The stolen Jeep, courtesy of Reid, was parked away from the road while Kell and Reid lay, belly-down, twenty feet apart in the middle of the long stretch of desert road west of Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico.
The pitch-black road the drug kingpin they were after traveled weekly. The night smelled like smoke and danger. Kell could taste both on his tongue; the familiar tingle began in his spine and Reid murmured in his miked ear, “Any minute now and the little chicken’s going to cross the road.”
Not much had changed in fourteen years. These days, Reid’s accent had mellowed; only when he was tired or angry did the deep drawl emerge, although Reid himself hadn’t mellowed at all.
These days, Kell was still trying to balance the genes of his grifter parents by not caring for too many damned people while still using those skills to their fullest. He used to work jobs for Delta Force so highly classiﬁed that they didn’t exist on paper and their existence would be denied to anyone outside of the men performing the task. Now he was out of the Army and doing black ops missions that were still as highly deniable—and just as deadly.
This one was no exception. Six days in the hot Mexican sun and cool nights reconning for the perfect opportunity was neither fun nor safe, but it was necessary.
Juarez was a city of heaven and hell, depending on what you were looking for. The land surrounding it was a target-rich environment for illegals, slave traders, drug runners and the like—their last chance before they had to try to cross the ofﬁcial border.
The man they were after had no need to cross—his empire was a million-dollar enterprise and he worked out of Juarez and lived in a mansion in the hills. That man was their payoff and he was ﬁnally here, about six klicks away, driving at a normal rate of speed so as not to catch the attention of cops or robbers.
But Kell knew this was no simple nightly joy-ride.
His belly tightened, as it always did at the height of the chase. “Two in the cab—Rivera riding shotgun, his bodyguard at the wheel,” he conﬁrmed, and why was Rivera sitting up front?
Kell shifted, waited until they closed the distance and focused in on the backseat.
No way—they couldn’t be this damned lucky today. “It’s Cruz.” Which was a jackpot… except for the tall blond in ripped cargo pants and a tank top showing underneath a loosely buttoned denim shirt running along the side of the road at top speed toward Cruz’s car, trying to stay out of sight and not exactly succeeding.
Kell would have to be the one to tell her that her time might’ve just run out.
Hi, couldja run in the other direction because you’re about to blow a carefully planned op out of the fucking water with your sweet swinging hips, and yeah, he needed a woman, and soon.
Just not this soon.
“Problem,” he muttered.
“Take care of it,” Reid growled through the earpiece from his position down the small embankment, the way he’d been growling this entire trip.
Yeah, sure, take care of it. “Who the hell runs around Mexico all by themselves at night like this?”
“Idiots. And operatives,” Reid answered.
She was no operative and Kell would soon ﬁnd out about the idiot part, but he suspected whatever or whomever she was running from wasn’t what this op needed. “It’s a woman.”
“We are dealing with the Mexican Cartel, Kell, not trying to get laid.”
“Speak for yourself,” Kell muttered, and Reid cursed at him and the next thing he knew Reid was coming toward him and it was easier not to argue.
Kell was usually the control freak in these situations, always had been, and since Reid was typically out of control, it all worked out. But since Reid had nearly died on the last ofﬁcial op he was on, the roles had reversed. Kell had gone off looking for revenge like a one-man killing machine and it had taken a long while to reel himself back in.
Some days, he felt as if he’d never left the jungle, wore his knife on his arm both in the shower and while he slept, refused to let his guard down and generally felt as though he’d come unhinged and couldn’t be put back together properly. What’s more, he didn’t want to be. Running wild suited him, suited the missions he would be running part of the foreseeable future.
It also made Reid nervous as hell—but then, Reid had been doing that to him for years, and payback truly was a bitch.
“I can take the shot,” Reid said, and the car was just the right distance for either man to do it… except the woman running directly at them had blown that.
If nothing else, they didn’t want any witnesses, and she’d sped up when she’d heard the sound of the car.
But if he was honest with himself, the frightened woman seemed to bring out a chivalry in him he no longer wanted.
“Abort,” Kell said sharply and Reid cursed again as he hustled toward him in the dark. They’d been waiting for hours in position, sanctioned by two governments to take out Rivera.
But Cruz… that would’ve been a hell of a get.
A pipe dream now, since the woman was on target to run directly into him in less than ﬁve seconds.
Shit. He scrambled up just in time for her not to trip over him. He caught her against him, instead, and she started ﬁghting him, clawing and kicking, and he nearly lost his balance and rolled down the small embankment.
Fortunately, Reid steadied them both, and she stopped ﬁghting for a second, enough for Kell to get a hold on her.
“Who the fuck are you?” Kell snarled in her ear, using cruelty to suss out whether or not she was a plant… and that made the woman struggle harder.
He smelled the fear on her and decided that she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his grip loosened a little.
Whoever she was, she might as well be wearing a Kidnap Me sign and so what to do with her now wasn’t even a question—they couldn’t leave her here. She was prey for just about anyone in this country, including himself.
“Car. Down,” Reid said, and dropped. Kell did the same, had the woman on the ground in seconds, a hand covering her mouth as the car with Cruz ﬂew by, spilling light over where they’d stood seconds before.
She was pushing against him and trying to bite his hand as Reid was telling him, “We’ve got to follow—catch them around the hill.”
It was risky… just the kind of mission Kell liked, but not with the add-along of a freaked-out woman. One who’d ruined their perfect shot simply by running in front of their target.
One who was someone else’s target, and Kell couldn’t risk her getting hurt if she was innocent.
To that end, he directed his next words to her. “Who are you running from?”
He took his hand from her mouth so she could answer, but she didn’t. He rolled off her and helped her to her feet. It was pitch black and she didn’t have NVs, so she was lost. She was breathing hard, her bag was on the ground somewhere by Reid’s feet and when she didn’t answer, he grabbed it and started to riﬂe through it, looking for ID.
Nothing. No wallet or passport or money. Just a change of clothing, a key to a motel room and a brush. And a loaded, illegal handgun—a quick swipe with his thumb had found the roughness where the serial number had been ground off and Kell swiftly unloaded the chamber and pocketed the bullets without her noticing, since she was now staring at Reid, who was muttering and cursing to himself while he checked maps on his phone. He handed her the bag and she focused her attention back on him.
She took it, wound it around her shoulder and, ﬁnally, she managed to speak. “Please— I need help. A ride…” She stopped talking, put her palms on her thighs and leaned over, trying to catch her breath.
“Do we look like a taxi service?” he asked. “What the hell are you doing out here alone?”
She ignored the question. “I need to get to the border now.” Fear kept her voice tremulous and no doubt her body shook from both it and the exertion.
Her breathing wasn’t getting any easier. “Please,” she said again. “I…need to know…”
“Honey, we have no time for manners— spit it out,” Kell told her.
“Are you…the good guys?”
He looked at Reid and then back at her. “That depends on whose side you’re on.”