Major Crimes, page 1
Working together would bring down a killer
But her secrets could tear them apart...
Hayley Green never wanted to see Omega special agent Cain Bennett again. Ever. He seduced her, then sent her to prison for hacking, and Hayley’s only just started piecing her life back together. Except now Cain needs Hayley’s help to catch a murderer. Their past is colliding with their still-smoldering attraction...and the only thing more dangerous than the killer is the secrets Hayley’s been keeping.
Omega Sector: Under Siege
“Hang on, Hayley, I’ll be right back,” Cain yelled.
Hayley fell back from the flames that were crawling closer to her. A few moments later Cain was back. She heard a fire extinguisher and then could see him in the flames coming toward her. Big, strong, capable.
He yanked her into his arms. “Are you okay?”
“Stay close to me. We’ve got to move fast. Keep low.”
He pulled her in front of him, wrapping his body protectively around hers, using the extinguisher he held in front of her to make a path for them. Cain pulled her through the front door, both desperately sucking in oxygen as they hit clean air.
“Are you okay?” he asked again once they could breathe, watching the fire trucks roll in.
“Yes.” Her voice sounded rusty. Hoarse. But already her lungs were easing.
He yanked her into his arms again, cradling her head against his chest.
That had been way too close.
USA TODAY Bestselling Author
Janie Crouch has loved to read romance her whole life. This USA TODAY bestselling author cut her teeth on Harlequin Romance novels as a preteen, then moved on to a passion for romantic suspense as an adult. Janie lives with her husband and four children overseas. She enjoys traveling, long-distance running, movie watching, knitting and adventure/obstacle racing. You can find out more about her at janiecrouch.com.
Books by Janie Crouch
Omega Sector: Under Siege
Omega Sector: Critical Response
Special Forces Savior
Man of Action
Visit the Author Profile page at Harlequin.com.
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CAST OF CHARACTERS
Cain Bennett—Head of the Omega Sector protection and recovery division. Tasked with discovering the traitor inside Omega Sector.
Hayley Green—Computer expert and Cain’s high school sweetheart. Just getting out of prison for computer fraud, having been sent there by Cain.
Steve Drackett—Director of the Omega Sector critical response division.
Ren McClement—Omega Sector founding agent with highest levels of security clearance.
Mason Green—Hayley’s three-year-old son.
Ariel Green—Hayley’s cousin.
Timothy Smittle—Hayley’s boss at the Bluewater Grill, where she works.
Mara—Waitress and Hayley’s friend at the Bluewater Grill.
Damien Freihof—Terrorist mastermind determined to bring down Omega Sector piece by piece by doing what they did to him: destroying their loved ones.
“Fawkes”—Omega Sector traitor providing inside information to Freihof.
Lillian Muir—Omega Sector critical response division SWAT team member.
Senator Ralph Nelligar—US senator leading the charge to crack down on computer crimes.
Joshua Lawson—Assistant to Senator Nelligar.
Omega Sector—A multiorganizational law enforcement task force made up of the best agents the country has to offer.
This book is dedicated to Hayley, aka Mandy. How blessed I am to still have you in my life all these years later. We may be continents apart (I move to one...you move to another) but I treasure your friendship and the memories we have. To Mandy, love Mittie. xx
Excerpt from Ranger Guardian by Angi Morgan
Omega Sector agent Cain Bennett sat in the back row of a Georgia courthouse waiting for the judge to come in and sentence the woman Cain had loved since he was sixteen years old.
Hayley Green, the woman Cain had arrested.
He scrubbed a hand over his face, then leaned forward to rest the weight of his forearms on his knees. Hayley currently sat ramrod straight at the table directly in front of the judge’s bench, in a Fulton County orange jumpsuit, her straight blond hair in a ponytail behind her. She was obviously ignoring the whispers from the crowd that was here to see her sentenced. Press, government figures, even some people from their small Georgia hometown who wanted to be able to report the gossip live filled the room.
You would think she was about to be sentenced for murder rather than computer hacking.
He still hadn’t figured out why Hayley chose to use her ninja-like computer skills illegally, to hack the College Entrance Test—CET—system. The exam, which allowed students to get their results back instantly rather than having to wait months like previous standardized tests, was supposed to be unhackable. Questions completely random.
Hayley and her cohorts had figured out not how to hack the test, but how to build false exams into the system. Ones that the system thought were real and that gave the students who “took” them real scores and credit.
Rich students were willing to pay handsomely for these false exams and scores, which would, in essence, assure their acceptance into any college they desired. A pretty nifty scam when it was all said and done. But why she had done it, Cain had no idea. The girl he’d known in high school would never have.
And Hayley sure as hell wasn’t going to offer any reasons why to Cain. She was refusing to talk to him at all.
He gritted his teeth in a constant tension he’d lived with for the past several months. Yes, he’d reignited his relationship with Hayley because of the hacking case.
But because he’d thought she might be able to put him in contact with some of the hackers, not because he thought she was one of them.
But to her it just looked like he’d slept with her as part of some damn sting operation.
Cain looked up
But hopefully the judge would take into consideration that Hayley had no prior convictions, no arrests. She’d pleaded no contest in order to not drag out the case and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in a trial. Cain, as the agent who had been in charge of the investigation, had petitioned for no jail time for Hayley.
Parole with limited computer usage, definitely. But Hayley wasn’t dangerous. Had no intent to harm others. Time already served would be a perfect sentence for her.
She might not like it, but Cain planned to be a lot more present in her life. He’d been wrong to let them grow so far apart as he’d gone to college, then the FBI training academy, before joining Omega Sector. They’d talked via social media and email, but he obviously had not been privy to what was really going on in her life. Aka: criminal activities.
That would stop now.
The judge would release her today, and tomorrow Cain would begin to bulldoze his way back into her life. She’d be mad—hell, so was he—but they would work through it. They had too much history, too much passion, too much rightness to be without each other for long. Hayley Green was his, the same way he was hers. They had been for over ten years.
Beginning tomorrow, he was going to make sure his little felon had her own law enforcement agent keeping her on the straight and narrow. Cain smiled slightly. It wouldn’t be easy, but she was worth it. They were worth it.
The bailiff announced for all to rise as the judge entered the courtroom. Everyone sat back down as the judge asked Hayley to stand.
Cain listened as the judge spoke to Hayley about computer crimes, although not violent, not being victimless. He grew more tense as the judge pointed out that she’d stolen not just from the company that developed and ran the CET, but from students around the country who had missed out on the opportunity of college acceptance and scholarship because of the test results she had sold for money.
Bile began to burn at the back of his throat when the judge said that Hayley had not just hacked computers, she had stolen futures.
This was not good.
“Today,” the judge continued, “I feel that it is important to set an example. To show that people like you, Ms. Green—young, intelligent, able to work—will be held to strict standards when you choose to break the law. To discourage others from making the same choices.”
Cain wanted to stand up. Stop time. Do something. Because the next words to come out of the judge’s mouth were going to alter Cain’s entire world.
He couldn’t imagine what they were going to do to Hayley’s.
“Hayley Green, you have pleaded nolo contendere to a charge of first-degree computer crimes, which is a class B felony, with a sentence of up to twenty years in prison. This court hereby sentences you to ten years at the Georgia Women’s Correctional Institution, Minimum Security Campus, eligible for parole not before four years.”
Cain saw Hayley’s body jerk as the gavel came down against the sound block on the judge’s bench. The judge said a few more things and then court was dismissed.
Cain couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. Feeling like all the oxygen had been sucked from the room, he stared at Hayley, still standing stiffly at the table as her lawyer murmured something in her ear. Hayley’s cousin Ariel, the only family present, was crying softly in the row behind her.
Four years. Hayley would spend at least four years in prison.
And Cain had sent her there.
People began filing out around him, but Cain couldn’t force himself to move. Couldn’t stop looking at Hayley. Couldn’t figure out how to make this right.
Things would never be right again.
An officer came over to her and asked her to move to the other side of the table so he could handcuff her. She did, moving slowly, like she was in shock. Which she had to be.
As the officer turned her so he could cuff her, Hayley’s eyes met Cain’s. He took a step toward her, unable to help himself.
He expected tears, or terror, or even hatred to light her eyes as she looked at him, skin across her cheekbones pale and drawn.
But her eyes were dead, emotionless. She looked at him as though he were a stranger.
Then she turned from him completely and was led away.
Four years later
Cain often dealt with the worst of humanity as part of the Omega Sector Protection and Recovery Division.
Crisis management and bodyguarding were a regular part of his job. He and his team also dealt with hijackers and kidnappers on a regular basis.
But his mission right now was to rescue not a person, but the entire Critical Response Division of Omega, which was being hijacked in its own way.
They had a psychopath on their hands, set on destroying the team one by one—by killing their loved ones. And someone on the inside was helping the madman in his quest.
Cain was currently watching a video of Damien Freihof—said psychopath—who had slit the throat of Omega psychiatrist Grace Parker last week.
Freihof and his cohort within Omega Sector had decided it would be fun to send the murder as a live feed to all active Omega Sector agents—forcing them to watch as Dr. Parker died without them being able to step in and do anything about it.
So now Cain was able to watch it over and over. Watch as Grace’s eyes dulled in death. Watch as Freihof’s eyes had filled with something akin to joy as the doctor—a beautiful woman in her fifties, and an integral part of the Omega team—died sitting right in front of him.
Freihof had made it no secret that he wanted Omega Sector’s Critical Response Division to pay for the death of his wife, Natalie, years ago. That he blamed the elite law enforcement task group for her untimely demise in a bank hostage situation.
He was determined they would feel the pain of losing loved ones like he had.
Grace Parker had been just one of those loved ones Freihof had gone after. For the past five months he’d been the mastermind behind attacks on nearly a dozen Omega Sector agents or their friends and family. Grace had died last week. Two other Omega agents were in the hospital after an explosion.
And Freihof was reveling in it all.
Freihof had to be stopped. But just as importantly, the mole inside Omega—the one who was feeding Freihof information that was allowing him to be so successful in his attacks—had to be stopped. Steve Drackett, director of the Critical Response team, was unsure who could be trusted.
That’s why Cain was here, brought from a different division of Omega, to help catch this traitor.
Cain watched the death of Grace Parker again, hoping to notice something this time that maybe he’d missed before. He hadn’t personally known the woman, which allowed him to look at the footage more objectively, see things others—people who had cared deeply about the psychiatrist—might miss.
Cain was known for his ability to separate emotion from the job. It was how he’d risen to assistant director of Omega’s Protection and Recovery Division when he’d barely reached his thirtieth birthday.
Because he got the job done, no matter what.
He’d proven that four years ago.
Cain studied the footage again, pushing all thoughts of Hayley Green aside. Right now he needed to understand as much as he could about Damien Freihof. Because anything Cain could find out about him would hopefully lead to information about the mole.
In a way—as psychotic as Freihof was—he was easier to understand. The man wanted vengeance. Sure, he may want vengeance for something that Omega Sector wasn’t actually responsible for, but at least his motives were clea
What did the traitor want?
There couldn’t be much money involved in helping Freihof. Maybe a little, but not the sort of big payoff someone was usually looking for in order to risk their reputation and/or life.
That left a lot of other factors. It could also be vengeance; maybe Freihof had found a kindred spirit also looking for some sort of revenge for something Omega had done. Maybe the person had a desire for control, or was some sort of political zealot, planning to bring down Omega Sector from the beginning.
Or maybe Freihof had control over the man—or woman—and was blackmailing him or her in some way.
The motive didn’t really matter to Cain in terms of justifying why the traitor was behaving the way he was, but understanding motive always provided information in an unknown suspect.
Cain sat in a private conference room attached to Steve Drackett’s office. It was one of the few places Steve had assured him there was no way the mole could have any type of surveillance devices.
While Cain trusted Steve completely, he wasn’t leaving anything to chance. Cain had his own countersurveillance device that allowed him to know for certain that no one was recording or transmitting visual or audio data from this room.
Files of every employee—agent or not—of the Critical Response Division sat in groups on the large conference table. Cain had already been in this room for more than eight hours going through the files.
He had four distinct groups: cleared, unlikely, unknown and suspicious.
People like Steve Drackett, whom Cain had known for years and who had spent most of his life fighting people like Freihof, were in the cleared category. Other agents also, like the various members of the Omega SWAT team who had been injured or nearly killed by Freihof over the last few months. Employees who had joined Omega very recently were also cleared, as well as those who had no access to the type of information that had been given to Freihof.
But that still left a hell of a lot of people in the unlikely, unknown or suspicious categories.
Long-term operatives and agents were in the unlikely category. Cain rubbed the back of his neck as he walked around the table looking at the files. The thought of the culprit being a colleague who had been involved with Omega Sector for years churned like acid in his gut. He drowned those thoughts by taking a swig from his now-cold coffee mug, the only substance he’d had today. He wanted to move these agents to the cleared list, but he couldn’t.
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