Authors: Liliana Hart
To all of the readers who fell in love with the MacKenzies. Thanks for asking for more books. They’re coming.
To Jaye Wells, Molly Harper, Heather Osborn, Nicole Peeler, and Judy Harper. You guys make me laugh every day. I can’t wait to read what the t-shirts say at our next retreat.
Thanks to the team of people who work to get my books in the reader’s hands. The amazing reps at iBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo who are mostly used to the craziness that ensues when publishing an LH book—Everything But the Book for formatting—Damon Freeman for the most awesome covers ever—My personal assistant, Whitney Michel, because I’d be lost and never make it anywhere on time without her.
To my children, because they eat a lot of takeout when I’m on deadline, and they’ve learned the importance of only interrupting “if someone is bleeding or vomiting.” And thanks for making me laugh. You guys are smart and funny, with your own unique personalities, and you constantly surprise me. I’m so proud to be your mom. I can’t imagine a better job than that.
To the Silveriis, because you welcomed me in like I’ve always been there. I’m very lucky to get a family like you.
And last but not least, to Scott, for asking me repeatedly if I finished the book yet. You’ll be glad to know it’s done. And thanks for making me feel like I’m normal and completely sane while on deadline, building a house, and planning a wedding. Good to know I present a calm front on the outside. Can’t wait for the adventures to come.
Can you believe that CRAVE is the fifteenth MacKenzie title? I want to thank all of you, the readers, for going on this journey with me and loving the MacKenzie family as much as I do. I love getting the letters and emails telling me how these characters are real to you, or that maybe your family is similar in certain ways. And I love getting the letters and emails from those of you who might not have a close family and you’ve chosen the MacKenzies as your own. That’s an honor and a privilege I don’t take lightly.
Because CRAVE is the fifteenth title in the series, there are a lot of recurring characters that show up in this book (and in future books). I’d recommend starting from the beginning to get to know everyone a little better. Or you can check out the family tree and character profiles at
As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy CRAVE.
P.S. Shane’s book is next. Thanks for being patient so I can do his story justice.
Ten Years Ago…
e decoded numbers and patterns like most people breathed, and computers had been an extension of his body since before puberty. Even stuck in an elevator shaft, sweating his ass off, his fingers flew across the keyboard of his laptop, closing in on one of the most dangerous hackers in the world. They called her The Black Lily. But to Cypher, she was as close to his equal as he’d ever found. And this game excited him like no other.
The elevator jerked to a stop and the doors slid open with a clatter, but his fingers stayed steady. The smell of dust, something dead in one of the ventilator shafts, and rusted metal burned the inside of his nostrils. The temperature was almost unbearable—his skin slicked with sweat and amplified by the heavy gray coveralls he wore.
The heating system in the old building seemed to shoot directly into the elevator shaft instead of the cavernous space where the heart thumping techno music shook the rafters and writhing bodies danced with abandon. But he knew how to separate pain and discomfort from the job. The job came first. Always.
His adrenaline spiked and his blood pumped faster as the death trap below him picked up speed and took him to the fifth floor. The spinning turbine above and the jagged edges of metal gave him some concern, but he’d programmed the elevator he was on top of to go no higher than the fifth floor. The sixth floor was shut down for construction, so it worked out well. But still…there was the sharp edge of worry that something might go wrong. But a little bit of fear was a healthy thing. It kept the mind alert and the body ready for anything.
“You okay, Cyph?” Ghost asked through the comm unit in his ear. “Your heart rate is through the roof.”
Gabe Brennan was team leader for this mission. He was the oldest of all of them and had been in the game the longest. And his call sign couldn’t have been more appropriate. He
a fucking ghost. Because Gabe Brennan didn’t exist, and no one could find him if he didn’t want to be found. Not even Cypher.
“I’m fine, mom. Just enjoying the ride to the top. And praying to God you don’t have to scrape my guts out of that turbine.”
“I’ll pass on that job,” Warlock said from his position across the street as lookout. “You had that leftover Thai for breakfast and an entire pizza for lunch. If you didn’t work out like a machine you’d be seven hundred pounds.”
“Suck my dick, War,” he said without heat. “It must be nice sitting across the street and jerking off while we’re doing real work over here.”
Warlock—also known as Archer Ryan—huffed out a laugh. “It’s not so bad, now that you mention it. There’s a hot little brunette that just paid off the bouncer. I can see the nipple rings under her shirt all the way up here. Lord have mercy.”
“If you ladies are done, we’re supposed to be on a mission here,” Daredevil interrupted.
Cypher grinned even as sweat dripped into his eyes. Declan MacKenzie’s voice got softer and more even the more irritated he became. And by the sound of it, he was pretty damned irritated.
“Any change in Yukov’s status, Ghost?” Declan asked.
“We’re about ten minutes away from the club,” Gabe answered. “He’s not in any hurry. Stopped to get cigarettes. You’d never know by looking at him that he’s about to buy nuclear launch codes and try to start World War III.”
“A wily kind of guy, that Yukov. I wish I could say the same about our ever so outgoing financial wizard. Kraus hasn’t moved from the VIP lounge for the last hour and a half. His nervous ticks are so obvious they’re making
nervous. And he’s about halfway through his third whiskey.”
“Yukov only needs him to make sure the money is deposited in their account and then rerouted to a safer location before The Black Lily double crosses him,” Gabe said. “I’d be nervous too if I was Kraus and knew I had to go up against The Black Lily’s computer skills. If Kraus fails, Yukov will put a bullet in his head right in the middle of that VIP lounge and he won’t give a shit who sees him. Yukov is invincible in this country.”
“Well, that’ll be fun,” Declan said. “How’s it going, Cyph? Any closer to pinning her down?”
“In the last half hour she’s bounced me from Paducah, Kentucky to Amsterdam to Antartica to Greenland. If she’s half as good in bed as she is behind the keyboard of her computer then I can’t wait to meet her.”
“That’s assuming she’d give you the time of day to begin with,” Warlock said with a snort. “Women have a tendency to run the other direction whenever they see you. You’re a scary looking motherfucker. Your reputation precedes you.”
“Thank you. But I’m pretty sure it’s the size of my—”
“Focus, Cyph,” Gabe interrupted. “We’ve got about twenty minutes before this whole mission goes to shit. Find her.”
“I’m on it, boss. I’ve narrowed her down to a three-mile radius. She’s in the city, just like you suspected.”
“She’s too greedy.” Cypher could hear Gabe’s smile over the comm unit—like a shark right before it bit into its prey. “She could’ve made this entire transaction go through from halfway across the world. But she likes to watch.”
“My kind of woman,” Cypher said, smirking as he closed in on The Black Lily’s location. She was practically right under their nose. Now they just had to find her in the crowd.
The Black Lily had been the bane of his existence for the past four years. He’d had no idea where she’d come from. Hackers—or at least the good hackers—could recognize the work of others, and there was a hierarchy. Once certain tasks were accomplished then the hacker would move up the chain to establish his or her reputation.
He’d been ten the first time he’d hacked into the Pentagon and CIA databases. If only the world really knew what happened to John F. Kennedy, boy would the shit hit the fan then.
At twelve he’d managed to bring Vegas to a screeching halt. It was hard for casinos to operate when all their money had vanished. And hey, he’d given it back. Eventually.
At fourteen he’d been too cocky for his own good and interfered in a military operation that could have cost the lives of a lot of soldiers. He’d been damned lucky it had been Robert Lockwood who’d showed up on his doorstep one afternoon and not the FBI ready to drag him away in cuffs and lock him away forever on any number of charges.
Lockwood had been Assistant Deputy Director of the CIA at that point and he’d given Cypher two choices—go to prison and never touch a computer again, or come work for the CIA.
It hadn’t been as easy a choice as one might think. He’d thought of running. He had money and skills most people only dreamed of. Not to mention he didn’t particularly want to be on the side of the law. He was too good at being bad. And it paid a hell of a lot more.
But there’d been something about Robert Lockwood that had made him rethink his choices. He was a man who didn’t put up with any bullshit, and he said exactly what he thought and always meant what he said.
So he’d reluctantly shaken hands with his new mentor, packed his bags, and left the life of a teenage boy behind for something bigger. But damn did he miss that punch of adrenaline at knowing he could slip in and out of any system in the world and take whatever he wanted. He tempered those needs by breaking as many rules as he could get away with and generally being a pain in everyone’s ass.
The name Cypher was legendary, even twelve years after the day Robert Lockwood had found him. And still, no one had ever managed to pull off the fetes he’d accomplished when he’d walked on the wrong side of the law. But The Black Lily had come damned close.
The disturbing thing about The Black Lily was she’d appeared out of nowhere. Which meant she was either very, very young when she’d started or she’d been lying low, biding her time in the underground community and studying her prey.
He’d been searching for her identity for the last four years—where she’d come from, what she looked like. But that information was as elusive as the woman herself. He’d set traps for her and watched time after time as she’d slipped through his fingers like grains of sand. It had become his personal mission to bring her down.
And then the opportunity had practically fallen into his lap. Sometimes luck was better for solving cases than anything else. Michel Yukov had been high priority on the CIA’s watch list for almost a decade—International terrorist, broker, arms dealer, assassination attempts—pretty much any crime that could be thought of if the price was high enough from the buyer.