Search and destroy, p.1

Search & Destroy, page 1

 

Search & Destroy
 


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Search & Destroy


  Table of Contents

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Discover more Amara titles… Dangerous Lies

  Traitor Games

  Watched from a Distance

  Undercover with the Nanny

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2019 by Julie Rowe. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

  Entangled Publishing, LLC

  2614 South Timberline Road

  Suite 105, PMB 159

  Fort Collins, CO 80525

  rights@entangledpublishing.com

  Amara is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

  Edited by Robin Haseltine

  Cover design by Mayhem Cover Creations

  Cover photography by

  MRBIG_PHOTOGRAPHY/iStock

  welcomia/Deposit Photos

  ISBN 978-1-64063-854-9

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  First Edition August 2019

  Dear Reader,

  Thank you for supporting a small publisher! Entangled prides itself on bringing you the highest quality romance you’ve come to expect, and we couldn’t do it without your continued support. We love romance, and we hope this book leaves you with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

  xoxo

  Liz Pelletier, Publisher

  To Tanya, Yvonne, and Jennifer – craft warriors!

  Chapter One

  Monday, March 17, 10:10 a.m.

  The headache trying to drill its way out of John Dozer’s head was going to kill him, if arguing with the woman standing next to him didn’t do it first.

  “I’m fine.” He glared at Dr. Carmen Rodrigues, who wasn’t quite his boss—almost, but not quite—and spread his arms wide. “Yeah, I’m a little beat up, but I’ve been doing physical therapy for over a week now. There’s no reason to keep me here in the hospital.”

  Nope, he didn’t want to be in this hospital bed; he wanted to be in Carmen’s bed with her curvy body beneath him, and her dark brown, curly hair spread over a pillow while he kissed, licked, and stroked every gorgeous inch of her.

  “Physical therapy to strengthen muscles performed while you’re still in bed doesn’t come close to making you ready to leave.”

  He opened his mouth, but she wasn’t done talking.

  “Someone tried to kill you, again,” Carmen said, her expression edged with a fury that only made him hotter for her. If an attacker strolled in, murder on their mind, John had no doubt she’d kill them with her bare hands. “Recovering from a gunshot wound, multiple hairline skull fractures, and a severe concussion will take time. You are staying in the hospital until I say otherwise.”

  She took a couple of steps closer and thrust her index finger in front of his face. “And you will stop arguing with Gunner and Joy over everything. They’re here to keep you from damaging yourself further.”

  “I don’t need round-the-clock babysitters who bicker more than we do to keep me company.” It was the flirting sort of bickering he and Carmen used to trade with each other—a secret language anchored by desire and need.

  But that was a lifetime ago, when they were different people.

  He missed it so much it hurt worse than all his injuries combined.

  “It’s them or protective custody. Which would you prefer?” She vibrated with outrage, which was out of character. Unless she was using it to hide…concern? Overwhelming concern?

  The worst of his pain disappeared as hope washed over his body in a wave of warmth.

  “Well?” she asked, putting her hands on her hips. “Which is it?”

  Joy and Gunner or a couple of Homeland Security agents? No contest. Homeland wouldn’t waste a couple of agents on his babysitting detail. He’d end up with some kids who’d never seen any real action. Someone who’d follow the rules to the letter. At least Gunner and Joy knew which rules could be bent. Or broken.

  “Fine,” he said. “I’ll stop bitching, but I still think you should convince that overblown doctor to discharge me.”

  “You stay until your skull is healed up enough to stop looking like Humpty Dumpty’s on an X-ray or a CT scan.”

  There was something in her tone that made his gut tighten. He took another look at her—her professional clothing, and heels that said she was meeting with someone she wanted to take her seriously.

  “What’s going on?” he asked. “You going somewhere?”

  She rolled her eyes and sighed. “I have to fly to D.C. and speak with the Surgeon General about the frequency of outbreaks, their link to terrorism, and what the CDC is doing about it. There have also been a couple of cases of measles reported in Vermont, which is an odd place for them to be popping up. I want to stop in and check on the situation.”

  “So, only gone a couple of hours?” he asked, trying to make it a joke.

  It fell flat.

  “I’ll be gone a couple of days, which is why I want your promise to cooperate.”

  Well, shit. She was going to force him to give his word to be a good boy. As much as he didn’t want to do that, he could see he was dancing all over her last nerve.

  “I’ll be good,” he said, putting one hand on an imaginary Bible and the other in the air. “I promise.”

  Her expression didn’t change.

  “Really,” he added in a helpful tone.

  A snort preceded her response. “I don’t trust you.”

  All traces of humor and hope drained away, allowing pain to fill him again. “That’s the real problem, isn’t it?”

  At one time she had trusted him with her life, but something happened to destroy that trust nine years ago, and she still hadn’t told him what it was.

  She stiffened, her mouth pinched tight, but she didn’t argue.

  What the hell had he done to deserve this level of suspicion?

  He let out a sigh of his own and spoke to her like he would his boss. “I’ll cooperate. I have some terrorists to hunt down, and I can’t do that if I can’t get medical clearance to go back to work.”

  She gave him one sharp nod, hesitated, then strode to the closed door of his room. She opened it to chaos.

  10:20 a.m.

  A shout and the commotion on the floor four feet in front of her had Carmen yelling at John to stay where he was as she slammed the door shut behind her.

  A man in his sixties was holding another man facedown with one knee, pinning him to the floor. The senior didn’t seem to have any trouble holding his captive’s hands behind his back.

  “Stop wiggling, you little shit,” the older man said, his voice sounding like it was strained through several pounds of
gravel. “Or do you want a broken arm?”

  “I’ve called security,” a nurse said, a phone in her hand.

  “Good,” the man said.

  “Drill Sergeant?” Carmen asked. “What happened?” He didn’t like being called that outright, but since he’d spent the better part of thirty years as a drill sergeant for the Army, it got his attention quickly.

  “This puke thought he could just walk into our boy’s room.”

  “I’m not armed, old man,” the guy on the floor said as he continued to struggle. “I’m a journalist.”

  “You’re a fuckwad,” DS said in a tone that sounded almost happy. “You’ve got a knife strapped to your leg.”

  A knife? Frost invaded the base of her skull, then shot down her spine to the last vertebra. Was this man trying to kill John, too? No one outside of the CDC and Homeland Security should have known where he was. No one.

  Behind her, John’s door opened. “What the fuck?”

  She put a hand on his chest to stop him from going any farther, though what he thought he could do with bare feet and pushing an IV pole she had no idea. “Get back in that bed.”

  He stared at the man on the floor. “Who’s this? Another fucking incompetent assassin?”

  DS’s cackle rose above the outraged profanity-laced denials from his prisoner.

  Carmen didn’t allow the noise to distract her. “Bed,” she said, making the word an order. “Now.”

  John was going to argue, she could see it on his face, but he met her gaze and…stopped. After a second or two, he nodded. “Yeah, okay.” He gave DS and his detainee one last hard look then went back into his room.

  Carmen closed the door behind him. That was much too easy.

  “He’s got a phone.” DS thrust his chin to the right.

  Carmen picked it up and searched for text messages and phone calls. “It’s a prepaid throwaway.”

  Only one text: Atlanta General Hospital rm 321

  A wicked winter wind slid into the room, coating the air in ice, extending its fingers along her ribs, stealing her breath. Someone had sent this information to an armed man.

  The sound of booted feet jerked her out of the cold. Two security guards approached, their hands on stun guns holstered at their waists.

  Carmen stepped forward. “The man on the ground is armed with a knife.”

  That refocused their attention away from DS to the man he held down.

  “Got any zip ties?” the older man asked.

  One of the guards pulled a plastic tie out of a pocket and secured the suspect’s hands together, then he and DS grabbed the man under the arms and yanked him to his feet.

  “Police are on their way,” one of the security guards said.

  While it was the right thing for hospital staff to do, the police would just get in her way. Carmen went into John’s room, closed the door, then pulled out her cell phone and called her emergency contact at Homeland Security, currently John Dozer’s supervisor, Mark Rones.

  “What’s going on?” John asked.

  She pointed at the phone.

  As soon as his boss answered, she explained the situation and the need for a couple of Homeland agents to take charge of their uninvited guest.

  “What else do you want?” her contact asked. “Because you wouldn’t have called me unless you needed something big.”

  “John Dozer has been blown up, shot, and now someone with a knife tried to get into his room. He’s not safe. He needs to be in protective custody.”

  “Oh, hell no,” John said. “I’d rather go home with Joy and Gunner. Or DS, even.”

  “I don’t have people to spare for guard duty,” Rones said. “Local law enforcement may be able to help, but that’s only a short-term solution. A week or two at most.”

  “I’ll handle it, but as soon as he can be moved, I want your permission to”—how could she put this without sounding ridiculous?—“to take him and disappear.”

  John stopped ranting and barked out, “What?”

  After a three-second pause, Rones asked, “Have you got a place to go?”

  “I think so.” She hoped so.

  “Fine. Go. Take him. I hope you know what you’re doing, doctor.” He hung up.

  She put her phone away. So do I.

  Continuing to ignore John’s increasingly irritated questions, she exited the room, closing the door in his face. Again. “Homeland Security is sending a couple of agents to deal with him,” she said to the security guards and DS.

  “The police will be here in a couple of minutes,” one of the guards said.

  “That’s fine, but this isn’t a simple case of assault. Homeland Security will be taking this man into custody. Excuse me.” She waved at DS to join her as she walked back into the hospital room.

  “I can’t believe how popular I am.” John’s voice was saturated with sarcasm. “I should have gotten myself blown up and shot years ago.”

  The drill sergeant laughed.

  Carmen glared at both of them. “This isn’t funny.”

  “Sure it is,” John argued. “I’m stuck here, unarmed, while idiots with knives try to finish me off.”

  So, he’d heard enough to figure out the situation.

  “You’re not helpless,” DS said. “Your mouth seems to be working just fine, and that IV pole is very threatening.”

  John rolled his eyes. “And I have either Gunner, with his own concussion, or an old geezer for a protection detail.”

  “Don’t think of me as old,” DS said, his tone mild. “Think of me as skilled, experienced, and irritated.”

  “Enough,” Carmen said, then took in a deep breath and met DS’s gaze. “As soon as his doctor clears it, I’m moving John somewhere more secure.”

  “Where?” John and DS asked at the same time.

  Nothing good could come from the two of them agreeing on anything. “Somewhere no one will be able to find you.”

  “That’s going to be quite the trick.” DS angled a thumb at John. “He’s going to need hospital-level medical care for a while.”

  “Not going to be a problem.” She gave John a hard stare. “Someone just tried to get in here and stab you with a sharp, pointy object. You’re going.”

  “Why didn’t I get sent to this hideaway in the first place?”

  “You were on Homeland’s turf, not mine. They picked it. Until this latest attempt to kill you, I wasn’t thinking worst-case scenario. Now I am.”

  John Dozer smiled. “Always start with worst case. That way, if things turn out better, you’re not disappointed.”

  Cocky bastard.

  “So glad you agree.” She turned to DS. “Can you handle the police until Homeland gets here?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “I’m going to see if I can track down John’s doctor and find out if we can move him.”

  A noise outside the door hand them both tensing. A woman in scrubs appeared.

  She smiled at them. “Hi, I need to take John Dozer for an MRI scan.”

  Chapter Two

  12:35 p.m.

  John stared up at the smooth white cylinder only inches from his face.

  MRI machines were noisy. In order to get a good picture, you couldn’t move. You couldn’t talk. You couldn’t hear. It was almost like some of the sensory deprivation interrogation training he’d gone through as part of his induction into Homeland Security.

  Only, this wasn’t a black-ops site, and the person controlling the machine was a health-care technician who only wanted to do her job.

  That didn’t stop him from feeling like he was inside a science experiment about to go very, very wrong.

  He was wearing a set of noise-cancelling headphones that didn’t quite negate all the sound the machine produced.

  He’d had a headache before he’d been put into the huge, body-untangling piece of equipment. What he was going to have after was something he didn’t want to think too hard about.

  Couldn’t move, couldn’t talk
, couldn’t hear.

  He closed his eyes and focused on what he could do, rather than all the things he couldn’t. This was what, the second intentional attempt to kill or get to him in the space of a couple of weeks? The only thing that had happened that could have made him a target was the explosion at the presumed FAFO storage unit. Were they afraid he’d seen something important? He’d given a report, but maybe there was something else. Something more.

  Using a memory technique he’d acquired during his time in military intelligence, he took himself through that entire day. A detonation that put him in this mad scientist’s contraption, from beginning to blastoff.

  What had the weather been like? What smells were in the air? What had he heard? Expressions on people’s faces? Body language? What pieces fit and what didn’t fit inside that storage unit?

  In order to give Carmen and everyone else as much information as possible, he had to dig all of that and more out of the back of his head. Assuming the back of his head was undamaged.

  No one had mentioned the specific regions of his brain his concussion might be affecting.

  He’d been tired, had gotten a couple of hours of sleep at the hotel near the Frank Creek brewery, but that was it. He’d been amused at Gunner and Joy’s irritation with each other that morning.

  The smell of decomposition outside the storage unit had told them they were going to find at least one dead body inside. The smell was pervasive—once it got into your nose, it never wanted to leave.

  After donning protective gear, they’d gone in.

  The body had been on the floor near the back of the space, under a counter strewn with petri dishes and other plastic disposable lab tools, a couple of notebooks, a few glass bottles that looked a little like perfume bottles, and a simple microscope.

  What had been on the notebooks?

  The platform he rested on moved, pulling him out of the machine. John blinked at the bright lights overhead, his concentration broken.

  The tech appeared in his line of sight, a big smile on her face.

  “Good news?” he asked.

  Her smile got wider. “I’m not allowed to say, but…” She pointed to the smile on her face. “This should tell you something.”

  He still had a headache, but relief made for a pretty good painkiller.

 
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