going to run my hands over your body, all right?”
She nodded. Wait, could he see her nod? She couldn’t see him. Surely, he couldn’t—
His hands slid over her body. A quick, thorough search that seemed totally impersonal. She had bruises, scrapes, her shoulders felt like they were on fire, but Savannah didn’t think she had any broken bones. And she still had all of her fingers. Major win.
“Can you walk?”
If they were getting out of there, she could handle a marathon. “Y-yes…” Her voice was scratchy and low.
“Good.” He pulled Savannah to her feet. And her knees immediately gave way.
She would have crashed right back to the floor, but he held her tight. Her body was flush against his. She realized the guy was strong—very, very muscled. Tall.
“My team is taking care of the guys outside. But there were a few men Maddox missed when he did the first check.” His mouth was at her ear, and his breath slid over her lobe, making her shiver. “Not like him. Maddox never makes mistakes this way.”
She didn’t know who Maddox was.
“I counted eight men inside the house. Three of them ran out when they discovered the guys outside were missing. We have to play this scene carefully. If bullets start flying, I don’t want anyone shooting you.”
She’d prefer not to be shot, too. Thank you very much. “Don’t want…you hurt, either.”
“I can handle the bullets. Don’t worry about me.”
What was he? Superman? No one could handle bullets. But maybe he just meant that he was wearing a bullet proof vest. That could be it. “How did you get in?” The windows in that room were still boarded up, at least, she thought they were.
“Snuck in when the guy came to collect his boss.”
He had? Wow. That was impressive.
“In a moment, I’m going to need you to scream for me.”
Do what? Hadn’t he been the one demanding that she not scream?
“When you scream, the guard on the other side of the door will rush inside. I’ll take him out, and then I can take out anyone else who comes in after him. I’ll control the entrance, so only one hostile will be able to enter at a time.”
A hostile? Did he mean the men who’d taken her?
“Can you scream for me?”
“Good.” He let her go. Stepped back—and the warmth that she’d felt emanating from him vanished.
She spun around, straining to see in the darkness, but he was just gone. No, not gone. Hiding. Waiting.
Her bare foot hit a broken chunk of the chair. She picked it up, wanting a weapon. Wanting to have some kind of protection for whatever was about to happen next.
She sucked in a breath—and then screamed. Over and over.
The door flew open. Banged against the wall. A man stood there, the light spilling in from behind him to fill the room. He was thick in the middle, and his right hand gripped a gun.
“How the hell did you get loose?” He rushed into the room.
He’d left the door open. Light filled the space. She could see the broken chair. She could see the angry asshole rushing toward her. But she couldn’t see her rescuer. Where had he gone? Where?
She lifted the chair leg. “Stay away from me!”
He didn’t. He ran right at her, snarling and—
He was hit from behind. He stumbled, whirled, and then his head was jerking back, whipping with the force of an attack. Two seconds later, he was on the floor.
And there was still no sign of her rescuer. He had to be there, in the shadows, right? “Where are you?” Savannah whispered as she stepped over the downed jerk’s prone body. She dropped her chair leg and took his gun. A way better weapon.
There was no answer.
Savannah peered around the room. The light didn’t reach every corner. Her rescuer had to be in those shadows. Still hiding. Why—
“What did you do to Wayne?” a voice blasted.
She spun around, facing the open door, and saw another man standing there. Tall and thin, he had his gun pointed at her. Only fair—she had her gun pointed at him, too. But his gun wasn’t shaking. Hers was. “Get out of my way!” Savannah yelled.
“Hell, no. You’re not going anyplace.” He stormed toward her. “You’re—”
He howled in pain. Howled because it looked as if his right hand had just been broken. The gun fell from his fingers, and when it hit the floor, it discharged with a loud bang. Savannah screamed, pure reflex, and she fired her gun, too. Blood poured from the guy’s shoulder.
Holy shit. She’d just shot him.
He lunged at her.
She got ready to shoot again, her finger squeezing the—
Her rescuer appeared. He grabbed the other man from behind. Sliced up with a blade and…
Blood. So much blood.
Her eyes squeezed shut. This couldn’t be real.
She opened her eyes.
It was real. Horribly real. Her rescuer had just killed a man with a knife, slicing the bad guy’s throat, and she was about to vomit. Right there. The gun slipped from her suddenly nerveless fingers and hit the floor.
Her “hero” wiped the knife on his pants. “You good?”
Uh, very much nope. But she nodded.
“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”
He caught her hand in his. Then he was rushing into the hallway and pulling her behind him. He looked to the left, to the right, and then they were bounding toward stairs.
They raced down those stairs in what had to be record time. Hope was making her breath come fast and hard. Or maybe that was fear. Whatever. They were almost at the bottom of the stairs. Almost—
“She’s mine!” The bellow came from above. And so did the gunshots that blasted at them.
Savannah expected the bullets to tear into her back, but her rescuer—he was there. In a lightning fast move, he yanked her down and put himself in front of her. When more bullets erupted, she felt his body jerk. The shots are hitting him! First one, then the other. And…
“It’s going to be okay.” He stared into her eyes. They were in the light, and she could finally see his face clearly. He had beautiful, coal black eyes. Pure black hair. A face that was hard and fierce, a jaw that was—
“Run…” He gasped out the one word before he fell.
He just—he fell right there. Collapsed on the stairs. And she could smell blood.
“Savannah!” Her head whipped up. The shooter—the familiar bastard was smiling at her. He offered his hand to her. “Come back to me, sweetheart.”
Sweetheart. He called her that often, because they’d known each other for a while. This man—the man who’d kidnapped her and threatened to cut off her finger—wasn’t a stranger. They’d been friends. Lovers. And now…now they were this. Captor and captive? Would-be killer and victim?
Savannah shook her head. “Stay away from me.”
His lips thinned. He was handsome. Dark blond hair, green eyes. A perfect, chilling grin. He still gripped the gun in his hand, but as she stared up at him, he moved down a few stairs—and he aimed that gun at her rescuer’s head.
“Is he still breathing, Savannah? I think he is. I think I can see his chest moving.”
Her knees had locked.
“But if you don’t get your ass over here to me, the next bullet will go in his brain. Do you want that, Savannah? You want me to put a bullet in his head? You want me to kill him in front of you?”
No. “You’ll do it, anyway.” She knew this with certainty. He’d kill the man who’d tried to save her. Yes, the fellow was still breathing. She could see his chest rising and falling. He was bleeding, though. He was hurt. He was—
He had a knife in his left hand. She could see it.
She forced her legs to bend. She grabbed his hand, as if she was holding on tight to him.
“Savannah!” Fury blasted in that word. “Come to me, now!”
“Come and get me,” she whispered.
Did he hear her? Did it matter? He rushed down the stairs, still holding his gun, and then when he was close—
She surged back to her feet and drove the knife at him. It hit him in the side, sliding deep, and he bellowed. He bellowed even as he fired his weapon.
I’m going to die right here. This is how it ends for me.
But the bullet didn’t touch her.
Just as he’d fired the gun, the house had plunged into total darkness. She heard the thud of flesh hitting flesh, a grunt, and—
“I told you to run.” His voice. Her rescuer. He was talking.
And he was reaching for her hand.
“Said run…not steal my knife.”
A wild laugh escaped her. He was okay? He was—
He scooped her into his arms and raced down the remaining stairs. “This place is about to blow. Maddox said the fire is coming.”
What? When had this magical Maddox said anything? She hadn’t heard a word—unless…was her rescuer wearing some kind of mic? Were they communicating via—
“I only had five minutes before the detonations were scheduled. Time is up, Savannah.” His hold tightened on her. “But I’ve got you.”
He had her, but what about the “boss”—what had happened to him?
Her rescuer kicked open the front door. They ran into the night.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
More bullets were flying. Were they flying at them? Were they—
The house erupted behind them, sending flames shooting high into the sky and sending Savannah—and the man holding her—hurtling forward.
I’ve got you. His words filled her mind right before she slammed into the earth.