EXCERPT: SWEET REVENGE
The night was silent and still. The air, thick and humid, held a feeling of expectancy—as if aware that rescue had finally arrived. Stooped behind a low brick wall, his eyes narrowed into a squint behind powerful binoculars, LCR operative Dylan Savage surveyed the perimeter of the massive property owned by Stanford Reddington.
The house in front of him held Jamie Kendrick—a young woman who’d been abducted by a maniac and then sold to Reddington. Purchased for what purpose, Dylan didn’t even want to consider. Their mission was clear: rescue. Their plan: a soft entry. Grabbing Jamie and getting the hell out, hopefully without firing a shot.
“Everyone in place and ready?” Noah McCall asked quietly. The Last Chance Rescue leader kept his voice calm and low, his tone revealing none of the tension Dylan knew he must feel.
On missions, McCall acted as though ice ran through his veins. That was an attitude Dylan had adopted long before he’d joined LCR. Never let them see you flinch. He’d learned that lesson as a child. Staying expressionless had saved his ass more than once.
Dylan answered with a soft “Ready.”
Adrenaline surged as the three other people on the op answered in the affirmative. Any second now…
“Go,” McCall whispered.
Staying low, Dylan and McCall ran toward the back door that their informant, Raphael, had promised would be unlocked. Noah eased the door open…Dylan peered inside. Scanning the large kitchen, he briefly noted that not only did the room look like a pigsty, it stank of old food and stale alcohol. The room had one thing in its favor: no people.
Dylan entered first, McCall behind him. Dim light filtered from a greasy bulb over the stove revealed the remains of last night’s dinner and four dirty plates on the counter. Four here, including Jamie?
In the middle of the kitchen, the men stopped…waited…listened. On cue, a loud, thudding knock sounded at the front door. A moment of dead silence, then lights came on as someone stomped toward the door. The instant the front door opened, Dylan and McCall moved.
Guns at the ready, their steps silent, they made their way to the next room. At the entrance to the living room, McCall went one direction, Dylan the other. Sticking his head into a small den and a bathroom, Dylan found nothing other than furniture and more evidence that slobs lived here.
One minute later, they met in the middle of the living room. The loud protestations coming from the front of the house reassured them that the homeowner would be occupied for several more moments.
Black eyes glittering with cold determination, McCall mouthed silently, “Anything?”
Dylan shook his head.
Both men turned and headed up the stairway. Halting at the top of the stairs, they assessed the area. Bright lights from the first floor allowed them to see three rooms to check on this floor. McCall jerked his head at the stairs to the third floor.
With a quick nod, Dylan headed upstairs. At the top of the small landing, he stopped and listened. The only sounds were the distant mumblings of Reddington as he argued with the Spanish police. Two rooms to check here. The door to one of the rooms stood open. Easing his head in, he looked around. A storage room, filled with furniture and boxes.
Swiftly, silently, Dylan moved across the hallway, toward the closed door of the other room. His ear to the wood, he listened and heard a soft, trembling sigh.
He put his hand on the doorknob. Locked. Pulling a small tool from the belt at his waist, he inserted it into the keyhole. At the sweet sound of a click, he twisted the knob, eased the door open and stepped inside. The room, midnight dark and deathly quiet, held the musky scent of sour sweat and felt heavy with fear, confirming what he already knew: she was here.
The softest whisper of sound put him on alert; half a second later, a small body leaped on his back. Not wanting to hurt or frighten her further, Dylan dropped to the floor with Jamie Kendrick hanging onto his shoulders.
She ground her knee into the small of his back and spoke in a harsh, raspy voice, “Touch me and I’ll kill you.”
Admiration and compassion slammed into him. She was tough. Good. She would need to stay that way. “I’m here to rescue you, Jamie.”
With a soft, laughing sob, she said mockingly, “Yeah, my knight in shining armor.”
“I’m with Last Chance Rescue.”
After a long pause, she whispered hoarsely, “What’s that?”
“A rescue organization.”
Another long pause. Finally, a shaky, tear-filled voice asked, “Are you for real?”
“Yes.” He waited two heartbeats, giving her time to absorb the information. Then, since time was of the essence, he said, “We need to get out of here.”
Her slight weight eased off his back, and he felt her shift away from him.
Getting to his feet, Dylan took a flashlight from his utility belt and clicked it on. His heart thudded and crashed as he got his first glimpse of the slender, petite Jamie Kendrick. Perched on the edge of a bed, she’d snagged a sheet to cover herself. Untamed, golden-brown hair draped over her bare shoulders. Gray-blue eyes shimmered with tears, white teeth bit at her lips as if to control their trembling. The thin sheet covering her nude body shook uncontrollably. Despite his reassurance, she was terrified that this was a trick.
“Found her,” he whispered softly into his mic.
“Get her out,” Noah answered softly. “Reddington’s still at the door, arguing. I’ve got one bastard down, two more on the run.”
“Affirmative,” Dylan answered.
There was no time for more reassurance. They needed to get their asses out of here…now. He took a step toward her. “Let’s go.”
She lifted her hands to tighten the sheet around her body and he saw a handcuff dangling at her wrists. Pulling a standard key from his belt, he reached for her hand. Admiration grew in him as he watched her stiffen, but refuse to back away. He unlocked the cuff from her bruised, raw wrist and then let her go. The last thing she probably wanted was for a man to touch her. Unfortunately, he was going to have to do more than just touch her if they were to get out of here in one piece.
With a sweep of his flashlight over the room, Dylan took another quick scan. No clothing. He pulled his black cotton T-shirt over his head and handed it to her. “Put this on.” Giving her privacy, he went to the door to peer out. Still quiet.
At the sound of a small, relieved sigh, he glanced over his shoulder. She was ready. Her feet were bare and her body swayed as she tried to stand. The T-shirt swallowed her, landing just above her wobbling knees.
“It’ll be easier for both of us if you let me carry you out.” He wasn’t asking for permission, but he didn’t want to scare her by just lifting her without warning.
“I can walk.”
“You’re barefoot and weak. We need to get out of here as fast as we can.” Giving her no time to argue, Dylan reached for her and scooped her into his arms. Her body was shaking with terror, but she didn’t fight him and that was all he needed.
Making a rapid exit from the room, he strode quickly toward the stairway. Halfway down the stairs, the distant blast of gunfire ramped up the tension. Shit! No way was he not getting her out of here alive. Holding her tighter against his chest, he whispered, “Hang on, sweetheart.”
Lowering his head, Dylan ran like hell.
One month later
Charles de Gaulle Airport
“Ladies and gentlemen, flight 231 to Atlanta, Georgia, USA, will begin loading in ten minutes.”
A bright, sunny smile plastered on her face, Jamie turned to her sister, McKenna. This stiff upper lip thing was a lot harder than she thought it would be. This wasn’t goodbye forever, but still…. “I’ll see you soon again…I promise.”
McKenna’s face, so similar to Jamie’s own, revealed the same turmoil. “You’re sure you don’t want me to go with you? It’s not too late for me to buy a ticket.”
The lump grew in her throat at the offer. McKenna’s anxiousness was sweet but unnecessary. She wasn’t nervous or worried. After everything that had happened the last few months, she felt insulated from the trivial stuff. And she’d been given a miracle—her sister. Her biggest concern was being separated from McKenna again.
“I’ll be fine. I just want to get this behind me so I can move forward.”
“Will you have to see him?”
Funny, even the thought of seeing her ex-husband again didn’t cause the thud of dread it once had. “I don’t think so. My attorney assured me I’d just need to appear before a judge.”
“You know I’ll be there for you, if you need me. Right?”
She hugged McKenna again. After her rescue, they’d spent almost a month together, and had gotten even closer than they’d been as kids. Having both survived their own hell, being together again made them appreciate each other so much more.
Pulling away, she smiled through her tears. “You need to go see Lucas.”
At the mention of Lucas Kane, a breathtaking expression came over McKenna’s face. Never had she seen anyone more in love. And just from the short amount of time Jamie had spent with Lucas, she knew he felt the same way. Other than her parents, she had never seen anyone love each other like that.
“You promise to come back to Europe soon?”
“Cross my heart. And if not, you can always come see me.” She gripped McKenna’s hand and held tight. “We’ll never let each other go again.”
Tears sparkling in her eyes, McKenna nodded fiercely. “Never. I promise.”
They both whirled around at the sound of the familiar masculine voice. A gasp escaped Jamie before she could stop it. She hadn’t thought she’d ever see him again and yet, here he was. Dylan.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” McKenna asked.
“I heard Jamie was headed back to the States. I’ve got some business to take care of there, so I thought I’d tag along.” His emerald gaze turned to Jamie. “That okay with you?”
It had been almost a month since she’d seen him. Dylan had been the one to carry her out of that house, the one to rescue her from hell.
Her rescue had been as dramatic as any television drama, with Dylan and the other LCR operatives, swooping down in the dead of night and rescuing her from Stanton Reddington and his vile son. Jamie barely remembered the event other than Dylan’s gruff, reassuring voice, his strong arms carrying her out of the house and his words of “You’re safe now, Jamie” as he’d handed her over to the EMTs.
Then she’d been lifted into a helicopter and taken to the hospital. She’d gone from abject misery and terror to comfort and safety in a matter of seconds. And she had thought Dylan was the most wonderful of heroes.
For the first couple of days after her rescue, he’d been kind and wonderfully attentive. Then something had happened and for the life of her, she didn’t know what. The day of her release from the hospital, Dylan turned noticeably cooler. She’d tried to tell herself she was just imagining it, but when he’d given her a barely perceptible nod when she’d thanked him once more for her rescue, she had known it wasn’t imagination.
Those words of thanks were the last ones she thought she’d ever get to say to him and now, here he was, going to the States with her.
Realizing that both McKenna and Dylan were looking at her strangely, Jamie knew a deep blush covered her fair skin as she stammered, “Yes…of course, that’s okay with me.”
“Ladies and gentleman, flight 231 to Atlanta is now boarding.”
As the airline personnel gave boarding instructions, Jamie forgot everything other than the knowledge that she was saying goodbye to her sister. Throwing her arms around her neck, she whispered in her ear. “I love you, Kenna.”
Her voice thick with emotion, McKenna answered softly, “I love you, too. See you soon. Okay?”
Unable to speak for the huge lump in her throat, Jamie nodded and tightened her arms around her sister one last time…then made herself let go. McKenna didn’t need to see the uncertainty and dread that suddenly swamped her. After everything she’d been through, what was there to fear?
McKenna’s eyes glittered with emotion. “Call me as soon as you land. Okay?”
She nodded again. “I will.”
She wasn’t surprised to see McKenna hug Dylan--he seem to have an affectionate rapport with her sister. Something that was sadly missing with her.
Carry-on gripped tightly in her hand, Jamie headed to the ticket agent. At the door, she turned back for one last glance. McKenna waved and blew a kiss. Jamie gave her the best smile she could muster and turned to walk down the narrow tunnel to the plane.
“Want me to take your bag?” Dylan asked.
Despite the massive willpower she thought she had, tears were flooding her eyes. Not looking at him, she shook her head.
“Yeah, just hate saying goodbye.” She straightened her shoulders, determined to get past her weepiness. “Where are you sitting?”
“First class, row two, seat A.”
Startled, she jerked her head up. “I’m in row two, seat B. How’d you manage that?”
He shrugged like it was nothing and stopped at the entrance to the plane, allowing her to go first. As she passed by him, his closed expression told her he wasn’t going to explain anything. Not why he’d arranged to sit with her, and probably not why he’d just shown up, out of the blue, to travel with her. Telling herself she didn’t need an explanation, Jamie settled into her seat and watched as the most handsome and infuriatingly mysterious man she’d ever known dropped into the seat next to her.
Would nine hours of sitting beside him give her any insight? Like why he’d made the effort to travel with her, but still treated her as though she’d done something to offend him?
Dylan stretched his long legs out in front of him and cursed himself once more for coming. She would’ve been fine traveling on her own. He hadn’t seen her in almost a month, and during that time, she’d obviously recovered. So why the hell was he here like some sort of guard dog? Hell if he knew.
She looked healthy. No, not just healthy…she looked beautiful. When he’d rescued her from that hellhole, Jamie’s golden brown hair had been almost to her hips. Now it was shorter, just past her shoulder, with subtle blond streaks. The bruises and swelling on her face and neck were completely gone and her silky, fair skin glowed. Even the dark, haunted look in her eyes had vanished.
This morning, he’d been at LCR Headquarters giving a review of his last op. After his meeting with McCall, he’d anticipated going back to his apartment and healing for the next few days. The job had had gotten a little dicey, resulting in a couple bruised ribs and a deep thigh bruise. A long soak in a hot tub and about ten hours of uninterrupted sleep had been his only plan. The instant McKenna had called in to McCall and mentioned that Jamie was headed back to the States, alone, his plans had changed. Dylan had shot out of his chair and on the way to the door, asked McCall to arrange a seat on the same flight. If he hadn’t been in such a hurry, he would’ve stopped to snarl at his boss’s amusement.
If anyone asked him why he felt the need to be with her, he wouldn’t have an answer. He’d rescued dozens of people for LCR. And while he wished them well, not once had he felt any real desire to see them again, much less accompany them home.
What was it about this woman that made him react the opposite of what was normal for him? Nothing could happen between them. She was going back home to live in the States. He lived in Paris.
Yeah, like that’s the only thing keeping you from pursuing something.
“What kind of business are you going back for?”
Jerked out of his dark thoughts, he shrugged. “Family stuff.”
“Where does your family live?”
He didn’t hesitate with his answer. “Florida.”
Yeah well, so living wasn’t exactly the right description. While he was in the U.S., he figured he might as well visit his mother and grandmother’s graves in Florida. He could rent a car and be in Jacksonville in a matter of hours. And he’d be visiting the only family he’d ever wanted to claim.
“Are you flying out of Atlanta to Florida?”
Dylan shook his head and asked, “What about you? You headed to Louisiana?”
“Yes, I have a connecting flight to Baton Rouge about an hour after I land.”
“You going to have to see your ex?”
She grimaced. “You know about him?”
“I know that he hurt you.”
Her chin came up in a defensive gesture. “Just once. He never got the chance again.”
“Will you have to see him?”
“I don’t think so. My attorney seems to think that I can just file another complaint against him and then appear before a judge. He was only in jail a few days…he deserves a longer sentence.”
“You want me to go with you?” The words were out before he could pull them back. Hell, what was it about her?
If Dylan was surprised, Jamie was apparently stunned. Her eyes widening, she blushed a crimson red and stuttered, “Oh…I…well…that’s so swee…” Thankfully she stopped before she got the word out. Even as a baby, sweet was one description that had never been attributed to Dylan. She swallowed and said, “I appreciate the offer, but I need to handle this myself.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.” He was relieved she’d said no, so why did he have this odd let down feeling? Damn weird.
“Besides, I’d hate to take you away from your family.”
He looked away from her to the flight attendant headed their way with the drink cart. “Yeah, they’d be disappointed.”
“How long are you going to be in the States?”
He shrugged, not really wanting to go back to that discussion. “Just a day or so.”
“Wow, you came all the way from Paris just for a day? Won’t your family—”
“You want something to drink?”
Looking startled at his abrupt question, she said, “Oh…Yes. Hot tea. Thanks.”
Dylan gave the order, hoping once Jamie had her drink, she’d forget what they were talking about. Discussing his family, or for that matter his life, wasn’t a subject he liked to spend a lot of time on.
There was an awkward silence while Jamie accepted her hot tea and Dylan chugged down his black coffee. By the time she’d sweetened it to her taste, his cup was empty. Though a slug of bourbon or a scotch neat would have been his preference, coffee was the only drink he could allow himself. Maintaining his wits would keep him from uttering another stupid comment. Offering to go to Louisiana with her had been stupid enough.
She took a sip of her tea and Dylan felt his mouth twitch with a smile. Everything Jamie did was feminine and…what was the word…dainty. She even made drinking a beverage a feminine action. Where he swallowed in gulps, she sipped like a delicate sparrow.
Mentally rolling his eyes at the stupidity of his thoughts, he said, “You and McKenna enjoy your time in Paris?”
Her eyes glowing, she nodded. “It was wonderful. I’ve always wanted to visit and Kenna knows the city so well. We did all the touristy stuff, along with lots of things people who have never been to Paris might not know about.”
“You probably had a lot of things to get caught up on.”
Her eyes dimmed for an instant and Dylan felt like an ass. Bringing up the past meant reminding her about all the crap she’d been through. Not only had she been brutalized by the scumbag Damon Hughes, she’d been held captive by the human slime Stanford Reddington and his son. Not that it was something she’d ever be able to forget, but his comment sure as hell hadn’t helped. This was just another reminder that he needed to stay away from her. His late wife had told him more than once that he had the tact of a water buffalo.
Thankfully, Jamie’s smile returned. “We had years to get caught up on. Our lives have been completely opposite.”
“What was it like, living with your aunt?”
Her pretty mouth twisted in a wry smile. “The best description I can come up with for Aunt Mavis is a cross between an elderly drill sergeant and Miss Manners. My aunt had an opinion on everything and felt it her duty to share that opinion with everyone.”
“Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.”
“It wasn’t.” Slender shoulders lifted in a delicate shrug. “But I was safe and warm, had good food to eat and a place to sleep. Kenna didn’t have those things.”
“Are you going to see your sister again soon?”
She nodded. “I haven’t told her because I wanted to surprise her, but as soon as I settle things in Louisiana, I’m going back there to live.”
Dylan felt a kick to his gut. “In Paris?”
“Yes. I fell in love with the city and being so far away from Kenna isn’t something I want to do again. Family is so important, don’t you think?”
Since everyone in his family was dead and most of them hadn’t been worth much alive, he didn’t have an answer that wouldn’t cause more questions. He settled for a vague nod and another question. “Are you going to continue teaching?”
For the first time since he’d known her, he saw a flicker of secrecy in her expression. She shrugged and took another sip of her tea. “I’m not sure yet. There’re a lot of possibilities out there.”
That was about as vague as one could get. “McCall has a lot of contacts. He could probably help.”
And yet another slight flicker, but all she said was “That’s a great idea. I’ll give him a call as soon as I get settled.”
The seatbelt sign went off and Dylan used it as an excuse to get up and walk around. He needed a few minutes away from her to come to terms with not only these damn odd feelings of protectiveness he felt, but also to deal with the news that she was moving to Europe. It’d been easy enough to stay away from her the last month. Not only had he been working, Jamie had been recovering. What was he going to do now that they would be living in the same city? How was he going to stay away from her when he hadn’t gone a day without thinking about her since they met?
Jamie took one last sip of her now tepid tea and grimaced. Aunt Mavis had been a hot tea drinker and it irritated her that she’d instinctively requested what her aunt would have expected her to order. Though she’d had only five years of living with the woman, her aunt had worked hard to put a lifetime of strict lessons during that time. Aunt Mavis had been gone several years—she had died peacefully in her sleep. Jamie couldn’t help but wonder if she’d just decided to die that day and did it. The woman had that much iron-willed discipline.
“You want to get up and stretch your legs?”
Swallowing a gasp, she jerked her head to gaze at the man standing beside her. He moved so quietly, she hadn’t heard him. Quiet was a good description for Dylan Savage. He didn’t talk a lot and when he moved, he barely made a sound.
She smiled her thanks. “No, I’m fine.”
As he eased into the chair beside her, she noticed a slight grimace, as if he were in pain. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just a couple of bruises.”
“From a job?”
“Did I ever thank you?”
For the first time ever, Jamie saw a small smile at his lips. “Yeah, about twenty times that first day.”
“I wanted to send you something but McKenna said that wasn’t necessary.”
He looked over at her, a slight softening in his eyes. “I don’t think anyone’s ever done that before. What were you going to send?”
“For saving my life?” She laughed, pleased that she actually found some kind of humor in referring to those dark days before her rescue. “I was torn between a fruit basket and a bottle of Scotch. McKenna said Scotch was your favorite drink.”
“You didn’t need to send anything. It’s my job.”
She ignored the sting of his comment. Of course that’s what she was to him—a job. How silly to think he’d be attracted to someone he’d rescued. “Are you married?” Oh God, had she just asked that question?
Feeling like she’d opened a giant hole and was teetering on the edge, she added, “Me either.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Jamie fought hard to control the blush that spread over her entire body, knowing it was useless. When she said stupid or inappropriate things, her fair skin glowed like a beacon. And this had to be one of her stupidest comments to date. Of course he knew she wasn’t married; they’d just talked about her ex-husband. Besides, there was little the man didn’t know about her life—at least the awful parts. Whereas, she knew next to nothing about his.
She looked up as Dylan stood again and pulled something from the overhead cabinet. He handed her a small pillow and then sitting back down with a pillow of his own, reclined his seat, put the pillow behind his head and closed his eyes.
And just like that, all conversation stopped. Not that it was his responsibility to entertain her. Still she couldn’t deny the sting. His response to her single status wasn’t exactly encouraging, even if it had been an inane statement.
Jamie looked out into the bright blue sky. Okay, so what if he had no interest in her. She had more on her mind than starting a relationship that could go nowhere. The news she’d received this morning before leaving--news she hadn’t shared with McKenna--was going to occupy all of her thoughts. Because if things progressed as they looked like they might, she was going to have to figure out how to not only hunt down and capture a fiend, she was going to have to find a way to stay alive.
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