Cedar Falls, Michigan
“One of the FBI’s top ten most wanted terrorist’s, Ramil Diakameli, was killed…”
Kell Wolff didn’t hear the rest of the sentence spoken by a national news anchor past the sudden ringing in his ears. Stunned, he sat back in his chair. The bastard responsible for his brother’s death had been eliminated.
And not by one of the Wolff brothers. By a team of operators who did that sort of thing for a living.
Emotions warred inside him. Anger, relief, grief. None of which he wanted to deal with right now.
He leapt to his feet and strode to the door where his running shoes sat. Minutes later he was pounding the trails through the woods behind his house. Letting physical exercise replace the images of his brother bleeding out from a bullet wound to the chest. Of Quinn trying to save Ryan’s life even when hope had fled.
His parents flashed through his head. His dad, tall and strong, an anchor as he held their mom who collapsed when she got the news that her youngest son had been killed. The tears streaming down his sister, Bailey’s, face. Chris punching the hood of his beloved classic car. Evan, stoic as always, showing up with bruises on his face days later. And still gaining new ones without explanation. The text from his ex, Shea Morrissey, offering condolences over his loss.
Pushing himself harder he tried to outrun his demons. Pushed until his legs nearly gave out and his lungs burned. Only then did he turn back toward home.
His cell phone vibrated on the table when he walked in. He didn’t have to look to know his brothers had called. No doubt trying to get a handle on this the same as him. At the moment, he didn’t feel like talking. The run had cooled his emotions some, but he was still wound tight.
The phone went quiet then started up again. Gritting his teeth, he snatched it off the table. Missed calls from Quinn, Nate, Evan and Chris. One from his dad. And an encrypted text message.
With a frown, he opened the message. “Kell. I’m in trouble.”
The SOS was from Shea. Kell’s mind reeled. What were the odds Shea would ask for his help. And, on the day the news reported the death of Diakameli. A man they both wanted dead.
Better yet, why would Shea send the SOS to him? They had a brief, hot and heavy history which ended in her walking away without so much as a goodbye. And she never looked back. That had been four years ago. There had been little to no contact since. Granted, Shea had been instrumental in the rescue of Avery and Macy, but that had been mostly through his brothers. They had kept him out of the loop as much as they could. To protect his feelings, which pissed him off to no end. He didn’t need protecting. They were the ones who did the protecting.
The woman might have ripped his heart out of his chest on her way out the door, but if Shea went to lengths to contact him then she truly needed help. Which meant whatever had gone wrong was serious.
Another text came through. Encrypted like the last one. Almost as if they had been scheduled. His gut churned. Something was very, very wrong.
This text gave coordinates in longitude and latitude. Christ, she was in Azbakastan. In the tribal territories where wars had been raging for decades. What the hell was she doing there? Last he knew there wasn’t a U.S. embassy in those territories.
Not to mention the riots that were no doubt beginning over the death of Diakameli. The assassination of a leader that powerful would spawn wars the country never dreamed of. Backlash would be catastrophic.
And Shea was right in the middle of it.
Good God. What had she gotten herself into? The woman just didn’t know when to quit. Like a dog with a bone, she stayed on something until the very end. Often to the consternation of her bosses. In truth, he was surprised she still had a job. But, Shea was good at what she did. Incredibly good. She had instincts like no other. Impressed the hell out of him when he watched her work.
His phone vibrated again. This one an encrypted video file. He opened it and a small apartment came into view. Classy, a little romantic, cluttered. Movement, then Shea came into view, sitting in front of the camera. Her auburn hair was pulled back in her signature messy ponytail, no makeup, yet she still took his breath away. Her intelligent green eyes trapped him like always, holding him hostage.
She drew in a deep breath and let it out before starting to talk. “If you’re watching this then I’m dead.”
Like a punch to the chest, Kell’s breath left his body in a rush. He dropped down into a chair to finish watching.
Shea stared through the lens directly at him. “Kell,” she said, a slight hitch in her voice. “I made this for your eyes only. My official last words are in my CIA file.” She shifted in her chair, wrung her hands together. Tells she normally didn’t show. When she looked back up at the camera there were tears glistening on her lashes. Her next words knocked the floor out from beneath him.
“Four years ago I lost your baby. She was a result of our weekend together in Bahodir.” She looked down, then back up. “I knew that weekend we’d made a child together. Don’t ask me how, I just knew. And I couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t process my feelings for you, being pregnant, any of it. So, I ran. Away from you. Away from myself.”
Kell paused the video, tried to catch his breath. Shea had just dropped a bomb and it nearly annihilated him. A baby. She’d gotten pregnant.
Unable to process, he played the video with a shaky hand.
“Four months later, Ramil Diakameli’s army bombed a local tourist cafe. My younger sister was there with a couple of her college friends celebrating passing their finals. The bomb killed her and her friends and nearly everyone else in the restaurant. I was stationed at the embassy in Bil at the time.”
Shea drew in a shaky breath. So unlike her. He’d seen her in action. She didn’t waver.
“I had to identify my sister by the tattoo on her wrist. A celtic trinity knot she’d gotten on her twenty-first birthday as a celebration of our Irish heritage. The same one I have on my hip. But you already know that.” Shea’s breath caught. She reached up and paused the video.
When it came back on she had pulled herself together, looking more like the Shea he knew. Strong, intelligent, tenacious and beautiful.
“My sister’s death sent me into a tailspin and I lost our baby. I’m sorry, Kell. I tried to save her, but I couldn’t. I lost my only family and our baby in the same month. I buried myself in my work, hunting the bastard who destroyed my life. I hope I finished my mission by time you watch this.” She stared directly into the camera. “I’m sorry you had to watch this. Learn about our baby this way, but I never could find the courage to tell you. I couldn’t say it out loud or it became real. Now, it’s real. And, I’m sorry. I only hope you can forgive me.” She reached up to stop the video, but paused, her face close to the screen so he could see the smoothness of her skin. In a whisper she said, “I love you, Kell.”
Then the video ended and this time it didn’t come back on. Thoughts raced through his head as he tried to connect the dots. First, a news report that Diakameli had been assassinated. Then, a text from Shea saying she needed help. Followed by coordinates in a very dangerous area. Lastly, a last words video. Each text came in exactly four minutes apart which felt scheduled. Like Shea had set them to send at a certain time on a certain day. But, today? And a death video?
The dots refused to connect. Why would Shea send a distress signal and minutes later a death video? Was she even the one who sent them?
Kell lunged from his chair, scrubbing a hand down his face. What the fuck was going on? Nothing made sense. Shea couldn’t be gone. The woman had nine lives. Nothing bested her.
Christ. His world had been demolished and he had no idea how to process it.
Kell clenched his jaw, strode into his bedroom. With jerky movements he replaced his running pants and sweaty shirt for a pair of jeans and t-shirt, his sneakers for boots. His go-bag sat on the floor next to the door and he grabbed it on his way out. Within seconds he was out the door and in his H2, speeding down the driveway. He didn’t call his brothers. Didn’t stop for gas. Simply drove straight to the airport.
There was only one way to make sense of this.