No Exit

By: Lena Diaz

Ramsey jerked, and his eyes fluttered open. He squinted as if to bring the world around him into focus. When he saw the gun, he sucked in a breath and arched back, trying to scoot away. But his movements were sluggish, and all he managed to do was plaster himself against the sliding side door.

“You did good, Ramsey. You didn’t lie. It played out the way you said it would.” He shrugged. “Except for the touches that I threw in.”

Ramsey’s mouth tightened. “Whatdidyoudo?” His words were slurred, running together.

Using the barrel of the gun, he shoved some of Ramsey’s shoulder-­length hair back to check the worst laceration on his scalp. Ramsey cursed and made a feeble attempt to move away.

“Easy. Just wanted to see how bad it is. Bad enough. Even if I don’t finish you off, you probably won’t make it. Especially not out in the cold. After losing so much blood.”

The mumbled reply was too garbled to understand. But the anger in Ramsey’s eyes wasn’t.

He tapped the gun against his knee and considered his options. Killing for killing’s sake had never been his thing. He did what needed to be done. But did this need to be done? If this rogue enforcer survived, would he, or his SEAL partner, interfere with his plan? Or would they help, simply by keeping Cyprian busy and off-­balance? Ramsey’s immediate fate hinged on the answer to those questions.

It had been a lucky break that he’d even noticed Ramsey earlier, performing surveillance from a car in EXIT’s parking lot. He’d assumed, as the Council had, that the rogue enforcers from last year’s debacle had backed off, gone underground to allow the Council to deal with Cyprian’s mistakes. But that wasn’t the case. At least, not with Ramsey.

Surprising Ramsey and forcing him to drive the van from EXIT to a secluded spot for the interrogation had worked out perfectly. A few hours later, Ramsey had revealed all the details about the planned fake assault on Melissa Cardenas, including the fact that it was a two-­man operation involving a former Navy SEAL named Jace Atwell.

Taking Ramsey’s place up on the mountain today had given him a chance to see Atwell up close, to put a face with the name. And since he knew what Ramsey and Atwell hadn’t known—­the exact time Cyprian had left EXIT—­he was able to use that knowledge to his advantage. He’d known when Cyprian would come up that mountain. So he’d played up the assault ploy, taking it beyond what Ramsey and Atwell had planned.

Waving a gun at Melissa had been a brilliant move. Now Cyprian would be worried about whether this was random, or whether someone was trying to hurt his precious baby girl. That would make him vulnerable, distracted, and hopefully easier to manipulate than he’d been these past few weeks. He was so close to pushing Cyprian to the tipping point. Hopefully, this would send him right over the edge.

Of course, things could have gone better. He certainly hadn’t expected Atwell to point a gun at him. But he didn’t blame Ramsey for that even though Ramsey said no guns would be involved. Atwell struck him as an unpredictable sort of guy, a fast thinker on his feet. Kind of admirable, really.

Ramsey, the former enforcer, his comrade of sorts, had gone very still, a wary look on his face as he waited for his fate to be decided. Dead? Or Alive? Really, it could go either way.

He dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. “Heads or tails. Live or die, Ramsey. Call it.” He tossed the quarter into the air.

Chapter Two

In response to Cyprian’s 911 call to report his daughter’s encounter with a gunman, the Boulder Police Department had sent no less than four patrol cars and an ambulance. Jace couldn’t believe the hoopla going on twenty feet away as BCP’s men in blue fell all over themselves chatting it up with Cyprian and Melissa through the limo’s open rear window. Either the Cardenases had a lot of friends in the department, or their wealth and social position were buying them special treatment. Jace was just jaded enough to assume the latter.

The whine of a winch had him looking at the flatbed tow truck pulling the wrecked Jag out of the ditch. At this rate, Melissa’s car would get off the mountain before he did. He leaned back against his Buick, waiting for BCP’s permission to leave.

The police had already interviewed him. They’d made sure every t was crossed and i was dotted in his concealed-­handgun permit before allowing him to keep his SIG Sauer. And they weren’t happy that he’d broken one of Cyprian’s bodyguard’s kneecaps, sending him to the emergency room. But with it being self-­defense, and Melissa vouching for him, they couldn’t do much about it. Standing here, waiting, was apparently Jace’s punishment for causing them so much trouble. At least he had his jacket back, so he wasn’t freezing. And the fact that it smelled faintly of Melissa’s tantalizing perfume, reminding him of her curvy figure and smooth silky skin, was a bonus.

His attraction to her wasn’t new. But it was certainly inconvenient, and an unwelcome by-­product of the time he’d spent monitoring her. If what he felt for her was just desire, he could manage it, control it, tamp it down and . . . endure being around her for as long as it took to accomplish the mission. But it wasn’t merely physical. He liked her for who she was even more than he desired her as a woman. And as hot as his blood ran whenever he saw her, that was saying something.

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