When an ex-military security expert's wife is taken hostage along with her colleagues, he'll use every weapon in his arsenal to get her out safely. But when it turns out someone they both trust is working with the bad guys, she'll have to fight alongside him to gain their freedom.
Olivia Brannan arrives at her Atlanta financial firm on what should be one of the best mornings of her life. But she walks into eerie silence, greeted only by bloodstains. Her quiet, civilized workplace is under attack. When she can't reach Dain, her uber-protective hero, she realizes she must stay alive on her own until help arrives. And she must decide—is she prepared to kill to save herself and the gift she has for her husband?
Dain Brannan is a client security specialist at JCL Security. He's one of the best in the business. But even in his worst nightmares, he never expected to have to use his skills to rescue his beloved Livie. When thugs take her firm's personnel hostage, he'll do anything to save her—including go around or through the police. Can his team do what the SWAT teams cannot—bring her and her colleagues out alive?
“Tap out, stupid bastard.”
“Tap out’s for sissies,” Saint wheezed. Considering Dain had the man’s shoulder pressed into his carotid, cutting off blood flow, getting out a single recognizable word would be amazing—three was a fucking miracle.
“Ten seconds, Saint,” Elliot said nearby, warning the man how much time he had before he was likely to black out. “Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five—”
King swore from the other side of the mat. “Saint!”
Without warning Dain’s captive flipped his long legs into the air, his spine bending in ways that would seem impossible with his neck immobile. But he had the length in his torso to manage. In a blink his knees were on either side of Dain’s head and his calves were locked at Dain’s nape. Before Dain could duck his head to slip out of the hold, Saint flung him over his long body, loosening his legs at the end to keep from breaking Dain’s neck.
“One!” Elliot yelled as Dain’s back slammed into the mat. With a quick kippup, Saint’s massive weight landed on top of him, crushing the air from his lungs without warning.
“Goddamn.” It was Dain’s turn to wheeze.
The yell from the workout room door brought all their heads up except Dain’s, stuck beneath one of Saint’s bony knees.
“Code Red,” Jack Quinn called. There was no hesitation in their response; all four team members were on their feet and running for the door in seconds.
“Where’s the party?” Dain yelled as they raced after his boss down the hall toward one of the conference rooms. Jack shook his head but didn’t answer, causing Dain’s heartbeat to pick up speed. Jack Quinn was the head of JCL Security, and the man was anything but reactionary; if he said it was bad, it was bad. Code Red was never anything less. They weren’t on assignment right now, though. Had someone else’s op gone sideways?
The four of them packed through the door to the conference room behind their boss. The massive table that dominated the space was empty, but at the end of the room the wide-screen TV hanging on the far wall blared one of the local channels. The sound assaulted Dain’s ears as his eyes adjusted to what was on the screen: a close-up of a female reporter he recognized from the usual early morning newscast holding a microphone to her red lips, the wind blowing her blonde hair into her eyes as she spoke.
“Officer Mays, what can you tell us about the situation? Any updates?”
The camera panned to a petite, dark-haired policewoman Dain recognized as one of the Public Information Officers at the Atlanta PD. “No updates as of yet. We are still establishing communications with the suspects and determining how many hostages are currently in the building.”
“Is the entire building at risk?”
The glint of impatience in Mays’s eyes wasn’t reflected in her words. “Not at this time. All floors except the top have been evacuated. Only the fourth floor suite is involved.”
Dain had barely gotten the word out of his mouth when the camera panned back behind the anchorwoman to the building in question. A familiar building. The one that held Georgia Financial Management Services.
No. Fuck no. “Jack!”
His boss stood on the opposite side of the table, the office phone to his ear, but he jerked it down to tell Dain, “I’m trying to find out. Hang on.”
The blonde was speaking again. “For those who are just joining us, would you please recap what is known at this point?”
Officer Mays nodded. “We received a 911 call this morning alerting us to a situation at Georgia Financial. Responding officers determined that gunmen were present, as were employees we believe are being held hostage. Negotiations are forthcoming, and in the meantime, we have asked the public to avoid this area until the situation has been resolved.”
“Do we know how many hostages are inside? How many gunmen?”
Mays’s face revealed nothing. “Not at this time. We want to assure the public that the APD will do everything possible to resolve this situation. The safety of the hostages and of our citizens is of paramount concern.” With a nod at the camera, Mays walked away.
As the anchor promised more information soon and tossed the segment back to her cohort in the studio, Dain fought for breath. “King, I want to know what they know,” he barked.
“I’m on it,” King said roughly behind him before rushing from the room. Their PR liaison knew everyone who was anyone at the Atlanta Police Department. Dain gave his team member’s assurance an absent nod, his gaze still fixed on the television, the screen now showing the local studio and the male news anchor who normally had the blonde sitting next to him. Dain couldn’t remember his name and didn’t care. He picked up the remote and muted the chatter.
“Elliot,” he snapped.
The only female member of his team stepped to his side. Her petite stature forced her to look up at him, one eyebrow quirked in question. Worry clouded her eyes.
“Go to my desk and get my personal cell.”
Elliot nodded and ran for the door. Dain tried to force air in and out while he waited. Based on the strain in his heart and lungs, he was pretty sure he didn’t succeed worth a damn. The TV screen was showing a segment on grills. Who the hell cared about grills when his wife could be in danger? But he didn’t dare look away in case they showed more news on the standoff.
Jack slammed the phone down on its cradle with a hissed “Fuck.” No answers, then. Hopefully King—
Elliot swung through the door. “Here,” she said and tossed Dain’s cell phone across the room before her short legs could carry her to him. He snagged it out of the air and thumbed it on blindly.
“Come on, come on.” Livie had gone in to work early. She would’ve called—shit! He wasn’t thinking straight. Dain, who never lost his cool on a job, couldn’t think past the fact that his wife was in that damn building.
“She would’ve called my office phone if there was a situation, wouldn’t she?” Assuming she could call at all, but he refused to think about that. “Can you check my office voice mail?”
“Already done,” Elliot said. “No messages.”
He blessed her under his breath as his phone came online. A red circle with the number one inside sat in the upper right-hand corner of the phone icon.
He couldn’t breathe.
Forcing himself not to tighten his grip until the phone crumbled to bits in his hand, he tapped the icon, navigating his way to voice mail. Livie’s name waited at the top of the message list.
He tapped the Play button, then Speaker. Livie’s voice broke through the chaos in the room—or maybe that was just his pounding heart.
He swore, the words blistering his throat with the effort to keep them quiet. He upped the volume, not about to miss a single word, a sound, anything.
The sound of her throat clearing came through, then a stronger, “Dain, there’s something wrong here. Stan’s— Stan’s dead. There’s blood.”
Livie. His wife…she was with a dead coworker. Dain choked on the emotion welling in his chest; he couldn’t stop the reaction no matter how unprofessional it was. He’d been in life-and-death situations before, but never… “Wife,” he whispered, straining to hear her next words. Would they be her last?
“I can’t find everyone else. I’m going to the kitchen. I’m in the kitchen, okay?”
It took him a moment to register Jack’s voice. He stared blindly at his boss. “What?”
“The kitchen. There will be weapons there, right?”
Right. And he’d trained Livie to recognize them.
“I’ve got to go. I’ll call your office after I call the cops, okay? I’m all right. I am…”
Livie hesitated on the recording as Dain met Elliot’s horrified gaze. “What’s the time?” Elliot asked him. When he shook his head, she nodded toward the phone. “The time on the message—what is it?”
He barely had the presence of mind to hit Pause before checking. “Nine thirty?” But that made no sense. Livie had left by seven. Why would she just be arriving at the office at nine thirty?
What time was it now? The clock on the conference room wall read 10:04. So Livie had called the police. She’d said she was going to, so surely—
Jack’s voice broke through Dain’s daze. “Play the rest.”
He stared down at the screen. Thirty seconds were left on the recording. If he played them, would Livie disappear at the end? Or would waiting mean she waited for him in real life too?
“Stupid idea. Trying hard to blanket the chaos in his head with a numbness that was usually second nature on an op, Dain clicked Play.
“Dain? Listen, I need to tell you, just in case. I know I’ll be fine, but just in case…” A pause. Tell him what? He bit down on the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood, forcing back a scream. Tell him what? “Dain, I’m pregnant. Do you understand? I’m pregnant, husband. I’m having our baby, so you come get me, damn it. Come get us.” He heard a sigh that shook so much it told him exactly how scared she was. “I love you, Dain.”
When the message stopped, so did his heart. Pregnant?
“Fuck!” No way could he be numb after that. Tears stung his eyes, made the phone screen waver in front of him.
He raised the cell to hurl it across the room. Saint’s broad hand stopped him midswing. “I think we might need that, Boss.”
Dain cradled the phone to his chest and forced himself to get a grip. Blinked away the tears. Took a deep breath. Livie needed him; he had to focus. “I’m so going to spank her ass when this is over,” he choked out.
Elliot muffled a laugh behind closed lips.
King rushed into the room, and Dain forced back the emotions clouding his head once again. “What do we know?” he asked, sliding the phone into his back pocket. His team seemed to recognize the shift into work mode; they gathered around the table and started laying out the facts.
“Jerry gave me the basics,” King said as he joined them. “Livie works for Georgia Financial, doesn’t she?”
Dain didn’t need anything else; he saw the truth in King’s expression. “How many combatants?”
“More than one; that’s all Jerry knows. They received a phone call from a female that was cut short. Officers responding to the call found the doors locked. When they tried to force entry, the suspects showed themselves—and their weapons. Threats against the employees. The cops backed off.”
Following procedure. Dain understood it even as his heart protested.
“SWAT is on site now, setting up. The Crisis Negotiation Team is en route. Unfortunately that puts us in a holding pattern.”
“The call from the female, who was it?”
King shook his head. “Jerry didn’t have a name. Why?”
Because he needed to know if it had been Livie. Because he needed to know if his wife was alive before he completely lost every bit of the control he was known for.
He needed his wife, damn it. He couldn’t breathe without her. Couldn’t imagine waking up a single morning without her beside him, safe and sound. He wouldn’t—no, couldn’t accept anything else.
If that meant he had to be the one to make her safe, he would. Or die trying.