No Exit

By: Lena Diaz

He admired her business acumen, her keen intelligence, how she treated her employees like equals, regardless of how far down they were on the corporate ladder. And he had an enormous amount of empathy for the tenuous position that she was in because of her father. Everything about her life was a lie.

And she didn’t even know it.

Or at least, he didn’t think she did. There was still that niggling doubt, that annoying voice in his head reminding him that, as smart as she was, if she wanted to hide her role in EXIT’s clandestine side, she probably could.

Jace’s current boss, of sorts—­Mason Hunt—­didn’t trust Melissa at all, a fact that he’d grilled repeatedly into Jace, warning him to keep up his guard until they could be sure how much she knew. No matter how innocent she might seem, for now they had to assume she was dangerous and as much an enemy as her father.

One of the BCP officers straightened from his position by the limo’s open window and motioned to Jace, then pointed down the road. Not wanting to give him a chance to change his mind, Jace slid behind the steering wheel and took off.

The sight of the bullet hole in the hood scoop sent a pang of loss jolting through him. This was his baby—­his jet-­black 1984 Buick Grand National—­a car he’d painstakingly restored over the past six years with the help of his two older brothers and his now-­deceased father. Working on the Buick had been his reward every time he’d survived another deployment. And it was the one thing that he could share with his family, with no need for any secrets between them.

They’d spent countless weekends toiling on this car, sharing beers, tall tales, and deep belly laughs. And when his father’s lung cancer had him on an oxygen tank, struggling for every breath, Jace had settled him in a comfortable chair in the garage where he could order his sons around and still feel like he was contributing to their project. This was more than a car. It was a symbol, a reminder of the ­people he loved and why it was so important to make this world a better, safer place.

And now that cherished symbol had bullet holes in it.

Jace’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. He fully intended to take the time and effort of fixing those holes out of Ramsey’s hide. And while he was at it, he’d teach him about sticking to mission plans and not pointing guns at women.

But before dealing with his out-­of-­control partner, he had to give a long overdue situation report to the kid that Mason Hunt had left in charge of their headquarters while the rest of the Equalizers were out of town on other missions—­the most recent addition to the team, Devlin Buchanan’s baby brother, Austin.

Having never been to the Equalizer’s headquarters, even though he knew where it was, Jace had yet to meet Austin in person. And he knew very little about him except that he’d recently gotten out of rehab. For what, Jace had no idea. What he did know was that every time he’d spoken to Austin on the phone, he came away with a sour taste in his mouth. The twentysomething-­year-­old kid had a prickly attitude that rubbed Jace every way but right.

He braced himself for another unpleasant conversation and set his phone in the console on speaker mode. “This is Jace, calling in the sitrep.”

“It’s about damn time,” Austin’s gravelly voice bit through the phone. “What’d you do, take a side trip down the Colorado River? You should have called an hour ago.”

“Where’s Ramsey?” Jace was determined not to rise to the bait.

“Wasting my time and making me wait, just like you. He hasn’t bothered to report in.”

Probably because he didn’t like Austin any more than Jace did. Or maybe because he didn’t want to admit he’d screwed up.

“I imagine Ramsey’s reluctant to face us after his showboating. And he got way too serious with his role as bad guy, waving a gun around and shooting at me. He risked being recognized when he got out of the van, and now my classic muscle car looks like Swiss cheese.”

“Hold it. What are you blathering about? Ramsey got out of the van? And shot at you?”

Blathering? Was this kid a jerk to everyone, or did he pull out the special treatment just for Jace? “That’s what I said. It’s only through luck and the grace of God that no one got hurt.”

The sound of typing echoed through the phone. “Yadda, yadda. Whatever. Back it up. Tell me exactly what happened. And make it quick.”

“Are you always a jackass, or is this a side effect of your stint in rehab?” So much for not letting the kid get to him.

“Bite me, Atwell. Tell me what I need to know.”

Jace reined in his temper and answered Austin’s questions. “In spite of Ramsey’s escapades, everything worked out, even better than hoped. I’m supposed to report to EXIT Inc. tomorrow morning to see about a job. Looks like I’ll be the inside mole for the next few days, or weeks, or however long it takes to bring EXIT down.”

“Time-­out, genius. Something isn’t right. Ramsey’s not the type to do what you said he did. He wouldn’t go off half-­cocked.”

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