Read More from Calle J. Brookes

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Chapter 1

Andy hadn’t deserved this.

Max Jones stood over the body of a man he had worked with for more than six years, fighting the grief—and rage. The damage to Andy’s skull was something he would never be able to erase from his head. 

Andy Anderson would never smile at a stupid dad joke ever again. Andy and Max had traded dad jokes like their daughters traded cartoon playing cards.

Rain slipped down the back of Max’s neck, soaking his neck beneath his Brynlock Blackbirds sweatshirt. He had been called out from his daughter’s first basketball game of the season for this. 

Andy’s daughter might be at the school now, too. Andy’s kids didn’t attend the same academy as Max’s daughter, but they competed in the same sports leagues. It was a small private school association with only four schools in the network. They interacted together all the time, from elementary school through high school. 

Max knew Andy’s family very well. “Do we know what happened?”

“Not yet. We’re calling in forensics in an hour,” said Ed Dennis, the director of PAVAD—the Prevention & Analysis of Violent Acts Division of the FBI. They were in the backyard of the reasonably sized, 1960s ranch house just over the river from St. Louis. “There are…things…we need to do first.”

 Max’s attention focused on the men surrounding him. Ed Dennis, Michael Hellbrook, two of the three Lorcan brothers, and both Brockman brothers. They were PAVAD now. Legends. Each and every one of them. “Why am I here?”

Max held his own, but these men were upper level. He was the lowest man on the ladder here, and he was well aware of that. There was a reason Max was there. It wasn’t because of his friendship with Andy Anderson.

“I need you to be the official face of this case,” Ed said. He alone didn’t seem bothered by the icy rain. The man was five inches shorter than Max, fifty pounds lighter, and a good twenty years older. He was also one of the few men Max would trust at his own back without hesitation.  

He’d trust Ed Dennis with his own daughter. That mattered.

When the director called, PAVAD agents responded. 

The director was wearing a damned near identical Brynlock sweatshirt, and they’d followed each other to the scene—from the school where their children waited.

A brief moment of concern went through him—he’d had to basically leave his daughter at the school by herself. She’d been with the school officials, but someone there specifically for her had taken him a while to arrange. Worry was always in his mind where his kid was concerned.

It was the curse of the single parent. 

“He has an ex-wife,” Max said softly, looking down at the body of his friend again. Agent Andrew Mark Anderson, eight years older than Max’s own thirty-six, two inches shorter than Max’s six four, and forty pounds heavier. His hair was thinning, and graying, his glasses were six feet away, on the concrete pavers Max had helped him haul from the home repair store. Andy had been a member of the third Lorcan brother’s team of forensic accountants. “Three children, living. The oldest is about Emery’s age, the youngest is three. His daughter plays basketball; she may be at Brynlock right now.”

Ed nodded. “I’ll handle the notification; I have to go pick up my sons after…this.”

“This is a part of the search for the leak,” Sin Lorcan said flatly. “I knew we had someone on Seth’s team involved, but I didn’t suspect Anderson. Still don’t; not fully. But I can’t explain this.”

“None of us suspected Anderson,” Mick Brockman practically growled, his anger almost touchable. The head of IA was unofficially in charge of the investigation into who was targeting PAVAD—and had been for years now. He and Sin. Very few PAVAD agents had been dialed in on what was truly going on behind the scenes. “We need to go somewhere secure—where we can talk.”

“First, I’m going to call in Mari and her team. She’s with the kids at the school now. Only those we’re certain we can trust will work this,” the director said. His wife was the head of the forensics department. If they couldn’t trust her, there was probably no one in the division they could. 

Thunder rumbled overhead, despite the chilly rain pelting them all. Max waited for one of the other men to say something. Anything to get this case going.

He looked down at his friend again. Every memory and image he had of Andy through the years would be forever overshadowed by this.

There was a bullet in Andy’s head. It hadn’t gotten there by accident. 

Max was good at what he did. That he wouldn’t deny. And he worked hard to ensure that. But this…this spoke of dark secrets Max feared the answers to. The body of a friend was pretty damned proof positive of that.

“Who called it in?” he asked. There weren’t any lights on in the houses nearby. Andy had mentioned there were vacant places in his neighborhood and had suggested Max might want to check a few out for his rental business. Max hadn’t had the time to yet. 

“We don’t know yet,” Ed said. “There was an anonymous phone call—to Sin. Gloating. Threats that they were getting closer. That a PAVAD family would hurt again tonight.”

Max looked at Sin, the man who had the reputation of being the absolute best at ferreting out internal corruption that the bureau had ever seen. They called him The Bloodhound. 

Someone taunting Sin Lorcan like that was a damned foolish bastard. One who had opened the doors to hell tonight—and let a three-headed dog out.

You didn’t make it to PAVAD by accident, or by being mediocre. No. PAVAD pulled only the very best.

Whatever was going on in PAVAD—it was far bigger than him. 

Max wanted a part of it. He wanted in on bringing down the bastards who had threatened what he and the others had worked for over the last four years.

PAVAD meant something to the people who worked there. 

None of them took threats to it lightly. Max certainly didn’t.

Neither did the men surrounding him. 

He didn’t take the murder of a friend sitting down, either. 

He’d held Andy’s children in his own arms before, at their own brother’s funeral. He owed them answers. 

Max would get them, too.

“We need to find this sonofabitch,” the third Lorcan brother said, coming from inside the house. There was grief for a lost teammate in his tone. “Andy has a family. He adored his kids. Was still in love with the ex-wife, too. Things just got tough after the baby died.”

Max had always thought so, too. He’d hoped the Andersons would have been able to work out their differences; they’d broken up after the death of their fourth child from a heart defect two years ago. They’d never get the chance to work things out now.

Damn it, Andy. What had he gotten in to? The guy had been goofy, playful, intelligent, and…dependable. A bit of a conspiracy nut, which was odd for an FBI agent, but half the time, Max thought Andy had just been goofing around. 

Like he read the conspiracies for fun. Was saying things to get a rise out of the people around him.

“We’ll find the answers,” Ed promised.

“Well, we’ll need to find them fast. Because this is spiraling,” Sin said, putting one hand on the shoulders of each of his “brothers.” Three identical men with fire and anger in their matching green eyes, just like the three-headed dog of hell. Max wanted to see the Lorcans tear into the man who’d done this. Wanted that with every fiber of his being now. “That damned sniper nearly killed my wife, with my children and my brothers’ children inside one hundred feet away. I’m not going to wait much longer to have some names.”

“Neither will we,” his brothers said together in near unison. At any other time, it would have been humorous. Not tonight.

There was nothing humorous about tonight.

It was a sentiment they all agreed with. 

Someone had a real ax to grind against PAVAD. They were making it known.

With one piece of collateral damage at a time. They’d had half a dozen agents targeted since Sin’s wife had been shot knocking him out of the way of a paid assassin. An inch higher and it would have struck her femoral artery. Cody Lorcan would have died with her two children watching from the babysitter’s front window. No wonder the Lorcan brothers were practically foaming at the mouth on this one.

Max would be too, if it had been Jac hurt.

Max looked at Sin. “I’ll do whatever it takes to catch this guy. You just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. Even if it just means signing my name to the damned paperwork.”

Max took another look at the dead man sprawled in front of them, a man he’d known well enough to sit with at their daughters’ sporting events and academic tournaments—a man he’d eaten lunch with at the cafeteria at PAVAD dozens of times. They’d shared a table not even two days ago, talking about their kids. About the best place to buy the girls shoes. Max hated shopping for shoes. Andy, too. But they had little girls who needed new shoes, and Andy had promised his ex-wife he’d take the girls that weekend to get them while she worked a double shift at the hospital. 

It had been so damned normal.

He’d considered Andy Anderson a friend. 

Andy’s three little girls deserved more than this. 

Max made himself a vow—answers. He’d not stop until he could someday give those little girls answers about who and why this had happened.

He looked at Ed. “Let’s find this sonofabitch.”

Chapter 2

Jac had missed this. She’d missed the sight of children enjoying themselves, missed the sight of families brimming with pride and love for their children. 

Missed the normalcy of it all. Missed being a part of it. She hadn’t realized how much it mattered, until it had suddenly stopped weeks ago.

Agent Jaclyn Jones climbed the bleachers near the free throw line and watched a gaggle of little girls that she knew as they learned the game—she actually felt like she belonged there. 

Jac waved at the assistant coach. Rachel was a friend. One of the few Jac had outside her work with the bureau. They’d met right there at Brynlock over a year ago. 

Someone else called her name, and she turned. Angie Anderson sat holding her toddler. Angie looked a little frazzled. Jac took the seat next to her and smiled at the little girl.

She was such a homely little thing with her father’s round cheeks and overly large lips. But her eyes…she was a sweet little girl who was very friendly. “Hi, Angie, how are you?”

“Being pulled in a million directions, and loving it,” Angie said with a tired smile. “You look gorgeous, by the way. I can’t remember the last time I looked gorgeous. Probably four kids, a nursing degree, and one divorce ago.”

“Don’t be silly. You are definitely gorgeous right now. Far more than I am. I feel like the FBI’s leftover bin right now.” Angie was a very pretty woman, but it was the love and joy in her eyes when she looked at her daughters that made her truly beautiful. “I could never get away with wearing that color. I’d look like a clown, but on you—gorgeous.”

They laughed together. Jac took Angie’s youngest daughter onto her own lap, while the middle girl sat with her nose buried in a book that looked to be about fairies. The middle Anderson girl was as beautiful as her mother—and not interested in sports at all. Jac had a bag of books in her hall closet, books that she’d found at a flea market in Wyoming that she’d found for the little girl. She’d been meaning to give them to Angie’s ex-husband to pass on.

“I hate to ask, but…I need to call Andy. Find out where he is. Abbie is going to be asking where her dad is. He always makes her games. I…I’m a bit worried. Andy’s obsessive about not being late. He always texts me if he’s going to be late. Even now.”

“Sure. I’ll keep these two under control.”

Angie stepped outside to make her call. Jac kept up a running conversation as much as possible with the Andersons’ three-year-old, while the six-year-old just kept reading. 

Some of the tension filling Jac eased. Friends, families, the smell of the concession stand being ran by older siblings and parents—it was beautiful. Normal.

Free of the darkness that normally surrounded her workdays.

Sometimes, life at PAVAD could get pretty dark. Her last case had been dark—that was for sure.

She’d just finished a case where an eleven-year-old would never see the sun again. He’d been blinded by his own cousin and nearly killed. Jac’s team had arrived just in time to save his life.

Not something she would ever forget.

When the little girls’ basketball game at Brynlock Academy ended, Jac excused herself from the Andersons and headed down to where the green team was congregating. 

She had an eight-year-old to catch. 

The high school teams would be playing soon—and the crowd would double. She wanted to find Emery and get a spot closer to the action. Emery loved watching the teenagers play. She had a well-known crush on Simon Brockman, one of the star players.

She’d buy Emery dinner at the concession stand, say hello to a few friends from work who also had kids at the school, and get Emery distracted by getting to stay at the high school basketball game—which would end well after her normal bedtime.

Before Emery got worried that her father wasn’t there to take her home. 

Max very rarely missed Emery’s games. It was a promise he’d made to his daughter years ago. One Jac had done her best to help him keep. It had been weeks since she’d been to one of Emery’s sports events, since she’d been with the little girl. 

Tonight’s phone call had come completely out of the blue. He almost hadn’t caught her at all. Emery’s father had been desperate. Jac had been his last resort. That had come through loud and clear. 

Max Jones, her former partner, had been avoiding her. In every way he possibly could.

That big stinking coward. She’d like to take his size thirteens and shove one right up his chickeny rear end for this.

But here she was now. Watching over his daughter, like she had so many times before.

Emery needed her; that was all it had taken to have Jac dropping her plans and rushing to the school. She came up behind a familiar strawberry-blond kid wearing the number 17 on her jersey. She tapped the little girl on the shoulder. “Hey, kid Jones.”

Emery turned. Her eyes, a clear blue, widened. “Jac! Jac! You’re here!”

Jac found her arms full of wiggling, sweaty little girl. She tightened the hug just a bit. She’d missed this kid so much.

Jac looked over Emery’s hair at the crowd surrounding her. The coach was eyeing her with suspicion. Jac couldn’t recall meeting her before. Jac pulled her badge free. “I’m Agent Jaclyn Jones. I’m here to pick up Emery. Her father got called in work.”

“I…no one called me about it. Are you her mother?” The woman eyed her appraisingly.

Jac shook her head. Jac knew the protocol for the school’s events, and she understood how important it was. “I have permissions on file with the school. Her father is waiting for a phone call if there is a problem.”

“There won’t be,” a voice said from behind the coach. Jac recognized the school principal, a woman around her own age she’d met many times before. “Emery’s father called me a few minutes ago to ensure we knew Jaclyn had permission to pick Emery up this evening. Hello, Jaclyn. How have you been?”

Jac made small talk with the principal and a few of the other mothers while she waited for Emery to get changed out of her basketball shoes and grab her bag. Before she knew it, she found herself agreeing to volunteer at the next field trip, after the winter holiday break. 

She’d have to make certain to put in for comp time, but she had plenty accumulated. She was an old hat at field trips now that Emery was in the third grade.

The principal, Jayda, was an extremely persuasive woman when she wanted to be. Jac made plans to call Rachel or Julie and finalize those plans. She’d volunteered with both of them before, and they usually split responsibilities for the group. They worked well together, playing off one another’s strengths. She enjoyed it, the whole pseudo-PTA-mother thing. 

It was so normal, so opposite of what she did on a day-to-day basis.

Emery had asked Jac to help with her school activities before. Jac understood why; most of the parents that volunteered at Brynlock were female. There were a few involved fathers, of course, but most of the volunteers were mothers.

Emery was very much about fitting in exactly as her friends did right now. She had some insecurities she was battling. There weren’t many single fathers at Brynlock. Emery thought that made her too different. 

That meant, if they had a mom or stepmom at the school, Emery wanted someone who looked like them, too. She was all about conforming now. 

It drove Max nuts.

He was so insecure about his ability to parent a little girl. Jac understood it, though; she’d been that little girl before. 

The father Jac had had was a monster. 

Emery’s father was the exact opposite. Emery was just going through a natural phase of noticing her contemporaries and obsessing over every possible difference between them. Jac hadn’t minded; she loved working with kids. If her life had followed a different path, she would most likely have been a teacher, or pediatrician or child psychiatrist.

Now, she spent most of her time split between the Child Exploitation Protection Division and the Complex Crimes Unit Team Three of PAVAD. Team three ended up with the cases involving children more often than the other teams. It was starting to become their specialty. That was a natural evolution of law enforcement teams—some became better at certain cases than others. 

Jac had worked with Emery’s father for more than five years. She’d known and loved the little girl almost as long. She was going to enjoy this rare night hanging out with her favorite kid in the world. 

It would help them all—Emery would be safe, Max would be free to focus on whatever he was doing, and Jac would be able to forget for a while a little boy whose entire world had changed over stolen video games.

Jac needed to forget right now.

She’d just try not to worry about the tension and the secrets in Max’s voice tonight.

Because something had happened at PAVAD. 

Max was right out there in the middle of it.

That…that could be very, very dangerous right now.

Chapter 3

FBI Agent Todd Barnes clutched the envelope of cash close and hoped no one saw him. He’d seen several people entering the school gymnasium that he recognized. He’d only been a few yards behind one of those people, but fortunately for him Jaclyn Jones hadn’t turned around long enough to identify him. 

He slouched and pulled the ball cap down and tightened his Carhart coat over his clothes. The jeans and sweatshirt beneath were a far cry from what he usually wore. He’d bought the whole outfit off the rack at a dollar store just for this.

He wanted to blend in with all the good little sports daddies at Brynlock academy. 

He had a special project tonight. One he wasn’t about to screw up.

Todd knew he was being tested. Seeing just what he was willing to do. 

If it meant bringing down PAVAD, he would do anything asked of them. It couldn’t keep going on unchecked like it was. That was going to get someone killed. Todd had the scar to prove it.

The man he was supposed to meet was late.

Todd pulled his hood over his head and waited under the streetlight like he was supposed to. He’d always hated the damned rain. Rain in November was ten times as bad. It was fucking cold out here tonight. 

Someone walked by him. Todd swore and backed out of the light.

It was one of those damned Lorcan brothers’ wives. The redhead with the weird hazel eyes and the chest that made men drool. 

Well, Todd would drool, too. If she was his. He tried to heat himself up by imagining her naked for a few moments.

Hard to do with the two kids she was carrying into the building right there. They certainly ruined his image of her.

Maybe it was time he started doing the work to find another girlfriend. One he could be serious about this time. Could count on; the last woman he’d been seriously involved with had left him for one of his former teammates. He’d never forgive Agent Strette for that betrayal. 

Once this thing with PAVAD was over, he’d have a hell of a lot more money in his pocket. He’d find a woman of quality. 

He could buy a house. Find a lady to share it with. It would be nice to have regular sex again with a woman who cared about what he had to say. One he could train to do what he liked in the bed. 

Who knew? Maybe he’d actually like her, and they’d tie the knot and have a few kids. Send them to a fancy place like Brynlock. Then he wouldn’t be going back to a plain, empty apartment.

A school basketball game, he thought. What a shit-in-the-hole. 

All TV-sitcom perfect. 

There was the damned director of PAVAD’s wife right there, a toddler on her hip and at least half a dozen kids trailing after her like ducks, with half of them wearing team sweatshirts under their coats.

She looked all prissy and rich and sexy in that older woman kind of way. 

Even that billionaire asshole married to the blonde from PAVAD forensics was there, strutting around like he owned the place. He jogged up to the redhead and took the youngest baby out of her arms.

Hell, for all Todd knew, the guy probably did own the place now. News was always going on about him buying up stuff. Him and that Barratt-Handley guy from down in Texas. Like it was a competition or something.

After fifteen minutes, the man Todd was supposed to meet finally came out.

Todd was seriously unimpressed.

The guy was completely unremarkable. If he hadn’t said the code word, Todd never would have realized it was him. What a wiener. 

Todd handed over the envelope, turned, and strolled away. 

He’d driven all the way from Dallas just to do this. 

It would be worth it to see PAVAD destroyed.

Chapter 4

Max and the rest of the men combed over Andy’s office. It felt wrong to violate a friend’s personal space like this, but the determination burning in his gut wasn’t going to be stopped. Not until he had the answers. There were cartoons on the walls, signed with Andy’s distinctive scrawl. Mixed with photos of Abbie, Alexis, little Audra. And Audra’s twin Ashton, who hadn’t made it to his first birthday. 

Andy’s world.

Max took one three-by-five candid off the wall. Andy and his girls—at the last PAVAD picnic. Max’s daughter and his partner Jac were visible in the background, smiles on their beautiful faces.

Max had snapped the photo. It was shortly after Andy and his wife had separated. 

Andy’s ex had called twice to see why he wasn’t at the basketball game right now, her voice ringing out on the old-fashioned answering machine. Andy always had been resistant to technology. Andy would only use his bureau phone when on the clock, and had complained about that many times. 

Jac had set it up for Andy once or twice while Max watched. Not that Max was all that into technology, either. But he had had Andy beat by a mile.

Grief threatened again, but he shoved it away. He wasn’t going to do Andy a damned bit of good if he turned into a blustering idiot. 

Max slipped the photo out of the frame and turned it over.

In an obsessively neat hand were the ages of all the girls, including Emery. Andy had been extremely detail oriented and mathematically inclined. He’d calculated the girls’ ages right down to the number of days. Jac’s, too. 

Andy had fit in well with the forensic accounting team he’d been on. He’d been happy on that team, and passionate about his work. He’d enjoyed it. He valued it. And Max would have bet his left arm that Andy wouldn’t have betrayed it. 

Not without damned good reason. 

Max was going to find that reason. 

Ed came up behind where Max was videoing the office and the paperwork he’d seen there. “Sebastian has already grabbed all the computer equipment. He’s going to take it directly to his wife. She’ll process it…outside the PAVAD server, using her brother-in-law’s, instead. They’re both at Brynlock now. She’s going to ride out to Lucas’s place with his security team. Evidence won’t leave his place until we’re damned well ready for it to happen.”

Not exactly strictly by the books, but no one was going to say a word about it. 

Not tonight. Not after…this. They all knew the consequences of what they were facing now.

Andy was one of their own.

Sebastian Lorcan’s wife was the head of the computer forensics team, and was also associated through family connections to two of the most advanced law enforcement tech companies in the world. That meant access to the best equipment out there—some that wasn’t even released to the market yet. 

She was the best with a computer Max had ever seen. He just nodded. Of course, the director would be calling out the best for this. 

It was PAVAD.

Andy had been one of them.

He switched over to still photo mode and kept snapping photos. He wasn’t forensics, but he was going to document everything he could. Everything. Without even thinking about it, he slipped the snapshot into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. 

He’d find the answers for those girls. 

Then he’d return the photo to their mother.

This was going to tear Angie apart.

He was going to go through the rest of the house before the evidence techs got there as well. 

There might be things that the general teams at PAVAD had no business seeing. He had already gotten clearance from the director and Mick to do just that. 

Everyone knew this case was going to be outside the lines.

Andy would always cross those boundaries.

There were three memory cards taped to the back of a drawer in the small office that connected to Andy’s bedroom. Max photographed them, then removed the cards, in gloved hands. He handed them to the director. 

Anything. Anything at all could turn a case in an instant. They all knew that. 

The cards wouldn’t have been hidden if there wasn’t something important on them. 

“We sure he was the one selling secrets?” one of the Lorcan brothers asked. They sounded very similar; Max looked over his shoulder to see just which one it was. It was Seth. The earring was a dead giveaway. The other two triplets were more severe in appearance, and often confused for one another even more. “I really can’t believe it of him. And I’ve seen where one teammate was framing another before.”

“I don’t know yet. I…he was a good guy. At least, he appeared to be. Hell, my daughter has spent the night with his a few times before.” Max had seen things on the job that he still didn’t understand, even with his experience as a profiler. Andy being a traitor to PAVAD—he wouldn’t believe until he had irrefutable evidence of it. He just couldn’t.

Seth nodded. “I thought so, too.”

“If that changes, if I find anything that says he was framed…whatever happened here…someone shot him. Took him away from his family. I will find them.” If nothing else, Max owed those children answers. 

His phone beeped with a text, interrupting his next round of photos. 

I have Emery at my new place. We have pizza. She can spend the night, no problem. Call me when you want me to bring her home. —Jac.

Some of his tension lessened. His daughter was safe and protected and with someone who loved her. 

Now, Max could fully focus on what he needed to do. 

Chapter 5

Andy’s house appeared exactly as it always had. Max had picked him up there a few times. It had once belonged to Andy’s parents, before they’d died. Andy had moved in after the divorce. 

It was close to where Andy’s ex-wife and girls lived. He wanted to be near if they needed him. 

Max had hauled boxes from the moving truck Andy had rented—while Jac had set up Andy’s computer and internet system. 

Emery had played with the girls in the backyard. It had been a normal, if rare, off day for them all that had ended with a backyard barbecue—and Andy’s neighbor coming by to check out the pretty redheaded lady wandering around the place.

The man had wanted Jac’s attention. He’d been persistent. 

Max and Andy had enjoyed chasing him off and teasing her about it the next day.

Beautifully normal. It had ended with three little girls and a baby eating hot dogs and marshmallows. 

Andy would never have that again. Nothing Max could do would give that to him again. 

He documented the basement, then stepped further inside. Andy was meticulous, everything was in its place.

The wires were out of place.

Max moved closer. 

There was a timer. And it was armed. It clicked down another eight seconds before his mind processed what he was seeing. Seventy-two seconds remained.

Only seventy-two damned seconds.

Max ran, yelling for the other men to get the hell out of the house.

He grabbed the director of PAVAD from where the man was studying photos in the hallway. They were the furthest from the exits. “Out! Bomb in the basement! Everyone out now! Get outside!

Both men ran.

They hit the backyard together. Forty feet from where Andy’s body lay.

Next to the same damned grill they’d used to make the girls’ dinner that day.

Fire slammed into Max’s back. He went down.

Max knocked into the director, the force of the blast sending both men to the ground. 

He stayed where he was, the ringing in his ears mixing with the roar of the explosion behind him.

Men were yelling. Moving.

But not the man next to him.

Max coughed, opened his eyes, and looked, afraid of what he’d see.

Ed sprawled unconscious next to him, blood at his damned temple. A roar sounded behind them again.

Max didn’t stop to think. They were too damned close.

He grabbed the director, pulled the smaller man over his shoulder, and ran. 

Just ran. 

To the field behind the now burning house, fifty yards away. The house on the left of Andy’s, unoccupied, was engulfed now. People were yelling from somewhere. Neighbors, coming running. 

They’d have to keep them back somehow.

Max lowered his boss to the ground as the rest of the men that had been there crowded around them. He checked quickly: Hellbrook, Mick Brockman, three Lorcan brothers. Max and the director. 

They were missing one. There had been eight of them.

Max counted again. “Where’s Mal?”

Mick bellowed his older brother’s name, then swore when he saw the other man lying a few feet from the back porch. Mick and Sebastian ran back and lifted Malachi, almost dragging him away from the flames.

Malachi was mostly walking on his own, but it looked like he’d taken a hit to the shoulder. 

Max turned back to the director. Ed was still out.

Hell, it had probably only been a minute or two since the blast.

Seth held a hand to his own bleeding forehead. “We’re all out. But every last shred of evidence was blown to the damned moon now. All we got is what was on our phones.”

“Even the computers were in my car,” Sebastian said, lowering Malachi to the grass next to the director. “It’s burning now; I’d parked it nearest the drive. I don’t know if Carrie will be able to do anything with what is left of the hard drives after the fire’s out.”

They had nothing. Son of a bitch. 

Except for the memory cards in the pocket of Max’s Brynlock sweatshirt. And that might be absolutely nothing.

“We need to get him to the hospital,” Hellbrook said, leaning over his father-in-law. The director was starting to come around. “I think he was struck in the head. Malachi needs checked out, too.”

“Who all has injuries?” Max took stock of their people. He had some burns on his back and his arms, but nothing a cold shower and some burn gel wouldn’t fix. Seth was bleeding from a wound near his hairline. Sin Lorcan stood there with a damned piece of shrapnel lodged in his right shoulder, looking like the coldly invincible hunter that he was. 

Nothing appeared to phase that guy.

Malachi was propped up against the damned side of Andy’s garden shed. Hellbrook was covered in ash. They all were. But they were all there. Alive. 

They’d gotten damned lucky. 

Had Malachi or the director been any closer to the house when it blew, Max probably wouldn’t have been able to say that at all.

“Let’s get the director the hospital. We’ll regroup when we can.”

He looked back, to where Andy’s body had been.

It was gone. He’d been right outside his back door. 

There would be nothing left of his friend but ashes.

And three little girls who deserved to know what had happened to the father who had loved them so much.


Chapter 6

Jac rolled over, grabbed her gun instinctively, and checked the clock next to the bed. Someone was pounding on her door, at two a.m. That could never be good.

Jac checked on the little girl sleeping in her guest room—Emery was an extremely deep sleeper—then crept to the front door. She peeked out the window carefully. Jac never used the peephole. She’d seen people get shot that way.

Jac flipped on the porchlight when she saw who was standing there.

She’d recognized the tall, muscled man illuminated in the nearby streetlight immediately. Jac threw open the door. 

Her former partner stood there, covered in soot, eyes burning with a pain she couldn’t identify.

She immediately tensed even more.

“Max, what—?”

Before he could answer, or she could say anything else, he grabbed her. Just grabbed her.

Max’s hands went around her waist and he jerked. He scooped her right off her feet and into his arms. His strong, perfect, smoke-saturated arms.

Jac found her face pressed into his rock-hard chest. 

At any other time, she would have enjoyed it.

He reeked. She coughed. 

He just wrapped his arms around her even tighter and held her. Rocked. Right there on her front porch. Shaking and holding her as tightly as he could.

This was a far cry from the man who had run from her over a little kiss between friends weeks ago. 

Jac didn’t say a word about that. He was hurting. Broken. 

She hated not knowing why. “Max? Talk to me. Tell me what happened.”

“Inside.” He pulled back and stared at her. Right there on her porch, as thunder boomed overhead, and rain pelted down around them. “I…can I come inside?”

“Yes. But lose the shoes. I just had new carpet laid. And you are filthy. What happened to you tonight?” They were whispering. It somehow just called for whispers, even though they both knew Emery slept like the dead. “Is everyone all right?”

He shook his head. “Andy Anderson, from Seth’s team. He’s dead. Executed tonight. In his home, Jac. Place blew up while we were first on the scene. Andy’s body was burned beyond recognition.”

Terror for her friends and colleagues had her practically choking. “Your team? Are they ok? Anyone else? Was anyone else targeted?” 

She’d held Andy’s daughter in her own arms tonight. Thank God the kids had been with their mother instead of their father. Andy and Angie had full shared custody. The girls were with Andy just as much as they were with their mother. 

If those girls had been there tonight… Jac couldn’t think of it. 

They’d had agents targeted before. She and Max had discussed that before. Had discussed what they had to do to watch their own backs, since a friend had been abducted back in August. Jac never forgot that. 

She knew Max hadn’t either.

No one at PAVAD was forgetting that right now.

The ones responsible for hiring an assassin to go after members of PAVAD hadn’t been caught yet. Jac’s friends Shannon and Cody had almost died by that assassin’s hands.

Everyone had been living on edge, since.

“Not my team. I was with the director. Working on…a special project. Me, him, a few others.”

“Is everyone you were with on scene ok?”

He shook his head slightly. Ash and debris fell from his shaggy brown hair to his broad shoulders. The man seriously needed a shower. “The director is going to be kept overnight at the hospital. He took a hard knock to the head. I’m…not supposed to be telling you this. But…it was so damned close. And I need to see Emery. Before I can sleep tonight. I just need to see her. Make certain she’s ok. Then I’ll head home and get out of your hair.”

“Don’t be crazy. You have a bag here. I found it when I moved last month, at the back of my guest room closet. I’ve been meaning to bring it to PAVAD. I just keep forgetting,” Jac said quietly. That bag had taunted and tormented her for weeks. Now she was just glad she still had it. “I have another spare room. There’s a bed in there. Take a shower. We can talk. You can go home in the morning. I’m off the entire weekend. I can keep her with me.”

He just looked at her.

There was so much pain in the man’s eyes. Jac just said to hell with it. She wrapped her arms around him and held him until the shaking stopped. 

There would be time to deal with the kiss that should have never been later. Right now all that mattered was that Max was in pain. And he had come to her.

Jac wasn’t going anywhere.

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