RUTHLESS GAME

A woman on the run, with more to live for than she imagined, collides with a danger more lethal than she feared in the all-new GhostWalker scorcher by #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan. . .

GhostWalker Kane Cannon is pure male--animalistic, sexual, protective, instinctive--and his past missions have prepared him for anything. But his newest assignment, to rescue hostages in Mexico, plunges him into a hot zone he never anticipated: the hiding place of Rose Patterson--fugitive, ex-lover, a fellow GhostWalker pregnant with his child.

Rose is in flight from the insidious experiments that still live in her dreams, and from the madman who'd do anything to take her child. Of all the GhostWalkers enlisted to hunt her down, Kane is the only one she can trust. But as their passion reignites, the stakes are raised. Because Kane is now a wanted man as well. And together they're about to face the most desperate challenge of all: staying together and staying alive.





Christine's Notes


Christine Feehan
I had a difficult time thinking about bringing Kane and Rose together long before I began writing Ruthless Game. I'm not particularly big on 'baby' books and including a baby posed serious problems to the action/adventure I always envision for my GhostWalkers. There was no getting around Rose's pregnancy, so I knew if I did in fact write the book, that I'd be dealing with a baby.

When the story began to unfold and it was high octane action, I have to admit, I was a little shocked. A baby in a combat situation? Very strange stuff. I should have trusted my characters. The story is long on action, romance and a wonderful portrayal of team performance. I love all the secondary characters and felt every single word advanced not only the relationship, the danger and action but the team itself. This is one of my all time favorites — which is shocking, when I was so worried about writing it!

— Christine Feehan

Christine regularly writes about her books (and all kinds of subjects) in the following places:

 

Ruthless Game

More Order Options

GhostWalkers,
Book 9


Release: paperback
Release Date: December 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 416 pages
Publisher: Jove
Language: English
ISBN: 0515149217

Ruthless Game (GhostWalkers, #9)

Excerpt Chapter 1

The lone coyote trotted across the desert on the outskirts of the city.  Bold, he nosed close to the trash scattered along the edges of the sand.  The night air was cool, but the sand was still warm from the hot day sun.  He padded along, nose to the ground, sniffing around the back of a long structure until he came to an alley way.  Someone coughed and a bottle smashed against the side of the building.  The coyote whirled and ran.  He’d been shot at many times coming in too close to these particular buildings, but the food was unusually plentiful.  Still, he didn’t want to take a chance, not when there were so many men walking around so late at night.
           
The coyote reluctantly slunk away from the banquet, edging out to a pile of boulders and hunching down, waiting for things to settle a little more before he made another try.  In the distant desert, he heard a muffled sound, like the beating of large wings and he turned his head toward the sky, cowering closer to the rock.
           
The helicopter came in fast and low, running without lights, and in eerie silence.  Ropes dropped from the open doors and five men descended fast and, in one smooth, coordinated motion, began sprinting across the desert with unprecedented speed.  Seconds later the helicopter was gone and the coyote surged to his feet, ready to run as the men, all nothing more than shadows, raced toward him.  There was no sound, not even the thud of boots on sand.  The wind carried their scents, and as they approached, their bodies were more defined, appearing as a single dark entity with ten glowing eyes.

The coyote took a few steps one way and then, as the men split apart, running no more than two feet from one another in perfect unison, he stepped the other direction, whirled, tail down and then stopped, confused.  The men rushed by like the wind, not so much as hesitating, yet those strange eyes flashed over the animal as he cowered down, obviously seeing him, although he was in the darker shadow of the rocks.

Javier, you’re on.  Just take a look.  Hear what I’m saying?  A look.  No one dies yet.  Mack McKenzie, leader of GhostWalker Team Three sent his first man into the hot zone.  The unique GhostWalker unit he led had no need of radios.  They were all telepathic.

I’m hurt, boss. Laughter spilled into Mack’s mind.  Why would you ever think someone might die?

Mack sent Javier a stern, warning look.  Javier could see easily in the darkness, even when he chose not to.  He looked like a kid with his dark eyes, an innocent, boyish face, one of his greatest assets.  Everyone always underestimated him, if they ever actually saw him.

Urban warfare was a unique art.  Every citizen in a ‘hot’ zone could potentially be innocent—or an enemy.  It took special men and women with nerves of steel to be able to function in such a high stress situation.  His GhostWalker unit was comprised of such individuals, all highly trained and with very special, unique psychic gifts. 
Mack and the others dropped to their bellies, disappearing into the sand just feet from the first building at the edge of the city.  Javier Enderman jogged with absolute confidence right up to the structure and into the alley.  As he got closer to the buildings, his solid form simply disappeared, blending completely with his surroundings.

I think our informant is on to something.  We’ve got a major force here, Mack, Javier reported.  Guns on the roof, stairways, tucked in the alleys.  I see several at the windows in the building across the street.  Big op here.
Can you find a way to blend in without having to kill anyone?  We aren’t supposed to be here.  Get in, get out with the package and no one the wiser.
Javier sighed heavily.  You know, boss, you’re maligning my character.  Of course I can find a way to blend.  No faith.

Mack’s gut tightened.  Javier was an accomplished assassin despite his youthful innocent appearance.  He was highly skilled with explosives and a maniac when it came to computers.  Highly intelligent—he followed one person and that was Mack.  Javier could usually find a group of teens and simply join them, but the kids in this part of the city were most likely paid to report strangers.  He refrained from telling Javier to be careful, knowing the man wouldn’t appreciate his caution, but they’d been raised on the streets together.  Javier was more than a teammate—he was family, and Mack looked after family.

These men had followed him into hell, and Mack felt responsible for them.  They had all thought psychic enhancement was an exciting program, one that would allow them the best ability to save lives and serve their country—and maybe it would have been, had it not been run by a madman who had not only enhanced their psychic abilities but he had changed their DNA, adding the animal enhancements he thought would make them all super-soldiers.

There was Gideon Carpenter, a man who would be their savior in any crisis.  He had eyes like a hawk, could shoot the wings off a fly with hands as steady as a rock.   He would protect them from great distances and so far, Mack had never known him to miss.  Before he could get into position, they would need to have information and the rooftop of his choice cleared.

Ethan Myers lay on his belly, eyes locked on the structures ahead, his body streamlined for climbing.  The man could go up a building like a spider, clear the rooftop and be gone before anyone ever knew he’d been there.  He waited, coiled to react, as steady as they came.

He glanced to the man on his right.  Kane Cannon, was the fifth man making up their team of rescuers.  Kane had always been with him, from the streets of Chicago, college, every type of Special Forces training available to them as well as the GhostWalker experiments and additional field training.  Kane always guarded his back and he knew exactly what Mack was thinking.  He shifted his weight subtly, telling Mack he was ready.  He was invaluable, a man who literally could see through walls into buildings.  He could lay out the position of the enemy in seconds.
Our informant should be in the third apartment, bottom floor, corner building, Mack sent telepathically to his team.  You’re up, Kane.  Make certain she’s alone.  Sergeant Major is sure the information could not have been obtained by anyone other than a GhostWalker.  This is an unknown and could be a trap.

Kane shoved upward with his hands and his feet went smoothly under him, in the practiced move.  He ran low, muscles warm and fluid, sending him across the open feet of desert to the entrance of the alley Javier had gone through.  Smells assailed him, urine and alcohol mixed with cooked meat.  He slipped inside the dark shadow of the alley and instantly became part of it.  He moved, shrouded in silence, knife in hand, as he approached the street. 

The scent of death was strong.  Dim light spilled a foot into the alley from the street.  He crouched low and carefully searched out the darker shadows.  A body lay crumpled against the base of the building, in the darkest spot.  Kane crouched beside him.  An automatic weapon was still in his hand and the body was warm.  His neck was broken.  Javier had encountered an enemy and quietly disposed of him.  There was no communication device which meant he wasn’t part of a guard detail, or Javier had taken the device.

Sighing, Kane rose and stepped to the very edge of the alley where he could scan the buildings across the street.  Seeing through a building always took a toll.  Javier had to be in position to cover him.  He waited, counting the seconds.

Men with guns seemed to be in every doorway, patrolled the rooftops and along the long balcony of the second story.  They were out in force, and few people dared to take to the streets.  He spotted some teens throwing knives and trying to look tough at the end of the street, closest to the desert.  Javier was distinctive.  He swaggered with his cool confidence, showing them all how it was done and giving advice.  It seemed impossible that he could insert himself into a group on the lookout for strangers, but Javier always managed—and out in the open.

You’re a go, bro, Javier’s calm voice stated.

Kane didn’t hesitate.  He’d learned to rely on his team members in any dangerous situation.  He allowed his gaze to sweep through the buildings, searching out their package as well as their informant’s apartment.  X-ray vision was really all about sound.  Ultra-wide radio waves passed through walls to capture images allowing Kane to ‘see’ behind the walls of a building.  Kane could generate those waves, but it took energy—lots of energy and focus.

He spotted two potential hostages, both female in the second story apartment directly across from them.  They appeared to be tied to chairs, ten feet into the room, back to back. 

The package is on the second floor, third apartment from the left.  Two females just as our informant said.  One is slumped over, possibly unconscious.  The smaller one is alert.

A guard sat in front of a television set just to their left and beyond the door, and out in the hallway, a second one sat playing with a hand held game.

He relayed the information to all the team members, drawing a precise map for them in his head.  I can’t see the placement of the guards on the roof, Ethan.  They’re beyond my range of vision.

No matter.  That was Ethan, short and to the point.

Kane swept the small apartment on the ground floor for their informant.  They needed to make certain she was legitimate and this was no elaborate trap to capture or kill members of the elusive GhostWalker team.  He took a couple of deep breath and squeezed his eyes closed tight, conscious of the tremors running through his body.  Using psychic energy always took a toll, but emitting sound waves and reading them, was particularly difficult.

He sent the pressure waves directly toward the small apartment.  It had taken months of practice to read the various impressions caused by the distances the sound waves had to travel.  Like a ripple effect, the sound traveled in repeating patterns allowing the sensors Dr. Whitney had built into his body to detect reflected waves. 

Kane could see a lone woman in the apartment.  Short, wearing jeans and a loose top, she moved with controlled speed, shoving things into a small pack.  She’s getting ready to run.  Something about the way the woman moved was familiar to him.  His heart began to pound.  His pulse thundered in his ears.  She didn’t look pregnant.  She’d suspected she was carrying his child before the escape.  It had been imperative to get her out before Whitney realized he’d succeeded in his goal.
He heard the collective gasp from his team as they felt the shock of recognition slam into him.  Everyone went completely still.  He could taste excitement in his mouth.  He could taste—her.  Once she got into the wind…she’d be gone like the ghost she was.  But the baby…

Mack broke the tension.  Kane?  Talk to me.

It’s Rose.  My Rose.  She’s the informer, Mack, and she’s getting ready to run.  If she gets away from me again, I’ll never find her.

Kane didn’t take his eyes from the figure moving around the house.  Her movements were slow and controlled, with no wasted motion, very efficient.  She knows we’re here, Mack.  I can’t let her get away again.

We’re here to recover the hostages, Mack reminded.  Take a breath, Kane.  We won’t lose her.  Gideon’s going in.  She won’t recognize him as a GhostWalker.  She’ll know we’re out here, but she won’t suspect him.

GhostWalkers recognized one another.  Their energy was different, but Gideon was an exception.  He’ll go in and get our information and plant a little bug. 
I’m on it, Kane.  She won’t get away from us, Gideon assured.

I’m telling you, she already knows.  Kane couldn’t look away from that small apartment.  His world had suddenly narrowed to the woman who had eluded him for months.  He’d searched everywhere for her, called in every favor and she’d been impossible to find and now…  He was on a mission and his team counted on him for his full focus.

He swore under his breath as she slid into a harness that fit snugly under her shoulder and strapped a knife to her thigh and shoved another into her boot.  She was readying herself for a fight.  She stuck something in her hair and added more weapons to her belt.  He was particularly impressed with the way she moved, the efficiency.  He remembered her as a fragile creature he needed to protect.  Rose was built small, like a little pixie.  It was strange to see how she handled weapons with such smooth familiarity.  He had to be careful of underestimating her.  She was a GhostWalker—the same as he was.  That meant enhanced psychic ability.  She’d grown up with military training.  She was probably every bit as lethal as he was—or—he conceded—more.

I have to be the one, Mack.  She knows me.  I helped her escape Whitney’s breeding program.  Even thinking about the vile place enraged him.  Thinking about what he was forced to do to Rose, sickened him.  She’s my responsibility, Mack.  I have to do this.

Mack swore under his breath, but each of them, as connected telepathically as they were heard it.  We’re on a fucking mission here, Kane.  Don’t blow this.
Ethan moved as if he’d been a race horse, waiting at the starting gate, flowing across the expanse of sand, all fluid muscle, sprinting in silence for the alley.   Give me a minute to get into position to cover you.

Kane stepped back to give Ethan room to move past him.  Ethan flashed him a grin and moved out into the street, a blurring shadow sliding away from the lights.  One guard turned his head toward Ethan and Kane switched his knife to a throwing position, but the guard turned away, obviously not able to track the shadow as it went up the side of the building across from the alley.  Ethan was nearly impossible to see without night vision, blending into the side of the building, clinging like a spider as he went up the impossible angle without climbing gear.

Kane held his breath, quartering the area carefully for anyone who might spot Ethan, knowing Javier was doing the same.   It seemed a lifetime waiting for confirmation he’d made it.  Kane could hear his own heart beating in his ears.  Somewhere a dog barked.  Someone coughed and another man cursed.  Laughter broke out.  All the while he exercised tremendous discipline to keep from looking at the apartment where the woman he’d been searching for months was getting ready to run.
One man on the roof.  He’s got a bottle of tequila and an automatic.  Great combo.  Ethan’s disgust was obvious. 

More time ticked by.  Rose would be packed by now.  She would travel light.  Just the bare necessities.  Kane tasted bitterness in his mouth, but his eyes continued a sweep up and down the buildings and along the street.  His first order of business was to protect Ethan.

All clear.  Ethan’s voice was calm.  Launch the Eagle.

Gideon sprinted across the sand to the edge of the building and then into the alley.  He clapped Kane on the shoulder, pausing to take stock of the dark streets.  Figures moved in doorways and two men stopped briefly to talk in low voices as they patrolled.  A couple of women sat on a porch, silently watching, and down at the end of the street, five teenage boys laughed and prodded one another as they practiced throwing knives. 

Gideon put on blurring speed and crossed the empty street to the side of the building.  He didn’t have Ethan’s advantage, climbing easily with only his hands and toes, but Ethan had left behind a stairway made of throwing stars.  Gideon moved up fast in the dark, his sniper rifle snug against his back as he raced up the side of the building.

They all could breathe a sigh of relief once Gideon was in place.  The man just didn’t miss.  They all called him the eagle for a reason.  Gideon would cover the streets and windows, as Ethan and Mack would enter the building and bring out the prisoner. Kane would cover them from inside and Javier would be on the street.  They were all fast and lethal when need be, but in a situation such as this one, it was very difficult to distinguish between residents, and those cooperating with the enemy, unless they blatantly carried a weapon.

You’re a go, Ethan said.  We’ve got you covered.

Everything in Kane settled.  He turned his attention once more to Rose’s apartment, sweeping it carefully, bouncing sound waves through the building to see inside.  She stood by the front door and there was a weapon in her hand. 

He took a deep breath to steady himself while his body reacted to the sensors processing the images before retreating from the alley to jog around the buildings to come up on her building from the same side of the street.  Mack joined him, easily keeping the fast pace.

We’ll need you on this one, Kane.

Kane shot Mack a quick look of impatience.  I’ve never let you down.  Give me a few minutes to get her ready to leave with us.

Mack nodded and crouched in the shadow of the building.  Gideon?  You in position.  Kane is going in.  She’s armed.

Don’t you shoot her!  Mack, you son of a bitch.  Nobody better shoot her. 

There was warning in Kane’s voice.  He was a dangerous, explosive man, capable of swift retribution.  They had grown up with him.  They knew him.  His tone said it all.  He expected them to back off and allow him to handle Rose—even if she tried to kill him—which—he figured—was entirely probable.

Kane took a deep breath and moved around to the window opening onto a small side yard.  He could see why Rose chose this apartment.  She had alternative escape routes.  He didn’t make the mistake of stepping up to the window.  Rose was a highly trained GhostWalker.  She had survival skills.  She was expecting him to come through the front door, a representative of the unit she’d called in to rescue important prisoners the drug cartel was using as hostages against El Presidente.
It took a few minutes to spot the small shards of glass scattered in the dirt and leaves.  He cleared the area meticulously, knowing the sound of breaking glass would alert her instantly.  Like most of the GhostWalkers, her hearing was enhanced as well as her vision.  Her window wouldn’t be nailed shut because she would need a quick escape, but she would have it rigged for visitors.  It opened sideways, rather than up, a turn knob on the inside. 

Clever girl, he mused silently.  He pulled a mini laser cutter from his tool kit and, after attaching the suction cup, carefully cut the glass.  The suction cup was silent, drawing the circle of glass out without sound.  He reached in and slowly greased the knob to ensure continued to silence.  Only then did he twist the knob enough to crack the window.  Tiny pieces of glass clung to the edges of the sill as the window slowly opened. 

Kane smiled to himself.  Yeah.  His woman knew how to take care of herself.  He reached through the opening, avoiding the glass and opened it wide enough to allow him entrance.  Again he waited until he had found the small strobe trigger, before easing his large body through the opening.  It was no easy feat, not with the glass sticking out.

As he stepped down silently onto the floor, he projected the sound of slow, deliberate footsteps coming up the sidewalk to the front of her apartment.  He muffled his own tread, moving through the sparse room, to the open doorway.  A small pack was on a chair just to the left of her where she could grab and run should the wrong person come through the door.  Rose had her back to him.  She was shorter than he remembered.  Her body, from the back didn’t look pregnant.  His heart thudded once at the thought that she might have lost the baby.

She wore jeans and a long, tunic top.  Her hair was cut short and sassy, a thick cap of shiny midnight-black hair.  The memory of the feel of it, soft like silk, bunched in his fist, washed over him, stealing his breath.  For a moment, the sight of her shook him.

He inhaled deeply in an effort to drag the fragrance of her deep into his lungs.  He could actually feel her soft skin sliding against his, taste her in his mouth.  Rose.  He would never forget the way she looked up at him with her enormous eyes, so dark brown there was no gold what-so-ever in them.  Long lashes, black as night, framed those deep chocolate eyes, and she had stared straight into his eyes without flinching away, absolving him of all blame, but damn it all, she’d had no choice.  None.

Kane drew another breath as he shoved the memory away ruthlessly.  He was a big man, dwarfing her in size, all flowing muscle, his height proportionate with his weight and not an ounce of fat.  He loomed over her, nothing more than a shadow, his arms coming around her from behind to take her weapon and in one smooth motion, he tossed it on the broken down couch.  She tried to whirl around, going for his instep, but his arms became a steel cage, trapping her.  His hands settled over her midsection and shockingly, she was round, like a basketball.  His heart, after one heavy thump, settled into a satisfied rhythm.

“Ssh, Rose,” he said gently, trying to breathe calm into her.  Her breathing had gone ragged.  “There’s a gun trained on you.  Don’t pull another weapon.  Just stay still.”
Under the palm of his hand, he felt the small rounded belly and a peculiar push as if the baby kicked him, trying to protect his mother.  The sheer relief and satisfaction that she carried his child shocked him a little.  “No one is going to hurt you.”  And they wouldn’t, not ever again.  She carried his baby and no matter what else, the child would always connect them.

Rose went still.  She didn’t turn her head, but remained tense, her hands gripping his wrists as if to pry them from the slight swell of her belly.  “Kane?”

He felt the tension coiling in her, not rigid and tense, but the coil of a snake about to attack. “I’m here, honey.  No one wants to hurt you.  Just stay still and we’ll sort this out without anyone getting hurt.”

“I won’t go back.  He can’t have my baby.”  The statement was delivered in a quiet voice, but he believed her.  Rose might look like a little Asian pixie, but she had a spine of steel.  She had thwarted Whitney each time he’d sent a man to impregnate her.  She’d fought until they feared they might kill her, and she was a vicious fighter.  More than one man had been in the infirmary after a round with her.

Our baby,” he corrected and the rightness of it took some of the knots out of his belly.  “You want to tell me why you didn’t look pregnant?  How did you manage that?”
“I’m not without my own skills.  I can camouflage when I need to.  I felt all of you the moment you got close.  Whitney isn’t getting my baby.  He doesn’t know for certain yet that I was pregnant and I’m keeping it that way.”  She flashed him a cool warning from her dark eyes.

“Whitney didn’t send me after you.  I don’t take orders from him.  We reported his experiments and he’s gone into hiding.  I’ve searched for you ever since you disappeared.”

She had begun to relax, but at his words she tensed again.

“To help you, Rose,” he explained hastily.  “I was the one who helped you escape, remember?  I’m not about to hand you over to the enemy.”

Kane didn’t make the mistake of letting go of her.  He knew Gideon had a high-powered rifle on her and was all too aware, Gideon would protect him first.  He wanted her away from the window, but that might trigger Mack to send in Javier.  It was a very fragile line they were all walking and one wrong move could result in disaster.

“Then let’s just get this over with,” Rose said.  She kept her gaze trained upward, right out the window, as if daring the marksmen to kill her.  “I assume you are part of the team sent in to handle the hostages.  For them to warrant a GhostWalker extraction, they must be pretty important.”

“If I sit you down in the chair, will you stay put?  Not do anything stupid?”

She turned her head for the first time to look up at him over her shoulder.  His heart jumped when her dark gaze met his.  Steady as ever.  Cool under fire.  That was Rose.  But he was shocked at the exhaustion marking her face.  He was equally shocked at how, not just his body, but everything in him responded to her.  His every protective instinct, his animalistic side, the alpha male in him—everything male. 

He forced his voice under control.  “You’ve been sick.”

She nodded.  “I haven’t been able to keep much food down,” she admitted, all the while searching his expression, trying to decide whether or not to trust him.  “That’s made me fairly weak and staying below Whitney’s radar means moving all the time.”  She sent him a humorless smile, just a flash of her white teeth, but it was enough to act as a warning.  “I will get the baby to safety and anyone in my way isn’t going to live very long.”

Kane knew her quiet statement was more than an idle threat.  Rose would fight if necessary and as small as she was, she had psychic abilities and survival skills that made up for her size.  He had come to know her in the brief time they’d been forced together.  Dr. Whitney, head of the psychic experimental program had gone rogue, determined to breed super-soldiers.  Rose had been forced into his breeding program, but that brief time in his breeding program hadn’t stopped any of the women there from training daily.  The men tended to forget the women had undergone training almost since birth, while they had joined the military later.  The women actually had an edge, although they were smaller in stature.

“I said I’d get you out of here safely, Rose, and I meant it.”  He tried not to sound aggressive or commanding, when he felt a little of both.  He tamped down his take-charge nature.  Rose wasn’t getting away again, not with danger surrounding her and their child every moment of every day.  She needed protection no matter how independent she was.  He understood her aversion of him, but her safety took precedence over everything else.

She didn’t acknowledge his statement and with Rose, he had no idea what she was thinking.  She appeared fragile, but she had a core of steel and a will of iron.  Even Whitney hadn’t been able to get what he’d wanted from her.  She’d chosen her partner, refusing to accept any of the others Whitney had sent to her, despite the fact that his punishments were horrible.

Kane clamped down hard on those memories.  It was difficult to stay cool and disciplined when fury raged through him.  Very gently he urged her toward the chair away from the window. 

She’s out of my line of sight, Gideon warned.  She’ll know that, Kane.
Damn it, don’t you fuck with me on this, Kane, Mack snapped.  I’ll send Javier in after the both of you.

Go to hell, Mack, Kane snapped back.  She’s pregnant with my baby and you’re damn well not going to shoot her.

“They’re really angry with you, aren’t they?” Rose sent him a wry smile.  “They’re right you know, you’re in danger.”

“If you’re going to make your try, Rose, do it now, before they send someone else in.”

She studied his face and he couldn’t help using the opportunity to do the same with her face.  Those long, sweeping eyelashes of hers drew his attention.  From there his gaze dropped to her high cheekbones, small, straight nose and lush mouth.  The women had been taken from orphanages and Rose had obviously come from China, but how Whitney had managed to get a hold of her, Kane couldn’t guess.  

She touched her tongue to her full lower lip and his body tightened.  “I’m not going to do anything stupid.  You’re ready for me to try something.”

That didn’t tell him if she still planned on running and he was going to have to help Mack and the others get the hostages out.  He sighed and changed the subject.  “Tell me about the hostages.”

“About a week ago, there was a sudden influx of cartel members.  It isn’t all that difficult to tell them, they carry some serious hardware and scare the crap out of the decent people around here.  Two murders occurred, heads severed as a warning for everyone and the bodies dumped in the fountain two streets over.  The buzz on the street was something big was going down.  At first I thought it was a big drug deal, and then I spotted the prisoners.  They were brought in at night, dark SUV’s with tinted windows.  I thought maybe members of a rival gang, but as soon as I saw them, a woman of about thirty-five and a little girl of maybe ten, I knew this had nothing to do with a drug war.”

“Actually it does,” Kane corrected.  “El Presidente is waging war with the cartels to get his country back.  The cartels have been hitting high profile members of the government in retaliation.  El Presidente called in a favor from our president and asked for help.  His wife’s sister and his niece were taken on their way to church.  All the bodyguards were killed, as well as the driver.  He was told to back off or he would find his sister-in-law’s head rolling down the middle of the street.  Next would come his niece’s head.  He believed them.”

“And he was afraid to trust his own military or the police,” Rose guessed.  “He should be.  These people are armed to the teeth with the latest weapons, Kane.  Something isn’t right here.  They’ve all but declared war.”

“Corruption here is rampant,” Kane agreed.  “Someone would tip off the cartel.  El Presidente is a very intelligent man.  He knows his administration and his military as well as police departments have been infiltrated by paid informants for the cartel.  He asked a personal favor from our president and we pulled the assignment.  None of us had any idea the informant would be you.”

“I thought long and hard before I called it in,” Rose admitted.  She ducked her head, refusing to meet his eyes.  “It was selfish of me, that I waited, but I knew there was the possibility that if the hostages were who I thought they were, that a GhostWalker team would be called in.  It was a calculated risk, but I couldn’t just ignore the fact that those monsters would kill them.  I was afraid to try a rescue myself with so many of the enemy guarding them.”

His heart slammed hard against the wall of his chest.  She’d contemplated the idea, that much was obvious.  His Rose, pregnant with their child, would have risked herself for strangers.

“We’ll get them out, Rose, but you stay put.  I don’t want you running again.  You need care.  I can offer that to you, as well as safety.  The last thing I want is for Whitney to get his hands on you or the baby.  I don’t know why you trusted me to be the father of your baby, but you did.  I’m asking for that same faith now.  I swear to you, on my life, I will protect both of you.”

She lifted her head and looked him straight in the eye, searching his expression.  For a moment he had the uncomfortable feeling she was looking into his mind, which was entirely possible with a GhostWalker.  There were things buried there best kept hidden.  Especially from Rose.  He refused to look away, keeping his expression blank.  A faint smile curved the bow of her mouth.  His breath nearly exploded from his lungs.  He dreamt of her, night after night.  He thought of her every minute of every day. 

Intellectually, he knew Whitney had found a way to ‘pair’ a couple by using pheromones, and he’d certainly made Kane crave Rose physically.  He couldn’t get near her without his body reacting with a permanent hard-on from hell.  But the doctor hadn’t paired Rose with him.  She’d been forced to choose from three different candidates and she’d chosen him, but she didn’t have the same physical drive to be with him that he had for her which posed a major problem for him.  He had too much respect for her and too much honor to force himself on her, but the thought of never seeing her again, of spending his life without her drove him insane.  He also knew he would never ever be able to tolerate another man in her life.  And quite frankly—that sucked.

“All right.”
           
That softly spoken assent surprised him.  He studied her face in an effort to read whether or not she was telling the truth.
           
“Then you’ll wait here for me to come for you.”
           
She shrugged.  “I won’t run.”
           
He was missing something, he just couldn’t quite figure it out.  His mind was already shifting, his radar going off and instinctively he put himself in front of Rose as he swung around to face the bedroom door, knife in his hand.  Rose tried to jerk her gun out of the hidden holster, but the man facing them shook his head, a grin on his face.
           
“Naughty, naughty, Miss Rose.  I can’t let you shoot him, even though Mack thinks he’s a major pain in the ass.  He is my brother, after all.”
           
“Actually,” she corrected, “I planned on shooting you.”
           
Javier’s grin widened, but his eyes were ice cold, his stare sending piercing icicles stabbing right through Rose’s mind.  “Well then, everything’s fine.  You carrying my nephew there?”  He indicated the small basketball shape beneath her loose tunic.
           
Her eyebrow shot up.  She didn’t wince, and she didn’t take her gaze from his.  She kept her voice low and taunting, as if she didn’t realize she faced the biggest threat of her life.  Kane knew better.  He felt the little tremor that ran through her body.  

“Maybe a niece.”
           
Javier snorted.  “Don’t get your hopes up.  He’s too damn mean to throw a girl.  Mack’s getting all papa bear on us.  You good, Kane?”
           
Kane noticed Javier’s body was angled toward Rose, half in half out of the shadows, making him a difficult target, and the tiny knife was still concealed in the palm of his hand.  He smiled at Rose and joked, but he was ready for any trouble, those cold, cold eyes, never leaving his prey.  Kane shifted his weight, subtly moving to cut off Javier’s angle of attack.  Javier glided slightly as well and shook his head.
           
You know better than that.  Mack would skin me alive if anything happened to you.
           
Rose sighed.  “Nothing is going to happen to him.  I’m Rose Patterson by the way.”
           
“Javier Enderman, ma’am.  Pleased to meet you.  You reading my mind?”
           
“No,” Rose said.  “I’m smart.  I know what you’re both thinking.”
           
“Then you know I’ve got to get him out of here in one piece, ma’am.  And that none of us want you to hurt him.”
           
Kane huffed out his exasperation.  “You’re making me sound like a two year old you all have to babysit.  Tell Mack we’re on our way and let’s get it done.”
           
“They’re armed to the teeth,” Rose said.  “And they have trip wires strung around the windows and in the hallways leading to the apartment.  You’re not going to get in through the ground floor.”
           
Kane made a strangled growl in the back of his throat and crouched down in front of Rose, catching her chin in his hand.  “You scouted them out with my baby in your belly?”  He bit out each word through clenched teeth.
           
“Yes,” she said very calmly, her dark eyes sober.  “Before I made the decision to call in reinforcements.  I told you I’d decided I couldn’t rescue them alone.  Did you think I made that assessment from here?”
           
“Damn it woman.  You do something like that again and we’re going to have trouble.”
           
She looked at him a long time.  You have the same eyes.  A different color, of course, but you both can look very scary.
           
It was the first time she’d used the more intimate means of telepathic communication.  He knew Javier frightened her and he wanted to pull her into his arms and hold her close to comfort her.  It took a minute to realize he frightened her.  She wasn’t showing it, but he knew.
           
“Rose, neither of us wants to send you back to Whitney, or to harm you in any way.  You’re close to delivering the baby and you’re going to need help.  Stay and wait for us here.”
           
“I said I wouldn’t run.”
           
Again she looked him right in the eye.  He couldn’t detect any evasion, but still…  Kane sighed and stood up.  “I’ve got work to do.  I’ll be back to get you.”
           
Rose nodded.  She remained seated in the chair as Kane started back to the bedroom.  Javier never took his eyes from her, even as he backed toward the bedroom, his body between her and Kane.
           
Stop trying to intimidate her and let’s go, Kane snapped.
           
You first.  And I’m smiling, Javier shot back.
           
Like a snake, Kane pointed out and went out of the apartment the same way he’d entered.  Javier followed him into the night.

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