From Chapter One
The sleek, dark bitch tailing him over the crest of the mountain was definitely not standard Army issue.
Cameron Moore ignored both the snow swirling furiously around his Harley and the classiﬁed stealth helo on his six as he began his ascent up the thin, curved ridge ringed by stone that would lead him to his destination.
Half a mile earlier, when he’d heard the familiar thump of the quiet bird over the roar of his bike, the hairs on the back of his neck had risen. Now his gut tightened in tandem with the heavy whir of the rotors, and fuck, he’d thought this was over and done with.
He’d had nearly ﬁve months of freedom, having been assured that his debt was paid in full, which meant there would be no more black ops jobs involving the CIA and this fucking helo from hell following him. But he’d been down this road before—after ﬁve years, eight years, ten years. The promise of release had never been kept, eleven years and counting.
It’ll never be fully paid. You knew that…you just didn’t want to believe it.
And still, he pushed on, trying to ignore the past that wouldn’t let him forget.
He’d only been back from a mission with Delta Force for forty-eight hours, on leave for the past twenty and headed to visit Dylan Scott—a man he’d met through Delta and his best friend—in the Catskills when he’d been tracked.
One of these days, Gabriel Creighton—CIA chameleon extraordinaire—wouldn’t be able to ﬁnd Cam anymore. The chip that had once been implanted in Cam’s right forearm was only as big as a postage stamp, and as slim as one too…and was long gone. He’d convinced himself that Gabriel couldn’t track him without it.
Obviously, Cam had been way fucking wrong.
He didn’t have to wonder what his life would be like if he’d never met the man—he’d still be in jail, serving two consecutive life sentences. And he despised Gabriel more than his father, which was really damned hard to do, considering his father had framed him for the murders and left him to rot in a maximum security cell.
For eleven years, Gabriel had been both mentor and taskmaster. Cam had never asked Gabriel for anything, not a single goddamned favor.
The favors Gabriel insisted Cam provide for him were always dangerous and usually above the law. Jobs that necessitated a non-CIA operator with insider information, which Cam indeed was, hiding in the job of a Delta Force operator.
If Cam’s immediate sups knew what the jobs he did for Creighton really entailed, they’d never let on. And so Cam lived and worked, waiting for the magic number—the time limit Gabriel had imposed on him when Cam had been nineteen and willing to do anything to get out of that cell. An expiration date that only Gabriel knew.
Now he stared down at the mark on the inside of his left forearm—the result of a tattoo that had been lasered off. It wasn’t completely erased, was still a reminder. That was the thing about pasts, you could never fully eradicate them, and fuck it all, he’d tried to more than once.
Finally, he stopped the bike on the edge of one of the small cliffs, pulled as close to it as he possibly could. The wind whipped him, making it hard to hold on to his footing, never mind the heavy metal between his legs.
The stealth hovered, unable to land, but more than willing to block him. As he stared down at the dark, cavernous chasm ahead of him, he knew his choices were limited. Going down would be the coward’s way out—and he was anything but.
He’d never let go of the idea of vengeance, tasted it like a ﬁne wine on his tongue—it ran heated through his blood, slamming his veins with a barely concealed fury.
In all his years of military service, he’d saved a lot of people, killed more and prayed for salvation daily.
In so many ways, he’d never left the ten by ten cell where he’d lived for twenty-three months, four days and ten hours. At the time, he’d been wary of his rescuer, but he’d assumed things couldn’t have gotten worse.
He’d been so fucking young—fear and bravado mixing together in a heady combination. He’d been a punk, a ﬁghter, willing to do anything to stay alive. Had kept his pride during those years, refusing to let prison take it from him, the way his freedom had been ripped away.
Pride had been all he had.
He ﬁnally turned around on the mountain, the way he had eleven years earlier when the police chased him between a rock and a hard place. That night, the police had impounded his bike.
Now Cam knew that a good operative never left anything behind. He revved his bike and let it ride over the edge without him, listened as it screeched and crashed against the mountain walls below.
And then he walked to the helo and used the rope ladder they’d lowered to climb aboard.
Two years of max security had taught him many things—that life wasn’t fair; that typically the bigger you were, the more shit you talked and the harder you went down; that this life wasn’t for the weak. His time in the Rangers and Delta Force had reﬁned those teachings until his mind functioned like the elite warrior he was; but make no mistake, he was still that same damned punk—and he wouldn’t take Gabriel Creighton’s shit anymore.
This time, he would shoot the messenger Gabriel always sent, no matter what the job entailed, and then he would walk away and deal with the consequences—any and all, because the yoke around his neck had ﬁnally tightened to where he could no longer breathe.
* * * * *
As it turned out, the messenger wanted to shoot him as well.
Cam noted the gun in the suit’s hands as he hauled his ass into the helo, and then his gaze moved quickly to the ankle cuffs on the bench and he snapped to attention. Instead of waiting for the man to aim the Glock directly at him, Cam lunged, using the shaky motion of the struggling helo to propel him into the man’s chest even as the man barked at him to sit down.
He was too far into ﬁght-or-ﬂight mode to do anything else, could smell the setup as surely as helo fuel. He’d done this dance too many times, and it had never, ever looked like this before.
They went down hard, sliding into the co-pilot’s seat. The gun clattered from the suit’s hands and Cam stared into his eyes—it was the same man, always the same man, although he never spoke to Cam, had always pointed to the phone or the laptop where Cam would get his orders.
Cam wondered what this guy had done in his life to become Gabriel’s minion.
“We…talk…” the suit croaked as Cam kept his forearm across his throat. Cam wondered what the man’s story would be, if he’d gain anything by letting him speak his peace.
But the ache in his gut was swift and sudden as he remembered that he didn’t trust most people, especially strangers.
“I don’t talk to people who want to kill me.” As quickly and cleanly as possible, Cam shifted and put his hands on either side of the man’s head. A sharp twist to the right and the suit was gone, his eyes open, his stare as dead as he was.
But the ﬁght wasn’t over yet.
Cam wouldn’t let the pilots take off with him inside, would rather free-fall out than be carried off, and they knew that—Cam saw it in the brace of the co-pilot’s back the second he’d climbed on board—and as the man lunged, Cam was ready, even as the obviously well-trained man threw a nice left hook, which caught Cam square on the jaw.
The helo banked a hard left and Cam lost his footing for a second, hitting his head on a sharp piece of metal used to hold the hooks for the parachutes. The co-pilot also fell, and Cam was the quicker one up and at the ready, slamming his boot into the guy’s chest. He struggled, his hands around Cam’s ankle—but Cam’s footing was too strong. The co-pilot knew Cam was leaving alive and didn’t care who he took out in his wake, and he stopped ﬁghting.
“Who the hell sent you?” Cam asked, but neither man answered. “Where are you supposed to bring me?”
Cam didn’t know friends from enemies anymore in this game—the wilderness of mirrors that spooks and spies dealt with on a daily—and lifetime—basis. As he stared between the man under his boot and the pilot, who held the gun in a shaky hand while he tried to wrestle the helo with the other, Cam told them, “My ﬁght’s not with you.”
The pilot’s eyes held his for a second—Cam wondered if he’d been pressed into service as well or if he was ﬂying this bastard bird of his own free will.
It didn’t matter; Cam didn’t have time to play savior now, not when he’d just committed suicide himself. “I’m out of here.”
He took his foot off the man’s chest, turned and didn’t look back, wondered for a ﬂeeting second if he’d get shot in the back, and then dropped out of the helo and onto the hard ground, with a vicious slam. He curled in a ball as it rose, the wind buffeting him with a harsh hand as the stealth left him behind and headed back to report the incident to Gabriel.
As he stared after the bird, well after its lights disappeared, he wondered why the hell they hadn’t simply killed him when they’d had the chance—while he was climbing up into the helo. When he was vulnerable.
What the hell did he know that made him worth something? What did Gabriel want from him?
After he’d cleaned the blood off his hands and his bearded face with snow, Cam hitched a ride with a trucker, got dropped off halfway up the mountain to Dylan’s house and then ran the rest of the way, his bag slapping against his back, wind whipping his face—his heart beating so fast from stress and fear, he was pretty damned sure it would rip from his chest.
Dylan opened the door as Cam pounded on it. He didn’t ask any questions, not even when Cam shoved him aside and slammed the door behind him to peer out the window.
He hadn’t been followed. He wouldn’t be—not tonight. Probably not tomorrow. But when he reported back into work, there could be consequences.
You’ve lived with the consequences for years—how much fucking worse could it be?
He felt empowered and freaked all at once.
“Did you crash?” Dylan asked ﬁnally.
Cam turned, still needing to catch his breath. His hands were shaking. He’d never been like this on a mission before—but this…this was personal. His life.
The words spilled out. “Gabriel sent a stealth—same kind, same suit waiting for me. He had a gun. There were restraints. I killed him, and the helo took off with the dead guy and the pilots.”
“Breathe, man, breathe.” Dylan handed him a brandy—Cam gulped it down and then poured another before noticing that Dylan also had a towel waiting for him.
He rubbed the towel over his bearded face and hair, then stared at his friend. “They wanted intel from me—or else they could’ve killed me a thousand times over before I got on board. I’m done, Dylan. No way out.”
His friend didn’t say anything for a long moment and then he walked over to a bookshelf that lined a far wall of the room. He pulled out a hardcover book and handed it to Cam. “Open to the back…the author.”
Cam did as Dylan asked, stared at the picture of a beautiful young woman named Skylar Slavin at the back of the novel. “Are you setting me up with her? Because I don’t think I’m really dating material right now.”
“She’s Gabriel Creighton’s daughter, Cam. His only child. The only thing he cares about in this fucking world. Skylar Slavin’s the key to your future.”
Cam didn’t say anything, continued to stare at the picture as the woman with the clear green eyes stared back at him. She wasn’t smiling—in fact, he’d say she looked slightly haunted. But still, the woman must have had a better life than him—been loved and protected by her father. She was probably just like Gabriel—cold and cunning, with a heart of steel.
“How long have you known about her?” Cam demanded. Dylan simply shrugged, that noncommittal kind he typically reserved for authority ﬁgures. Which was why he didn’t last long in the military at all, yet somehow managed to get out with an honorable discharge and several medals of honor.
“How long?” he asked again, with enough of an edge to his voice for Dylan to know this wasn’t the time to fuck around.
“Five months? Five motherfucking months?” Nearly blind from rage, Cam leaped at his best friend in the world, ready to kill him as soon as he could wrap his hands around his neck.
Dylan readied for him, but Cam was like a charging bull and knocked him to the ground, hard. Dylan grunted as he attempted to roll Cam off him—when he couldn’t, he swung and punched Cam in the face a couple of times, re-opening the gash above his eye.
“Fucking asshole,” Cam said through clenched teeth, the blood dripping into his eye and onto Dylan’s shirt. “You had something on Gabriel and you didn’t tell me?”
“Because you weren’t ready to hear it, to use it,” Dylan growled, his breath coming in quick gasps because Cam was sitting on his chest, punching him anywhere he could.
He and Dylan were evenly matched, but not when Cam’s temper was riled by anything involving Gabriel Creighton. Then he ran on pure adrenaline, an anger machine.
“I found out… after your last mission. It wouldn’t have…changed the outcome. You always said…it was your ﬁght. That I needed to…stay out of it. And…did. For the most part. Jesus Christ, Cam, Gabriel was…leaving you alone, and I didn’t want you to…bring trouble on yourself you didn’t need.” Dylan took a stuttered breath while holding his rib cage. “I’m going to kill you if you broke my ribs.”
Cam leaned back on his elbows and tried to ignore the blood running from Dylan’s nose. Blood was running from Cam’s mouth and forehead as well.
“Look, tonight you made the move. There’s no turning back. If I’d told you about Gabriel’s daughter earlier… I didn’t want you to do anything else that could weigh on your conscience. Didn’t want to give you a choice like that, didn’t want you to run off half-cocked and do something that really would land your ass in jail, for good this time.” Dylan fell back on the carpet heavily. “You weren’t ready until tonight. I know you, Cam. Now you’ve got no choice but to move forward out of hell.”
Cam let his head fall back and stared up at the high-beamed ceiling. Of course, Dylan was right—not that Cam would admit that to the man’s face…or in writing. Ever.
Dylan liked to say that Cam had been born with an extra dose of conscience while Dylan himself had skipped that line entirely when they were handing them out. Probably off getting laid somewhere, Dylan would say.
Dylan, the man who would never betray him, the one who knew him better than anyone.
“I’m sorry, man,” Cam breathed, his gaze still on the ceiling, until he heard a crack and a small whimper—Dylan setting his own nose back in place. His friend would have two black eyes by morning. “So you want me to fuck with his family?”
“He fucked with yours, didn’t he?” Dylan’s eyes blazed. He was a ﬁerce warrior and just as ﬁercely loyal when it came to Cam.
“I don’t have proof.” Cam’s jaw hurt from keeping it clenched, and both of them knew that he had no way getting any.
Gabriel Creighton had a lot of ways to kill a man. Cam’s father, just as many. But Gabriel killing Howie didn’t make sense. Pretending to help in the search for what happened to Howie kept Cam on the line just as effectively.
And still, the questions always lingered. He stared down at the photo on the book and Skylar stared back at him. “What the hell do I do, man, hold her hostage?”
“Yeah, for starters. Gabriel’s obviously kept her existence a secret for a reason, so tell him you’ll expose her as his daughter. Kidnap her. Seduce her—and make her fall in love with you. Tell him you’ll kill her. And then be prepared to do that if it’s necessary.”
Cam stared at his friend. “Why the hell would I need to kill her?”
“If it comes down to you or her, it needs to be you. You have to be prepared to make any and every choice to take this all the way.”
Jesus, that made the already splitting pain in his head worsen. “What’s to stop him from throwing my ass in jail, or killing me?”
“He can’t, if he realizes you and another person know about his daughter. Tell Gabriel that someone else knows who Skylar is. I’m your backup, your safety. Gabriel doesn’t know about me…he’ll only know that if you die, Skylar will never be safe. The two of you will come to a mutual agreement to live and let live.”
Dylan had been straddling the line for far too long, and yet Cam knew his friend was absolutely right. “I need a better plan, I need time.”
“You don’t have that. Once you threaten to expose her, it’s over. Besides, she’s kind of famous.”
Kind of, yes. He stared at her picture at the back of the book again and his stomach turned.
Like father, like daughter.
It was ﬁnally time. “How did you ﬁnd out about this?”
Dylan sighed before he answered, “I slept with someone. Broke into her ﬁles. And then she shot me, so I ﬁgured it was pretty damned important information she had about Gabriel and his family.”
Jesus. Dylan had cut it closer to the edge than ever. Cam had met Dylan ﬁve years earlier—they’d served together in Delta for mere months before Dylan retired. Dylan had been a risk taker then, but went well beyond that these days.
Now, his friend rattled off Skylar’s current address. “She’s on vacation for a week.” He paused. “Why don’t you let me take care of all this?”
It would be too easy to let Dylan do it, to let himself off the hook. He’d been passive in this situation for far too long, though, ﬁghting to keep the street kid inside of him dead and buried. His friend knew that better than anyone. Dylan was a good enough friend to make that offer.
“Thanks. But this is my ﬁght. Always has been.”
He despised Gabriel, would have no problem putting his hands around the man’s neck and squeezing, tight, but slowly, so he could watch him struggle, the way Gabriel had been watching Cam struggle for years.
Payback would be fucking fantastic, to crush that bastard under his shoe, to watch everything he’d worked for crumble, like the soul-sucking little bastard he really was.
It was easy for Gabriel to sit back and ﬁre orders, to have the ultimate power over Cam. Cam knew the man was nothing more than an empty, pathetic shell who took out his misery on others—the world was full of sad little people like that, who reveled in whatever power they had to make others feel as shitty as they did.
Most people could only dream of getting revenge on their “boss.” Cam’s would soon be a reality, and she was staring at him from the photograph.
Gabriel had always told him, You don’t get something for nothing. The man would ﬁnally feel the truth of those words, at Cam’s hands. And if Gabriel didn’t comply, didn’t care about his ﬂesh and blood enough to free Cam from his service. Cam would have to decide what he’d do next.
You don’t get something for nothing.
“You do this and then you let it go,” Dylan said quietly, and Cam realized he was holding the book so tightly he’d bent the hard cover.
Did he even know how to let it go? He’d lived with it for so long, it was like a well-worn fabric. An excuse. Something to fall back on when things were shitty. Woven into the texture of his life.
Could he really do this?
You have no fucking choice, unless you want to spend the rest of your life hiding.
He ﬁnally had collateral. Leverage. He’d use it to his full advantage…had to be prepared to do anything it took to grab hold of his freedom.