THERE were any number of men who would do any job Marcus Lattimer wanted done. He’d amassed a fortune and countless connections during his lifetime, most of which were steeped in murky shades of gray. The men directly employed by Lattimer were absolute in their loyalty—he would tolerate no less—but he never allowed himself to fully trust anyone.
Some jobs ... Some jobs demanded personal satisfaction. This one was a matter of honor. Others might argue that Marcus had none. By their definition, they’d be right. But he was bound by a fierce loyal code. His honor was what mattered.
Allen Cross was an arrogant, coattail-riding ass**le. The world would be a better place without his kind of filth, and Marcus was determined that the task would be completed this day.
Marcus attached the silencer and tucked the gun into the waist of his slacks. Drawing the Armani suit coat closed, he left the confines of his car and instructed his driver to wait. He walked at an unhurried pace toward the entrance of the high-rise that housed Cross Enterprises. Around him the city lights twinkled in the darkening of dusk, and headlights from passing cars bounced along the alleyways.
The streets were mostly empty and the building barren of the weekday horde of employees who scurried in and out with regularity. He paused a short distance from the entrance and checked his watch. The security guard that manned the front entrance on the weekends was a family guy and, like most family guys, had a moderate amount of debt and stretched his budget from payday to payday.
After tonight, the guard wouldn’t have the financial worries of others in his class. Marcus had seen to that. Right now, the guard would take a strategic break from his post, and at the same moment, the surveillance cameras would go down.
Money bought many things. Loyalty. Disloyalty. A blind eye. A moment’s distraction. Fifteen minutes was all Marcus needed to rid the world of Allen Cross.
Cross was a creature of habit. He came into his offices every Saturday after seven and remained until nine P.M., when his car service collected him and drove him to the same restaurant ten blocks away. He liked the few hours of solitude to go over paperwork—but what he perhaps liked the most was the freedom to victimize a helpless woman with impunity.
Marcus’s jaw tightened in fury. Predictability killed a man. As Cross was about to find out.
Marcus rode the elevator to the twenty-first floor and stepped onto the cheap, fake Italian marble flooring, his shoes issuing a faint echo as he walked through the empty reception area.
The door to Cross’s office was ajar, and a faint light shone through the crack. Marcus pushed at the door and let it slide soundlessly open. Cross was behind his desk, kicked back in his chair, a glass of wine in one hand as he read a sheaf of papers with the other.
Marcus watched, content to wait for his prey to become aware he was hunted.
After a moment, Cross set his glass down and leaned forward. He halted in mid-motion, and his head snapped up, his gaze locked on Marcus. Cross’s eyes widened in alarm and then he recovered, a sneer rolling over his lips.
“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my office?”
Marcus strolled forward, his expression purposely bland as he loosened his coat. Cross rose, his hand inching toward the intercom on his desk.
“Get out or I’ll summon security.”
Marcus smiled. “I think you’ll find him unavailable.”
A flicker of unease skittered across Cross’s face when Marcus continued to smile. Marcus pulled out the gun, enjoying the slide of the stock over his palm. He thumbed the safety, and leveled the barrel at Cross’s chest.
“Would you prefer to die sitting or standing?”
Cross blanched, and he staggered, his hands slapping the polished mahogany of his executive desk. “What do you want?” he asked hoarsely. “Money? I have money. Just tell me how much. Anything. I’ll give you anything.”
A sneer twisted Marcus’s lips. “You couldn’t afford my shoes.”
His finger tightened on the trigger, and he watched the awareness in Cross’s eyes, the panicked realization that he was going to die.
Cross lunged sideways, and the sound of the bullet smacking into his chest resonated through the spacious office. Cross hit the floor, his arm outstretched in desperation. Blood seeped through the white silk shirt, growing as he gasped for breath.
As much as Marcus wanted to watch the life slowly fade from the bastard’s eyes, he had to finish this now. He raised the gun and aimed between Cross’s eyes. He saw the finality, the gray acceptance of death in his victim’s gaze. He pulled the trigger and then turned away, satisfied that justice had been served.
THE cab pulled to an abrupt halt outside the building where Sarah Daniels had worked for a period of six months. She hadn’t been back in a year. The mere thought of walking into Cross Enterprises made her physically ill.
She flung a twenty at the cabbie and ignored his offer to give her change. Clumsily opening the door, she bolted from the cab and entered the high-rise at a dead run.
The lobby was empty. Not even the security guard was at his post. Was she too late? What would she have even said to the man? That her brother was here to kill Stanley Cross?
She bolted toward the elevator and pounded on the up button, praying it would be here. She heaved a sigh of relief and threw herself through the doors as they slid open.
She jammed her thumb on the button for the twenty-first floor and then hit the close door button repeatedly.
Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.
She had to be on time. She wouldn’t let Marcus go through with it.
Stupid. So stupid.
She should have known. She’d seen the rage in Marcus’s eyes. He’d been way too quiet. Too collected as he’d calmly told her that he was taking her away. She hadn’t argued. She’d allowed him to make all the plans. All the decisions. She hadn’t even known where they were going, only that Marcus’s private jet was fueled and waiting for them.
Finally the elevator doors slid open, and she rushed into the reception area and turned in the direction of Allen’s office. She saw Allen’s door wide open, saw Marcus’s profile and then watched as Marcus tucked the gun back into his waistband.
Her horrified gaze tracked downward to see Allen Cross lying on the floor, blood staining his pristine white shirt.
Her hand flew to her mouth and she backed hastily away.
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
She was too late. She hadn’t gotten here in time.
Allen was dead. Marcus had killed him.
Nausea welled in her throat. She nearly tripped on her feet as she steadily backpedaled. She had to get away. The police would be here soon. Wouldn’t they? Surely someone couldn’t just walk off the streets and kill someone in an office building.
She turned and ran back toward the elevator, praying it was still there. She knew that at least two were taken out of service on the weekends, but that left two working on this side of the building.
She jabbed at the down button with her thumb and held her breath, prepared to make a run for the stairs if she had to. The door slid open and she fell over herself getting in. She punched the button for the ground floor and turned just as the doors started to close, only to find herself staring at Marcus’s frozen expression several feet away.
The doors closed, cutting him off. The elevator descended, sending Sarah’s stomach into even more turmoil.
She simply couldn’t process what she’d just witnessed. Marcus had killed Allen Cross. She couldn’t even muster any regret. Only fear. Fear for Marcus. How could he think he could get away with something so bold?
The elevator came to a stop and she shoved at the doors, trying to make them open quicker. She pitched headlong into the lobby, stumbling to gain her footing. Just as she righted herself, a hand curled around her arm and yanked her upright.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
She gasped and stared into the eyes of evil.
Stanley Cross, Allen’s brother, gripped her arm until she cried out in pain. His eyes sparked fury, but more than that, they warned her of just what kind of man he was. She knew all too well.
A sob welled in her throat as she faced down the man who was in her nightmares for the last year. She hadn’t seen him since that night in Allen’s office when he and Allen had forever changed the course of her life.
She hated them both more than she ever imagined being able to hate another human being.
Fear paralyzed her for what seemed an interminable amount of time. Her throat closed in and the ball in her stomach knotted painfully until it was all she could do not to vomit all over Stanley’s shoes.
“I asked you a question,” Stanley snapped. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Oh God, he’d find Allen’s body and think she murdered him. Or worse, he’d see Marcus and then Marcus would go to jail. Stanley could place them both at the scene. Even if she wasn’t herself accused of the crime, she could be forced to testify against Marcus.
Something snapped inside her. Rage mounted and swirled like a tornado. She thrust her knee into his groin, balled her fist and swung as hard as she could just as he howled in pain and doubled over.
Her fist met his jaw and he went sprawling.
As he started to scramble up, she ran for the entrance, burst into the night and bolted toward the street. She saw an off-duty cab rounding the corner and she ran in front of it, her arm held up to stop him. The cab screeched to a halt a mere inch from her knee. The driver threw his fist out the window, and obscenities blistered the air.
Ignoring his outrage, Sarah yanked open the back door and crawled in, slamming the door behind her. “Drive!”
The cabbie gave her a disgruntled look in the rearview mirror, then accelerated sharply, muttering about crazy women as he swerved through traffic. “Lady, I was not in service.”
“I’ll make it worth your while. Just drive!”
He heaved an exasperated sigh. “Where to?”
She slammed her eyes shut for a moment as she sought to regain her bearings. Where could she go?
Think. God. What did one do in a situation like this?
She stared down at the purse slung over her neck. She had some cash, her passport, a credit card, her driver’s license. She couldn’t go back to her apartment, could she?
Stanley would have found his brother’s body by now. He’d probably already called the police.
Think, Sarah, think!
“Airport,” she managed to get out.
Her cell phone rang, startling her. She rummaged in her purse and turned it over to check the LCD. Marcus.
Tears burned her eyelids. Her brother. The one person in the world who loved her. He was all she had and now he’d killed for her.
She opened the phone and put it to her ear.
“Sarah,” Marcus barked before she could even get a greeting out.
“Marcus,” she croaked out in a cracked and scratchy voice.
“Sarah, honey, where are you?”
“It doesn’t matter. I can’t ... we can’t ... I have to stay away. I need to go away.”
She was babbling, but she didn’t care.
“Sarah, stop. Listen to me.”
“No.” She cut him off, her voice firmer now. “I have to go. Don’t you see? They’ll know. They’ll know I saw you. They have surveillance in that building. All they have to do is play the security tape back and they’ll know we were both there. You have to get out of here, Marcus. Go. I’m going too.”
“Sarah, goddamn it, listen to me!”
She closed the phone and turned it off so he couldn’t call back. She leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes.
She had no idea where she was going or what she’d do when she got there, but she couldn’t stay here. She could never come back.
“I’m so sorry, Marcus. It should have been me who killed him,” she whispered.
GARRETT Kelly came awake with a start, his muscles tense, sweat beading his brow. His breaths came in rapid, harsh huffs. For a moment he lay there, his unfocused gaze sliding across the window to the darkness beyond.
Explosions echoed in his ears. The staccato of gunfire made him flinch, and the smell of blood and burning flesh assaulted his nostrils, making them flare as his breaths tore from his lungs.
He shook his head and raised his hand to scrub the sleep from his eyes. His shoulder protested, and he snarled with impatience at the ache, which still nagged. He rolled and sat up in bed, planting his feet on the floor. He stayed there, head hanging toward his knees, sucking in air like some pantywaist in basic training about to puke his guts up after a twomile run.
It pissed him off when past memories ambushed him. He’d gone a long time without the images that interrupted his sleep. For some reason, after taking a bullet for his sister-in-law, he’d had a harder time sleeping. His consciousness seemed more vulnerable to things he’d shut out.
He cast a sideways glance at the clock. He wouldn’t be going back to sleep and everyone would be up in an hour anyway. Maybe a run would clear his head and get his blood flowing again.
With a sigh, he hit the shower and turned it cold to shake the cobwebs and the lingering smell of blood. After he was dried off and dressed, he walked quietly down the hall and out the front door.
It was still dark when he started off down the winding road that paralleled the lake. He ran farther this morning, pushing himself beyond his normal routine. He could still hear the explosions and still hear his teammates. He closed his eyes and increased his pace until his lungs screamed and his side ached.
It was over. A lifetime ago. He needed to get over it. He had gotten over it. All this R and R was for the birds. It had only served to make him lazy and idle. Fuck it. He wanted back in. A mission. Something besides all this goddamn free time.