For seven years, Halina Beloi has been in hiding. But she’s never forgotten Mitch Foster, the long, lean man she had to leave behind. Until, that is, Mitch shows up with a list of questions and a 9mm in his hand.
All Mitch knows is that Halina broke his heart and disappeared. But new information has surfaced implicating her as a player in the deadliest game of Mitch’s life. This time, he’s not letting go without answers. Now terror, danger and heat will fuse them together or shatter the future. . .
Read an Excerpt
Heather Raiden sat on the floor of her darkened home on Lake Washington in Seattle staring out at the midnight blackness through her night vision goggles. The man remained huddled in the compact speedboat he’d rented from a local outfitter under the name Dane Zimerelli.
Two nights. He’d been watching her house two nights in a row. Had dropped anchor in the perfect location to view Heather’s living room, kitchen and bedroom, all on the lake-side of the property.
“I hope he’s freezing his balls off out there.”
At her elbow, Dexter picked up on the bitterness in her voice and whined. She ran her hand along the shepherd’s silky-soft fur and looked into his golden brown eyes with a heavy sigh. His brows moved with his darting gaze, making him look truly worried. He was an incredibly sensitiveanimal, frighteningly intelligent.
And her very best friend.
“Don’t look at me like that. I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
She reconsidered her options. Cops would brush her off. A private investigator would take time. Ignoring Zimerelli had potentially lethal consequences. And she’d spent seven long years preventing those lethal consequences.
Heather hurried through the darkness to her bedroom with Dex’s nails clicking behind her on the hardwood. When she stepped through the door, he pushed past her,jumped on the bed and lay in that alert pose, head up and watching her every move. “Everything I’ve done will be wasted if I don’t act now. All my sacrifices . . .”
She closed her eyes, absorbing the weight of loss that always came with the thought. So many sacrifices. But only one she regretted.
Only one that haunted her.
Already dressed in black, Heather slipped on dark lightweight sport shoes and tightened the laces. In the bathroom, Heather wrapped her long hair into a bun her mind and body immediately slipping back into the training she’d gained. Training she had, admittedly, hoped never to use. Training that was still just training because she’d never utilized it in real life. But she’d also known deep down she’d need it some day.
Because she’d known they would come after her.
Resigned, focused, she headed for the door leading to the garage and pulled her slim black jacket from the peg. She slipped it on, crouched in front of Dex standing faithfully at her feet and hugged him tight.
“Ya lyublyu tebya,” she whispered, herthroat closing tight around each Russian word and the reminder of the past she’d fought so hard to leave behind. “I love you so much, sweet boy,” she repeated in English with more emphasis, because once just didn’t feel like enough.
With a kiss to his face, she stood, met his eyes and firmed her voice when she commanded him to protect the property. “Zashchita.”
In the garage, Heather located her black canvas duffle at the base of the stairs. Adrenalin fizzed through her blood and made her breathe faster. The duffle’s zipper ripped the silence and tension pulled at Heather’s skin. She clenched a penlight between her teeth, pulled the Sig Saur forty-five semi-auto from the bottom of the bag and checked the remaining contents—lock hacker, silencer, extra ammo magazines, rags, bleach-laden wet wipes, latexgloves.
As she turned the key in the engine of her BMW, Heather experienced a tangle of deep, complex emotions—fear, resignation, the dark thrill of power. And anger over having to use such drastic and brutal measures to take back control over her life.
“Maybe there’s more of my family in me than I thought.”
Heather backed from the garage with the sick realization sticking to her like tar.
She left her sleepy Laurelhurst neighborhood for the streets bordering the University of Washington, still dotted with cars and pedestrians.
Fear drummed its fingers on the back of her neck. What-if’s teased her mind into tangles. Her neighbors would take care of Dex if anything happened to her. She’d set up charitable trusts to receive her assets.
Heather located the stalker’s rental and parked a block down, but as she turned off the car to wait, she realized that having her death in order didn’t help her face the possibility.
* * * * *
Another deep shiver wracked his body, and Mitch Foster clenched his teeth around a growl. “My dick’s turning into an icicle.”
He lowered the night vision binoculars and reached for the thermos of coffee. It was empty. Mitch chucked the container at the floor of the boat, glaring at the darkened house. “Screw this.”
Halina Dubrovsky had turned out the lights over half an hour ago and he couldn’t see shit. Her boyfriend, some dude named Dex, hadn’t shown up for two days. Didn’t matter. Even if the guy did appear, Mitch had enough information on Halina’s daily activities now to confront her without running into him.
When Mitch cornered her, she wasn’t going to have anywhere to turn. Anywhere to run.
Not this time.
He started the motor and crawled toward shore, holding his speed down for silence and warmth. Huddled behind the windshield, he pulled his phone from his pocket and hit the speed dial for Kai Ryder.
“What’s new?” Kai answered.
“Genital hypothermia,” Mitch said. “My nuts are buddying up with my kidneys.”
“You have two? Balls, I mean. I thought you were down at least one.”
“Shut the fuck up. How are Lys and Brady?” he asked, hating himself for missing the birth of his first nephew.
“Great. You’d never know Alyssa had a baby last week, and Brady and I are totally bonding.”
“I hate you.” He was only half-joking in this instance.
Kai laughed, the asshole. “Was it worth it?”
“No.” His teeth were starting to chatter. “No sign of the boyfriend. No friends. No activities. She rows in the morning, works all day, goes to the gym, runs with her dog.”
And played with her dog. And cuddled with her dog. And freaking slept with her dog.
She was so damned sweet to that animal it made his teeth grind. And that was just one of the behaviors he found incongruent with what he’d learned of her over the last few days.
“Mmm,” Kai hummed. “Bet she’s got a killer bod.”
“Ryder…” he warned.
He didn’t need any reminders of how Halina looked. He’d been watching her for two days and she wasn’t particularly discreet when it came to changing clothes. But then, under normal conditions, she wouldn’t need to be. From the street, her home was virtually nondescript, the only entry the front door and one curtained window. Lakeside, the house was nearly all glass, but its orientation and landscaping created a seclusion Mitch could only get around with a boat specifically positioned on the lake and apair of binoculars.
He hit a dense patch of fog and another tremor gripped him bone-deep. “Shit. I thought I knew fog, but this place is colder than San Francisco. What Intel did you get? I’m going to confront her in the morning before she goes to work.”
“She’s a secretive little thing,” Kai said.
“No shit,” Mitch muttered.
“From what I’ve found, she’s not using her real name for anything. She’s completely dropped it. The alias Heather Raiden goes back seven years, and I still think that whole using your middle name for her last name is…odd. Kinda creepy, actually. I mean, it’s almost like there’s a message there or something.”
Mitch got that feeling, too, though he kept vacillating over its possible meaning. “Like ‘Fuck you, Foster. You’re too stupid to find me even when I’m using your name.’ That kind of message?”
But even as he said the words, he didn’t believe them. Not at gut level. When she’d walked out on him, she hadn’t been cruel. She’d been…withdrawn. She’d been…resolute. Keeping her husband a secret from Mitch—yes, that had been cruel. But when she’d admitted it, when she’d broken off her relationship with Mitch to go back to the husband, she hadn’t done it in a careless or vicious way.
Even now, seven years later, his gut told him that if the man hadn’t been there with her, silently standing sentinel when she’d confessed and broken it off, she wouldn’t have been able to do it. Wouldn’t have been able to resist his pleas for an explanation. For a chance to talk to her—in private.
God, he’d been such a fool for her. And remembering still both hurt and angered.
Kai made an indecisive sound in his throat. “I don’t get that…”
Hope percolated to the surface, but he suppressed it. “You’re picking up emotions from her?”
Kai was only one of seven firefighters exposed to radioactive chemicals in a military warehouse fire six years before. The way the chemicals had warped their DNA gave each member of the team paranormal abilities. Kai was empathic, but generally only picked up on emotions from those he was in proximity to or those who endangered the team. And at the moment, Kai was eight hundred miles away.
“No,” Kai said, but he didn’t sound convincing. “I think this is more intuition.”
“Screw intuition.” If Mitch clenched his teeth any harder, they’d crack. “Either use your powers or get me hard Intel. I don’t want to hear any shit in between.”
“Damn, you’re irritable. You’re bringing me down, dude.”
“Ice cubes generally aren’t warm and fuzzy.” Neither were men tracking down exes for explanations about conspiracies ruining their lives. He pulled into the slip designated for the rented boat and tied off. “And what the hell’s up with your new attitude, Ryder? You got yourself a new lay or did you just finally extract that stick you’ve been walking around with up her ass for the last few weeks?”
“Someone sounds jealous,” Kai sang the last word. “I know where you can find a good stick…”
“Got that side covered, thanks.”
“Ah, good point. Back to said stick—her job at the university deals with vaccine research. She’s evidently making headway in this new wave of DNA vaccines. Well respected in the field. Travels, lectures, publishes in trade journals.”
“How nice for her, but hardly scintillating.” Although that remnant of her altruistic personality was just another annoying paradox. “Move on.”
“She’s low, low profile. No scandals. No legal disputes. No community work. No charity work. No family. No deep personal ties that I can find at all. I think Keira’s abilities went askew here. I can’t find anyone named Dex or Dexter in her life at all.”
Keira O’Shay, another firefighter in the team was clairaudient and had been trying to pick up thoughts from Halina by using a photograph Mitch had dug up from their time together.
Mitch jumped from the boat to the dock and rain tapped his face as he jogged toward his rental. He couldn’t understand why it wasn’t snowing. It was sure as hell cold enough. He opened the car with a press of a button on the key fob and slid in.
“The more I need all your so-called powers, the more limits pop up,” Mitch complained. “Talk about annoying.”
“Dude, she’s not working with an ideal candidate or situation. Why don’t you call me back when you warm up.”
Mitch cranked the heater and revved the engine. “Tell me about her finances. Her house is small, but in a prime location. Comparable properties run well over a million bucks. She’s driving a nearly new fifty-thousand dollar BMW.”
“Don’t bite my head off, okay?” Kaisaid, irritation deepening his voice with warning. “I don’t know. She makes a little over a hundred grand a year at U of W. She rarely gets more than her expenses paid when she lectures. And we haven’t been able to find any strange influx of cash. So, unless she’s drug running on the side—“
“Or got a big payoff seven years ago…” Mitch muttered. The probability of that twisted the hot knife that had already been plunged to the center of his body. As if she hadn’t betrayed him enough in their relationship, the discovery of Halina’s involvement in this conspiracy against him and the rest of the firefighting team was beyond any sick plot he’d witnessed in his criminal law practice.
“Jessica has been combing through Schaeffer’s financials,” Kai said, referencing another team member. “She hasn’t found evidence of a payoff.”
“Yet.” The car’s heater melted the chill from the interior, but not from Mitch’s soul. Halina’s immersion in this conspiracy meant everyone who mattered to him was living in fear because of something that had involved him. “She will. I have no doubt.”
“And I thought I was jaded,” Kai said.
“So, basically,” Mitch said, “you’ve got nothing I can use.”
“You’re so welcome for giving up my week and researching this chick fifteen hours a day, dude. Though, I have to admit, the pictures were worth it. Where do you find these women? One is hotter than the next. This one, though . . .she may be my favorite. She’s got a really exotic look-”
“I’m tempted not to tell you what Ransom discovered about her trainer,” Kai said, “and let her kick your ass tomorrow morning.”
Mitch braked hard before turning out of the parking lot. He idled there, his mind suddenly consumed by this flash of information. Ransom referred to Luke Ransom, another team member and former firefighter who now worked as an ATF agent.
“What kind of pictures?” Mitch asked. “And what trainer? Why do you save all the good stuff for when I’m ready to hang up on you?”
“Just a few photos, really. Considering how long and deep I had to look to find them, I’d bet she doesn’t even know they’re on the Internet. A couple are from her lectures. A couple are of her with the U of W rowing team. She’s given clinics there in the past.
“Luke says her trainer is a retired marine Special Forces guy with a company called Precision Tactical. Teaches everything from hand-to-hand combat to marksmanship. Gives classes out of Halina’s gym. Runs clinics around the country for both military and civilian groups. Has a dojo in the back of his storefront where he sells the highest tech weapons and surveillance equipment between San Francisco and Seattle.”
Mitch’s brow fell. This was the strangest information of all.
“That’s…weird. Halina was so anti-violence she wouldn’t let me kill a bug in the house.”
“Hello,” Kai said, his voice dripping sarcasm. “No one on the team had even held a gun before Schaeffer came into their lives. Now look at them—everyone but Seth is a near expert in every weapon from handguns to hand grenades, and even Seth carries when he feels the need. Schaeffer has a way of turning people violent.”
That was very true. And Mitch didn’t like the way this information was shaping up. He’d walked into this planned confrontation on solid ground: Halina was a traitor. And even while maybe eighty percent of the information still pointed in that direction, he was getting unsettling undercurrents of something amiss.
Mitch joined light traffic on the main street, still alive with college students. “She hasn’t gone to the store since I’ve been following her. But she’s at the gym every day. What kind of classes does he teach there?”
“Krav Maga,” Kai said. “Luke says he’s an expert. Learned the techniques directly from Israeli Defense Forces during his time there in the military.”
Mitch’s mind flipped back to his last sighting of Halina in a sports bra and shorts before she’d disappeared into the bathroom, then emerged in a silk slip of nothing before turning off the light for the night. The memory of all those sleek lines, the hint of ab and arm muscles created by subtle shadow, the fullness of her breasts against that dark silk…
At a stoplight, he squeezed his eyes shut and shook the image from his head. Yes, she definitely had the toned body of someone training hard. But the radical nature of Krav Maga, an aggressive self defense technique focused on brutal counterattacks and utilizing a myriad of fighting techniques from street-grappling to Judo was…extreme, to say the least.
“Ryder, are you just screwing with me again?”
“No, dude, what I’m telling you is that the woman Dubrovsky was before is very different from the one we’ve collected evidence on now. This shit isn’t adding up. Which is why I think I’m getting these bizarre vibes.”
“Vibes.” Mitch rubbed tired eyes. “Really? You can’t give me something better than vibes?”
“She has two weapons registered in Heather’s name.”
Mitch swerved to the side of the road and stopped. He couldn’t drive with all this shit flying. “What?”
“Twenty-first century update,” Kai said. “Chicks shoot guns. Even chicks who aren’t freaking snipers like Keira. And, I have to say, it really turns me on.”
“T.M.I. I don’t want to know what twisted shit turns you on, Ryder.” Mitch’s fingers had gone white around the steering wheel. “And Halina wasn’t any chick. I had one nine millimeter seven years ago and she hated that thing. When she found out I owned a gun, she got really weird for, like, days. Kept breaking dates with me. Refused to sleep with me until the damn thing was locked in a safe in the closet. She bought the freaking gun safe for me. Wouldn’t look at it, let alone touch it.”
“Aw,” Kai said as if he were talking to Mitch’s niece, Kat, about a skinned knee. “That really chinked your mojo, didn’t it, dude?”
Mitch slammed his palm against the steering wheel—tired, frustrated, confused. “Are you hearing me?”
Mitch’s temper split. He opened his mouth to blast Ryder, but the guy burst out laughing first. “God, you are such an asshole.”
“It’s so much fun to watch you unravel, Foster. I can’t wait to meet this chick.”
That wasn’t even funny. Mitch didn’t like the fact that others could see how Halina’s involvement and his impending confrontation with her unnerved him.
“Dude, you’d better be sleeping with one eye open when I get back.”
Kai’s laughter dimmed, but the humor remained in his voice when he said, “Both weapons are Heckler and Koch handguns. A forty and a forty-five.”
Mitch put a hand to his forehead and rolled his eyes. Those weren’t self-defense weapons. They were killing weapons.
“You know how to pick the feisty ones, Foster. I’ve got to get back to work. Oh, but Luke told me to tell you to keep your smartass tongue in check when you talk to her. He said, and I quote, “Foster can’t afford to let her take his last ball.”
Kai disconnected before Mitch could snipe back. He slammed the phone into the console between the seats with the same thought that had been rolling around his head for weeks—since he’d discovered Halina’s involvement. “Who the hell is this woman?”
Mitch passed a retail district near his hotel.He wanted to stop at one of the bars. Wanted to get just drunk enough to take some hot young thing back to the hotel and pound out this building stress. It was dulling his edge.
He glanced at the inviting neon as he passed, his body wound tight. This damn mess had kept him out of circulation for over two months. Way the hell too long for him to go without sex, which was contributing to his shitty mood. Only, he knew it wouldn’t help this time. Or worse, after watching Halina for the last thirty hours, it would backfire and his mind would go where it absolutely could not go.
He turned into the Summit Hotel’s parking lot, jogged to his suite and went straight for the shower. Turning it on hot, he stripped, set his gun on top of the pile and stepped directly into the center of the spray. He groaned at the feel of pounding heat on his skin and angled the water so it poured over his neck and shoulders as he tried to stretch out the tension.
Krav Maga. Hechler and Koch handguns. Who the hell knew what else she was up to? Mitch frowned, trying to figure out this twist in the puzzle as he washed off. But by the time his temperature had risen to normal, and he’d compared the Halina he’d known to what he knew of this woman who now went by the name Heather, he was convinced he’d never known her at all. That he’d spent their almost-year together in a fantasy-laden fog. There was no other explanation for the drastic differences. At least none that added up to fit the evidence he’d collected.
Shit, he wasn’t looking forward to this confrontation. He didn’t want to see her. Didn’t want to talk to her. Didn’t want to fight with her. The more he learned, the more he wanted to stay as far the hell away from her as possible. Yet in the next instant he wanted to get in her face. God, just thinking about what he’d gone through after she’d walked out made him livid.
A sound tugged at his ear. A sound outside the shower.
Mitch’s thoughts evaporated and the hair on his neck prickled into tiny needles. The skin across his shoulders rippled with gooseflesh.
He eyed the clothes piled on the floor through the gap between the curtain and the wall, and eased his hand through the space, feeling for his gun.
The shower curtain whipped aside.
“Sonofabitch.” A mixture of shock and fear zipped up his spine and he straightened, peering across the steamy room and through the water dripping in his eyes. “You don’t even have the decency to wait until a guy is dressed? That’s seriously chickenshit—”
His next word, dude, melted in his mouth as his vision cleared and he focused.
Halina. Pointing one of those Heckler and Koch cannons at his chest.