July 28, 2015
As things between Marley and Jake heat up in the
Marley Addison would do it. Heck, she wouldn’t even bat an
eyelash at a few years in a federal prison, but Kentucky had
that damn lethal injection sentence. A fact that was definitely
making her think twice at the moment.
“There’s nothing here.” Jake Ryder’s irritated voice sounded
in Marley’s headset, echoing in her brain, knocking her
tension headache up another blistering notch.
“I said to take a right,” she said again into her microphone.
“There is no right, Addison.” On the screen in front of her
where she monitored the op from the safety of Aegis
headquarters, Jake shined his flashlight ahead and to each
side so she could see the cement walls all around him.
“There’s no left either. No forward. Only back.” He pulled off
the headset and pointed the mini camera at his face.
His rugged jawline, irritated expression, and dark eyes filled the
No, she wasn’t happy. Marley ground her teeth and typed
quickly on the computer to her right because he’d clearly
changed directions on her—again. “I said to hold still for ten
seconds, not keep going.” The schematics of the tunnels
beneath the Pulaski Gallery and Jewelry Exchange in
Washington, DC, zoomed in on the corridor he’d taken
without waiting for her command. “I’ve almost got it. There.
Go back ten feet, then take an immediate left.”
Shuffling sounded in her headset, along with a string of
muttered words Marley didn’t have the patience to sort out.
On the monitor at her side, Jake’s light once again shone
over his dark boots and the trickle of water on the cement
floor as he headed in the direction she’d indicated. When he
reached the corner, he lifted his light, illuminating a rusted
gate, blocking his path. “No left, Einstein. What else ya got?”
She drew a deep breath and reminded herself patience was
key with her boss. Arguing with Jake was as useless as
banging her head against a wall. After three and a half years
running operations at Aegis Security, the elite black ops firm
Jake owned and operated, Marley knew that better than anyone.
Looking up at a multitude of screens in front of her in the
high-tech communications room, she paged through the
schematics until she found the route she’d told him to take in
the first place. “Turn around, backtrack to the main tunnel,
then this time take a left at the four-way intersection.”
Jake’s boot steps sounded in her ear. On the screen, he
flashed the light over his wrist. “We’re four minutes behind schedule.”
Of course they were behind schedule, but not because of
her. If she were in the field instead of stuck back at Aegis
headquarters, they’d already be in the vault of the gallery
because she actually did her research before a mission went
into operation mode. But she refrained from saying so to
keep the peace. She always bit her tongue with Jake to keep
the peace. “There should be a ladder twenty feet ahead on
your right. Access runs into a closet in the back office on the
first floor of the gallery.”
Jake didn’t respond, but seconds later his light illuminated
the metal ladder, exactly where Marley had said it would be.
“Bentley, system check.”
“Security system is down . . . now.” The sound of keys
clicking reverberated through the line, and Marley pictured
Pierce Bentley, a former Secret Service agent, hacking into
the gallery’s security system in the back of the nondescript
van parked a block away on the dark DC street.
That was where she needed to be in case something went
wrong and she had to give the men inside split-second
directions. On site in the van in the event the satellite feed
went down, or the cops showed up, or any number of things
erupted to ruin the op. But no, because she was a woman
and not one of the guys, Jake made it clear her place was
anywhere besides in the field.
That fact burned more than she liked. For the most part,
working at Aegis was rewarding. She loved the guys, loved
the work, and the pay was a serious perk. But Jake’s gender
bias was really grating on her last nerve. Especially lately,
when his resistance to her having anything to do with
fieldwork only seemed to be growing stronger.
He lets Eve participate in the ops.
Her brain skipped over the only other female who worked for
the company. Yes, Jake let Evelyn Wolfe participate in the
ops. Sent her all over the world, in fact. And his excuse when
Marley called him on it was that Eve was ex-CIA and knew
how to handle herself. He was right—Eve was as tough as
they came—but that didn’t mean Marley couldn’t deal with
the pressure. She’d grown up in the security game, for crying
out loud. Her father was the CEO of Omega Intel and had
dragged her all over the globe on his missions from the time
she was old enough to carry her own backpack. When it
came to fieldwork—raids, rescues, extractions—she’d seen it
all. And Jake knew that.
Startled by the sound of Jake’s voice in her ear, Marley
“I asked if you’re monitoring the police bands. Where the hell did you go?”
Of course she was monitoring the police bands. “Still no
chatter on the bands,” she said clearly, then under her
breath, “I’d tell you if there were. I’m not a freakin’ rookie.”
“Perimeter’s clear as well.” Mick Hedley’s Australian accent
echoed through the line.
Marley glanced at her map just to be sure. Mick and a couple
of other guys were stationed outside the building, waiting for
Jake’s mark. Their op this time was simple: test the Pulaski
Gallery’s security system. No big deal. Aegis had done jobs
like this dozens of times. But any number of things could
backfire, and Marley still wanted to be there.
“What about Wolfe?” On the screen to her left, Jake’s light
shined over the interior of a small office made up of a desk,
file cabinet, and a trio of chairs. If he’d heard Marley’s
muttered comment, he didn’t acknowledge it. Then again,
Jake rarely acknowledged her, let alone her feelings.
Marley pushed down the frustration and told herself to stick
to the business at hand. What did she care if Jake noticed
her? He was her employer, nothing more. Which was exactly
the way she wanted it.
“She should be coming out anytime,” Marley announced,
flipping screens again so the layout of the gallery popped up.
“Turn right when you open the door. A back hallway runs
from the offices toward the kitchen.”
“She better not be having too much fun in there,” Zane
Archer muttered over the line as Jake headed down the dark
hallway. He, like Hedley, was also stationed outside, waiting
on clean-up duty while his fiancée created a diversion and
schmoozed with Washington’s most wealthy at the black-tie
affair happening inside the gallery’s main rooms.
“Worried she’s going to trade you in for a younger model,
Archer?” Bentley asked.
“No,” Zane huffed. “I just don’t want her to spend all my
freakin’ money. There’s a damn auction going on in there.
You know how competitive the woman is. Knowing her, she’d
start bidding just to prove she could.”
“I heard that, Archer.” Eve’s clipped voice echoed in Marley’s
headset, followed by the click of her heels across the floor.
“In a few minutes you’re going to seriously wish you weren’t
talking smack about me behind my back.”
“Ooh.” Hedley chuckled. “You’re in deep shit now, Archer.”
“Babe,” Archer said sweetly. “I wasn’t talking smack. I was
bragging about your sexy dance moves. I said, ‘She’d start
spinning just to prove she could.’”
“Jesus, Archer,” Bentley mumbled. “You are so freakin’
whipped. It’s pathetic, man. I swear to God you’ve grown a vagina.”
The team laughed. Over the line, Eve said, “I seriously hope
not because I am so not into the girl-on-girl thing.”
“Damn,” Hedley mumbled. “There goes my fantasy. For
a while there, Wolfe, I thought you were the perfect woman.”
“Hey now, asshole,” Zane interrupted. “I’m still on the line
Laughter echoed through Marley’s headset, but she didn’t
share in the lightheartedness. She never did, at least not until
the op was over. “All clear?” she asked when the laughter died down.
“Yes,” Eve answered, her voice growing serious as well.
A beep echoed, and Marley knew Eve had just flashed the ID
card she’d lifted from a security guard over the vault room’s
door sensor. The hiss of a heavy door opening sounded
through her microphone. “Wilson just took the podium.
You’ve got eight minutes, Ryder.”
Marley started her stopwatch.
“Sam Wilson will talk for more than eight minutes,” Jake said,
moving out into the dark corridor and stepping through the
door at the end of the hall that Eve held open for him.
“He’s as long-winded as they come. Holy hell it’s hot in here.”
“Vault air temperature is 98.6 degrees,” Bentley informed
him. “Infrared won’t be able to sense you unless you’re
running a fever.”
“Here’s where you all hope I got my flu shot,” Jake said.
The door clicked closed behind them. Eve turned and typed
a code into the keypad near the door. “Seismic sensors are disabled.”
Jake handed Eve a weapon. “Nice work, Wolfe.”
“Feminine charm comes in handy now and then, especially
with hunky male security guards.”
“I heard that, too,” Zane added.
“Relax, Archer.” Even though Marley couldn’t see Jake, she
could tell from the sound of his voice he was smiling.
“Her lipstick’s only slightly smeared.”
“Fucking relax,” Archer mumbled. “I’d like to see you relax
with your woman in there rubbing up against some two-bit rent-a-cop.”
“Not an issue.” Jake handed Eve one of the two packs he
carried. “Because I’m not stupid enough to get tied down to
just one woman.”
Eve grinned and shook her head. In the com room, Marley huffed.
“Problem, Addison?” Jake asked.
Marley cleared her throat and sat up straighter.
“Not from me. That was a sneeze.”
“Uh-huh.” Jake chuckled. “Wolfe’s on her way out to you,
Eve hefted the pack over her shoulder and looked toward
Jake. “Try not to get shot.”
“Try not to get mugged.”
Eve smiled. “I’ll do my best, boss.”
While Eve disappeared back out the door, Jake moved
And though there was a teasing tone in the air, once he was
alone, Marley’s stomach curled into a knot. Her mind
instinctively tumbled through every awful thing that could
happen to him alone in that vault. “Six minutes, fifty-eight
seconds,” she said into her mike.
The video feed swayed with Jake’s steps, illuminating the
hallway and, finally, the vault’s door. “Won’t even need half
that.” Jake dropped his backpack on the floor and reached
for the dial on the vault. “Hey, Addison. What’s your favorite
Marley blinked twice as she watched the camera shift
direction and knew Jake was pressing his ear against the
vault’s door, listening for the telltale click of the drive pin as
he spun the wheel.
“You want to know my favorite color now?”
Jake turned the dial the other direction. “I’m guessing pink.
You seem like a pink kind of girl.”
Marley grunted. Of course he thought she was a pink girl.
The same way he thought she couldn’t take care of herself on an op.
“You’re making an awful lot of funny noises,” Jake said.
“You coming down with something?”
“No, Jake.” Why the heck was he having this conversation
with her now of all times? “I’m as healthy as ever. And pink is
not even close to my favorite color. I like blue.”
“Blue, huh?” He turned the dial once more, then eased away
from the door. The vault came into view along with his
muscular forearm as he reached out and turned the hand
wheel. “I never would have guessed that.”
A hiss echoed through his mike, then he pulled the door back
and open, and Marley’s pulse jumped again, this time not
from annoyance but excitement.
“How the heck did you crack that so fast?”
“Hands against the wall now!”
Several voices echoed across the line, followed by a rush of
footsteps. Marley startled at the sound, then leaned forward
for a better view of the screen as Jake whipped around. His
camera scanned the room, now filled with seven, eight . . . at
least nine security guards pointing weapons directly at him.
“Oh shit,” Marley gasped.
“Well, hell,” Jake muttered. “Looks like someone finally wised up.”
“On the ground! Now!”
“Okay, okay. I heard you.” He held up his hands and slowly
lowered his body to the floor. “I don’t suppose you boys are
interested in a bribe, huh? Got an open vault here.”
Marley typed quickly on her computer, backtracking through
the system and pulling up cameras in the hall that led to the
vault. “I don’t know what we missed. Bentley?”
“System’s still totally down,” Bentley answered. “It’s clean on our end.”
No, it wasn’t clean. This op was turning into a giant fuckup,
which was exactly why Marley needed to be on-site instead
of at Aegis headquarters. “Archer, Hedley, go three. Jake,
hold tight. We’ve got a team coming your way.”
“Take your time,” Jake muttered. “I’ll just take a nap down here.”
One of the guards kicked Jake’s backpack away from his
feet. Perspiration dotted Marley’s forehead as she zeroed in
on the screen in front of her and focused on the gallery
owner moving down the hall toward the vault room.
“Jake, Wilson’s heading right for you. Dammit, we missed a step
“You didn’t miss anything,” Jake said quietly into his mike.
“I tripped a sensor in the tunnels on purpose.”
Marley’s fingers froze on her keyboard just as the guard
reached for Jake’s headset. “You what?”
Jake didn’t get a chance to answer. The guard tossed his
headset on the ground, then hauled him to his feet. The
camera clattered against the floor but continued to transmit
a video feed. Not that it did a lot of good because it showed
nothing more than boots and pant legs, but Marley leaned
forward to see better anyway and flipped the volume up on
her monitor. She could barely make out the voices. Some
kind of commotion was happening. She recognized Jake’s
voice, and Wilson’s, but she couldn’t hear what they were
saying. If they would just—
Gunfire exploded in her headset,
and Marley jerked back in her seat.
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