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Authors: Laura Kaye

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Suspense, #Adult

Hard to Let Go

BOOK: Hard to Let Go
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Dedication

Dedicated to the Fearsome Foursome. They know why.

And to JRW for giving me the world’s most amazing shout-out.

And to Amanda for giving me the incredible opportunity to bring these guys to life.

And to my family for making it all possible.

 

Chapter 1

T
he warehouse was an abandoned shell. Empty so long that parts of the roof had caved in, most of the windows were gone, and nature had started to reclaim the concrete and cement, with bits of green taking root in the building’s cracks. Proof of the resilience of life, even in the worst of circumstances.

Most of Beckett Murda’s life was proof of that.

The whistling early morning wind and the distant sounds of Baltimore car traffic and ships’ horns were the only noises that made their way into this corner of what was left of the fourth floor, and that was just fine by Beckett. Because the height and the quiet and the seclusion made it the perfect place from which to protect what he cared about most.

His friends.

His brothers.

His chance at redemption.

Crouching beside a busted window gave Beckett the perfect view of Hard Ink Tattoo, his temporary home the past two and a half weeks. Or, at least, it was the perfect place to see what was
left
of it. The red-brick, L-shaped building sat on the opposite corner of the intersection. Just a few days before, the center of the long side of the L had been reduced to rubble courtesy of his enemies. The predawn attack had claimed the lives of three good men. Three too damn many.

With Wednesday morning daylight just breaking, Beckett scanned a one-eighty from left to right, his gaze sequentially moving from the empty roads that led to Hard Ink’s intersection, to Hard Ink itself, to the surrounding buildings—all empty just as this one was except for Hard Ink. Luckily, the side on which their group lived hadn’t suffered any loss of integrity during the attack, so they hadn’t had to relocate their base of operations.

Beckett repeated the survey using a pair of high-power binoculars, useful for picking up details he might otherwise miss, given the loss of acuity he’d experienced in his right eye from a grenade explosion just over a year ago. His lefty was 20/20 all the way, but shrapnel had reduced his righty to 20/160. His visual impairment in that eye was damn close to legally blind, and it made seeing at a distance a bitch.

That explosion marked the beginning of the whole clusterfuck that led to him sitting in this hellhole all night. Beckett’s Army Special Forces team had been ambushed at a checkpoint in Afghanistan, killing their commander and six other members of the team. In addition to himself, the four survivors—his best friend, Derek “Marz” DiMarzio, second-in-command Nick Rixey, Shane McCallan, and Edward “Easy” Cantrell—had fought tooth and nail to make it out alive, only to be blamed for their teammates’ deaths, accused of dereliction of duty, and sent packing from the Army courtesy of other-than-honorable discharges and nondisclosure agreements ensuring they could never say anything to try to clear their names.

Now they were doing it anyway. This was their one and only shot.

Movement along the far side of Hard Ink.

Beckett focused in to see Katherine Rixey pause at the corner before running across the road to the shadows of the opposite building. From there, Nick’s younger sister skirted tight along the wall, darted across the road again, and then disappeared from view as she entered the warehouse where he hid. Within a minute the rapid thump of footsteps echoed up the stairwell.

Nearly 6:00
A.M.
, which meant his shift in the sniper’s roost was done. Kat was his relief.

Except
that
was maybe the
only
way Kat Rixey relieved him. Otherwise, she had an impressive knack for getting way far under his skin and pushing all his buttons. And every one of his teammates had witnessed it firsthand. Among elite operatives, lives and missions depended on being able to recognize and mitigate your weaknesses. And that meant Beckett had to admit that something about Kat distracted him, irritated him, made him . . . feel.

Not something he had much experience with. Not for years.

Her footsteps neared, their sound louder in the stairwell, and Beckett’s heart might’ve kicked up in time with her jogging pace. Something about her threw him off kilter. And that fucking pissed him off. Because this woman was the younger sister of one of his best friends. And no part of what he was doing here involved—

“Hey, Trigger. You’re free to go,” she said as she stepped into the large room behind him.

Fucking Trigger
. She’d been at him with her cute little nicknames since the day they met. Like it was his fault he’d caught her roaming Hard Ink unannounced and pulled his gun on her. Times being what they were, she was lucky that was
all
he’d done. He kept his eyes trained out the window so she couldn’t see the irritation likely filling his expression.

“Helloooo?” she said, standing right behind him.

Taking his good old time, he put the binoculars down and slowly turned toward her. And had to work hard to keep from reacting to how fucking hot she was.

Katherine Rixey was an angel-faced beauty with a foul mouth, sharp green eyes, and curves that would
not
quit. His hands nearly ached to bury themselves in her thick, wavy brown hair every time he saw her, and the sight of her confidently and competently handling a gun made him rock hard. The fact that she was apparently a shark of a prosecutor was just icing on her five-foot-two-inch cake. Brains, body, beauty. Kat had it
all
. Too bad she drove him bat-shit crazy.

She waved a hand in front of his face, and he tore his gaze away. “You fall asleep there, Quick-Draw? Shoulda texted me. I would’ve come sooner.”

Whatever you do, do
not
think about her coming.

Jesus.

Beckett secured his weapon in a holster at his lower back, hauled himself off the floor, and swallowed the innuendo-filled retorts flitting through his mind. “Had it covered just fine.”

“Good to know,” she said, crossing her arms and smirking.

Beckett felt his eyebrow arch in question before he’d thought to school his expression. “Problem?” he asked, stepping right up in front of her. She was so short, he towered over her, forcing her to tilt her head back to meet his gaze. And damn if she didn’t smell good, like warm, sweet vanilla. It made his mouth water, his groin tighten, and his temper flare. Sonofabitch.

“Dude. I am
so
not the one with the problem.” Amusement filled her bright green eyes.

As he nailed her with a stare, Beckett tried not to admire the way her crossed arms lifted the mounds of her breasts under the clingy black long-sleeved tee. This woman was a Rixey, which meant sarcasm was coded into her DNA. Beckett had almost a decade of experience with her oldest brother to know that was true. No way he was giving her the satisfaction of a reply. He shook his head and stepped around her.

“Always a pleasure,” she said.

He peered over his shoulder to find her lowering into a crouch by the window. She grabbed a gun from one of the cases on the floor and checked the weapon’s ammo. Her quick motions revealed her confidence and experience—always sexy qualities to Beckett’s mind.

Still, despite her obvious competence with a weapon—Nick had done a damn fine job making sure his petite little sister could take care of herself—her being alone up here for a day-long shift didn’t sit well in Beckett’s gut. Ever since the attack on Hard Ink, everyone who had any experience with weapons had been taking shifts in one of the two lookouts they’d set up, and Katherine had more than earned the right to help with the task. More than that, they needed all hands on deck right now—including Katherine. But the team’s enemies were expertly trained, highly lethal mercenaries who had no qualms about covering their asses, no matter what it took—or who they took down. And where Katherine was concerned, that made Beckett . . . worry.

After all, she was Nick’s sister. And just like the rest of the team, Nick had lost enough.

And that’s
all
it was. Right.

Sonofabitch.

“Watch yourself,” Beckett said, voice gruff.

Katherine peered over her shoulder at him and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s kinda the point of this whole thing,” she said, gesturing to the guns, ammo, communication devices, army-green sleeping bags, and stack of bottled water and snacks piled around the corner by the window. When Beckett didn’t reply, she shook her head and looked outside again. “You question Nick and the guys this way when you hand off your shift?”

No, he didn’t. And saying so would either make him look like a chauvinist asshole or possibly reveal too damn much about the shit she stirred up inside him. So he disappeared into the stairwell and made his way down.

Given the strength and resources of their enemies, sparring with Katherine Rixey was the last thing he needed to waste energy doing.

“T
HAT’S WHAT
I thought,” Kat said. Looking back toward the stairs again, she realized she was alone. As big as Beckett freaking Murda was, how the hell did she not hear him leave?

Damn Special Forces guys. Her brother Nick had the same ability. Scared her half to death sometimes. Thank God for their middle brother, Jeremy. Most of the time, Jer gave off a happy vibe you could feel coming from a mile away.

Kat smiled at the thought, settled into a comfortable position and turned her attention back to the view outside the window. The streets were eerily quiet, which wasn’t an accident. Though her brothers had bought a building in the city’s derelict and partly abandoned old industrial district, the real explanation behind the ghost town she was looking down on was a series of roadblocks a police ally of Nick’s had somehow orchestrated. Kat had tried to stay out of the specifics, because she hadn’t wanted to know the details if they veered into the illegal.

Which was damn near a certainty. Kat had come to visit her brothers at Hard Ink five days before, and pretty much the whole time she’d been here she’d walked a fine line between wanting to help them with this crazy situation and freaking out about the illegal nature of what they were doing. Not that the guys weren’t justified in defending themselves and doing whatever it took to clear their names, but Kat had become a lawyer for a reason. Growing up, Nick was the risk-taker, the guy who ditched college weeks into his senior year to join the Army. Jeremy was the artistic rule-breaker. And Kat had been the rule-follower.

Almost like checking a series of boxes, she’d gotten straight A’s all through school, served as the president of all her clubs, got into the best colleges and busted her ass to become managing editor of her law review. Even as early as high school, she’d known she wanted to go into the law. Because law represented justice and order and righteousness. Those ideals had spoken to her, drawn her to a career fighting what she thought was the good fight.

Four years into working at the Department of Justice, she still believed that was what she and the good people she worked with tried to do. Problem was, sometimes a big gulf existed between what they tried to do and what the law allowed them to achieve. And she’d never realized just how all-consuming the career would be. Twelve-hour days at her desk were her norm.

Kat surveyed the run-down neighborhood outside the window. Baltimore might’ve only been about thirty miles from D.C., but right now she felt about a million miles away from that desk.

Down below, the street beside Hard Ink was literally blocked—by the pile of rubble that had slid down into the road when part of the building collapsed early Sunday morning. Just looking at the pile of bricks and cement and twisted beams and broken glass made Kat’s heart race, because she’d been on top of that building when it went down. Her, her brothers, and several others, too. In her mind’s eye, she saw the rooftop fall away from under Jeremy’s feet. He and two other guys started to fall, and she’d screamed. And then Nick was there, grabbing Jeremy’s hand and hauling him up from the breach.

Kat’s breath caught and she blinked away the sting suddenly filling her eyes. The image of Jer falling and the thought of him being gone had haunted her dreams every night since. Because she could’ve lost Jeremy.

Which made her glad her oldest brother had spent years in SpecOps and knew what the hell to do, because she
couldn’t
lose her brothers. And given the impossibly crazy situations she’d encountered since arriving at Hard Ink, she was well aware that losing them was a possibility. Because Nick and Jeremy were in the very gravest danger.

It all stemmed from Nick’s team’s fight to restore their honor against powerful and not fully known enemies. A fight that apparently had so much at stake that her brothers’ building had been attacked by armed soldiers who had a rocket launcher.
A freaking rocket launcher!

And, if that wasn’t enough, the men they were likely fighting against—and probably the very ones who had attacked—were the subject of a series of investigations her office had been working on for the past nine months.

It was something she’d only become certain of over the last twenty-four hours, as Nick’s team’s investigation into a cache of documents from their now-deceased Army commander had begun to shed light upon exactly what—and who—they were up against. Kat was glad for the alone time today, because her brain was a conflicted mess. Should she maintain her professional ethics and protect her security clearances by keeping her mouth shut? Or tell Nick and his team exactly what her office was doing and share what information she had that could help them?

BOOK: Hard to Let Go
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