Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5)

BOOK: Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5)
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Copyright © 2016 by Paige Tyler

Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Craig White

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

With special thanks to my extremely patient and understanding husband. Without your help and support, I couldn’t have pursued my dream job of becoming a writer. You’re my sounding board, my idea man, my writing partner, my critique partner, and the absolute best research assistant any girl could ask for.

Love you!

Prologue

Kabul, Afghanistan

“Spread out a little, guys.” Lieutenant Jayson Harmon cursed as he led his four Special Forces teammates toward the downtrodden goat farm on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. “I know you like each other, but jeez, one frigging grenade will get you all.”

The guys—Derek Mickens, Kyle Griffen, Kellen Tredeau, and Connor Marks—grinned but followed his orders. The four enlisted Special Forces operators had logged more time sitting on toilets than he had running missions. They knew what the hell they were doing, but he appreciated them humoring him anyway.

It wasn’t much of a mission. They were going out with some of the local Afghan National Police to gather up a cache of illegal weapons, but he was just thrilled Captain Donovan had finally allowed him to run an operation on his own. Jayson knew his commander and best friend was just watching out for the FNG—effing new guy—but it was time to stop coddling him. He’d completed the same Special Forces training as everyone else on the team. This was his third deployment, and it was time to let him do his job.

The captain grudgingly agreed with him, mostly because this was such a low-risk operation. But, hey, it was a mission, and Jayson would take it where he could get it.

The three ANP officers ahead of them quickened their pace through a series of low corrals and paddocks, pushing aside a random goat as they headed toward the main barn structure that supposedly held the collection of automatic weapons they were there to recover. The local police chief had described the area as more of an equipment dump than a weapons cache, and said he didn’t expect anyone to be guarding it and doubted they’d have to worry about booby traps. It was a nice piece of intel, but Jayson wouldn’t believe those details until he confirmed them for himself.

He was about to yell at the Afghans to slow down a little when a horribly familiar whooshing sound jerked his attention to the left.

“RPG!” Mickens shouted.

Jayson had about half a second to throw himself forward as the rocket-propelled grenade raced straight at him and slammed into a thin wooden fence behind them. The rocket warhead exploded, the blast wave picking him up and throwing him through the air like he was a toy.

He didn’t feel the searing pain in his back until he slammed into a wooden water trough and finally hit the ground; then, the agony did its very best to make up for lost time, ripping through him like a thousand red-hot knives. His vision wavered like someone was dragging a heavy black curtain across him right there in the goat-crap-filled corral. He fought the darkness trying to drag him under. Gunfire echoed in his ears, making him nearly deaf. He could barely hear his men swearing up a storm around him. He couldn’t pass out, not yet. He’d led his guys—his friends—into an ambush, and now he had to get them out.

He reached behind him, trying to figure out how badly he’d been hurt, praying his tactical vest and equipment pouches had limited the damage, but froze when his hand encountered something warm, torn-up, and numb where the base of his spine had been.

Shit
.

He shook off those thoughts. It didn’t matter how bad it was. He just had to last long enough to make sure his guys made it out of this alive.

Jayson lifted his head out of the muck in the corral, shocked at how hard even that simple movement was. It was like his upper body weighed a ton. It didn’t help that his damn legs wouldn’t do a thing he told them to do. That was when he realized he was fucked up beyond all repair.

He gritted his teeth and shoved with his arms until he raised his head enough to see what the hell was happening. The scene that met his eyes almost made him want to say the hell with it.

A constant stream of bullets was tearing up the ground around them. Two of the Afghan police lay dead fifteen feet ahead of him. The third guy was nowhere to be seen. He’d either escaped or been blown to pieces. Being on the national police force in this country didn’t earn these guys any love.

Jayson twisted his head to the left just in time to see another RPG slam into the ground and explode right where Connor had been taking cover behind a low stone wall. He went flying backward, his face and upper body peppered with the frag from the grenade. But like the tough-ass soldier he was, he was back on his feet in a flash and popping off shots at the roof of the barn where the attack was coming from.

But Connor’s angle was all wrong. His rounds merely hit the edge of the mud wall along the roof, not doing much more than making a mess. He was never going to get a clear shot on the insurgent and his RPG launcher from down here, not with his M4.

“Connor, stop shooting!” Jayson shouted over the sounds of battle. “Take Kyle and work yourself around to the right. The 40mm grenade launcher is the only thing we have that can take out that asshole on the roof.”

Every one of his guys turned and looked at him in shock, though he wasn’t sure whether it was because he’d shouted so loud or because they’d thought he was dead.

Derek—the team’s medic—immediately headed in his direction, but Jayson clumsily waved him off. “Cover Kyle and Connor. If they don’t get that guy on the roof, we’re all dead.”

Derek hesitated, clearly torn between his medic responsibilities and the orders he’d just been given. But ultimately he did what he had to do and turned back to start laying down suppressive fire on the roofline.

Kellen was on the squad radio, probably giving a situation report to Landon. Oh shit, the captain was gonna be so pissed at him. The first time Jayson had a chance to prove himself capable of leading the team and instead he’d walked them right into a damn ambush. Landon was never gonna let him run a mission again in his life.

He pushed that self-pitying crap aside. Nobody cared right then how he’d gotten them in this mess; they just expected him to get everyone out.

Just then he heard the familiar hollow thump of the grenade launcher going off. A few seconds later, he saw the explosion on the flat roof of the barn. Three more high-explosive grenades quickly followed, each landing squarely on top of the building.

No more shooting came from the roof, but that didn’t mean they were out of the woods yet. There were still at least ten insurgents running around the goat farm peppering them with automatic weapon fire from their AKs. Jayson ordered Connor and Kyle back into a better defensive position, then started directing their fire on one specific target after another. He pulled his Beretta 9mm and started shooting at the nearest insurgents as the rest of the team did the same. Even though every one of his guys was bleeding from multiple wounds by then, they did some serious damage.

It was as he was trying to reload his pistol—a damn near impossible task with his screwed-up back—that Jayson realized something was wrong with his eyes. His vision was starting to go dark around the edges, like he was staring down a long, pitch-black tunnel. He blinked his eyes trying to fix the problem, but it only got worse.

He looked down to get a fresh clip out of one of the pouches on his tactical vest and saw that he was lying in a pool of his own blood.

“Oh, fuck.”

That was all he could manage as his pistol slipped out of his nerveless fingers and thumped to the ground. A few seconds later, he fell to the dirt next to his weapon.

Darkness was closing in. He was about done for. It wouldn’t be long now.

Then he felt hands on his body.

“Hold on, Jayson!” Landon shouted. “Just hold on!”

Jayson was vaguely aware of someone doing something to his back. That would probably be Derek. SF medics were pretty frigging amazing, but they weren’t magicians. Jayson tried to tell him there wasn’t anything he could do, but he couldn’t make his mouth work.

“I’m here now, and you’re not going anywhere. Do you hear me?” Landon said. “Don’t give up on me, Jayson. That’s a fucking order!”

Jayson tried to fight his way back to his friend, to say good-bye if nothing else. Even though he could see Landon’s face just above him and feel his friend holding his hand as if he were trying to pull him out of the darkness, it didn’t help. The tunnel was so long, and he was so tired.

He felt his hand slip out of Landon’s, and then the darkness swallowed him.

Chapter 1

Fifteen Months Later

Jayson Harmon hated Powell and Moore. They were two of the most irritating field agents in the Department of Covert Operations, and whenever they came to the shooting range where he worked, he couldn’t help daydreaming about both of them suffering from an accidental weapon discharge at the same time—preferably through really important and sensitive parts of their anatomies. It was a horrible thing for a weapons officer who ran the DCO’s ranges to think, but the two men were such frigging asshats.

The DCO provided an unlimited supply of ammo for their field agents to maintain their weapon proficiency, and most of them took advantage of this generous job perk. Then there were Brian Powell and Aaron Moore. Both were average height and dark-haired with perpetual I-couldn’t-give-a-flying-fuck expressions on their faces, and these two were the reason the DCO also had a minimum monthly ammunition consumption requirement. Asshat One and Asshat Two barely fired that minimum. It showed, too. They were the worst shooters he’d seen in the DCO by a mile. Jayson couldn’t help but wonder how the hell they had even survived in the field as long as they had.

He’d tried to give them a few pointers the last time they’d come to the range, but they hadn’t been interested. Fine with him. He couldn’t care less about the fact that neither of them could shoot their way out of a wet paper bag. But the way they loved making nasty cracks about every shifter and hybrid in the organization was something he had a hard time overlooking.

“Can you believe that hot chick Kendra let herself get knocked up by a freak like MacBride?” Powell cracked before blazing a few rounds downrange and missing his target by nearly three feet.

Moore snorted. “As big as she’s getting, I wouldn’t be surprised if a full-grown bear cub claws its way out of her.”

Jayson ground his jaw. It took everything in him not to pull his sidearm as they continued insulting training officer Kendra MacBride and her bear shifter husband, Declan. As the weapons officer, Jayson had to be on the shooting line whenever the range was active. If not, he would have walked off a long time ago. Even though he suspected these two assholes were only saying this crap to get a rise out of him because his girlfriend, Layla Halliwell, was a feline shifter, it still pissed him off.

He took a deep breath and tried to rein in his temper. To be fair, it wasn’t every day you learned some people were born with animal DNA that allowed them to sprout claws and fangs, see in the dark, run faster than a horse, survive a fall off a three-story building, or any of the other amazing things he’d seen shifters do since he’d started working here. But just because shifters and their man-made counterparts called hybrids could do all these things, it didn’t make them freaks. And it sure as hell didn’t give people like Powell and Moore the right to call them names. It was like they were good enough to go into battle with but not good enough to treat with any kind of respect once you got back home.

“I bet those shifter bitches are absolute animals in bed,” Powell said as he reloaded a magazine. “Can you imagine what that Ivy Halliwell chick would be like? It’d almost be worth sleeping with a freak like her to get some of that.”

At the mention of Layla’s older sister, Jayson smothered a curse and pushed away from the wall he’d been leaning against, ignoring the way the sudden movement jarred his injured back. He didn’t care if he got his ass fired. There was no way in hell he was going stand around and put up with any more of this shit.

“Unload and clear your weapons, then get the fuck off my range,” he ordered.

The two assholes were still laughing as they turned to look at him. Did they think he was joking?

Jayson pulled his Berretta 9mm from its holster and held it down at his side. He wasn’t pointing it at them yet, but the message was abundantly clear.

Powell and Moore stopped laughing but didn’t move. Instead, they both stared at him like they thought he was crazy.

“You can’t throw us off the range,” Powell finally said. “We haven’t finished our qualification requirements yet.”

Man, he’d like nothing better than to wipe that sneer off Powell’s face. The guy had supposedly been in the military, but Jayson had no idea what kind of work he’d done. All he knew was that the army had kicked the asshole out for some reason. No shock there.

“I can do anything I want on this range. I run it,” Jayson said.

Moore glared at him. “What the hell is your problem? Just because you’re sleeping with one of those freaks doesn’t mean we can’t talk about them in front of you.”

Jayson balled his free hand into a fist, more frustrated than ever that his shrapnel-shredded back kept him from walking over and punching both of the stupid fucks in their big mouths.

“Damn right it does. You come out here talking crap about people you don’t know anything about,” he ground out. “If I ever hear either of you making a crack like that again, it’s going to be the last thing you ever say.”

Jayson prayed they
would
say something. He had a bucketload of hostility and anger inside him that had been building for well over a year now, and he was just itching to empty it all over these two idiots. But after a few more moments of silence, Powell and Moore unloaded their weapons and walked away, muttering under their breaths.

Jayson kept his Beretta out until both men had disappeared down the gravel road that led to the main part of the DCO complex. He knew he’d just made enemies of the two men, who wouldn’t hesitate to sucker punch him—or worse—when he wasn’t looking, but so be it. Feeling the anger that was now so much a part of his life engulf him, he turned and put all fifteen rounds in his weapon through the center of the twenty-five-meter target. When that burst of violence wasn’t enough to calm him, he dropped the empty clip, smoothly yanked another from the pouch at his side, and reloaded, then blazed through another fifteen rounds.

That seemed to do the trick. At least he wasn’t seeing red anymore. He reached down to pick up the empty 9mm clip and jerked nearly rigid in his boots as a lightning bolt of pain raced down his spine to the twisted nerves that currently called his lower back home.

“Shit,” he muttered.

Gritting his teeth, he slowly straightened up and breathed through the pain. When it had receded to a dull throb, he holstered his Beretta. Picking up Powell’s and Moore’s guns and unused ammo, he forced his tingling legs to respond to orders and slowly walked back to the building where the weapons were kept. The discomfort was yet another reminder of the fact that no matter how hard he worked on his physical therapy or how many muscle relaxants and pain pills he took, he was always going to have a screwed-up back.

Dwelling on it wasn’t going to do anything but put him in a bad mood again, so when he got inside, he instead focused on the tasks he needed to do, like cleaning his Beretta and the weapons Powell and Moore had been firing, as well as a few others that had been used earlier that day in a training exercise.

Ignoring the stool, Jayson stood beside the table instead and broke down the 9mm by habit. Maintenance was usually the part most people hated about target shooting, but he didn’t mind. It was cathartic in a way. And outside of pricks like Powell and Moore, he got to spend a good deal of his time working with field agents who actually cared about being able to shoot straight and hit what they were aiming at. It was damn tough training people to go out on missions when he’d never get a chance to go himself, but it was better than not being involved in anything important at all.

At least that’s what he kept telling himself.

The continuous throbbing in Jayson’s back as he stood at the worktable cleaning the Beretta reminded him that he’d pushed himself too hard today—again. The little railroad spike of pain when he’d bent over before was just the frosting on the cake. He was going to pay for all of it tonight. Usually, if the muscles in his back tightened up this much by noon, it almost guaranteed they’d be spasming uncontrollably by the time he went to bed that night. He wouldn’t be sleeping much, that was for sure. No matter what he did, he was in some kind of pain. It was like a shadow that followed him wherever he went.

Fucking great.

He had no one to blame but himself. Even though he was walking better now, his doctors warned him to use his cane as much as possible, but he hated leaning on the damn thing when anyone was around. He didn’t want to look weak in front of people, especially assholes like Powell and Moore. Of course, he rarely used his cane at home either, at least not when Layla was there. Of all the people he hated looking broken in front of, she topped the list. Unfortunately, when he pushed himself too hard, he ended up limping a lot, which made him look weak anyway.

Jayson set down the slide he’d just cleaned and ran his hand through his short, dark-blond hair with a sigh. He still did all the physical therapy as well as the breathing and visualization techniques he’d learned, but those things didn’t mix well with a full-time job. Truthfully, it was getting harder and harder to find the motivation to keep doing them anyway. On good days, he wondered if he was going to be living with the pain for the rest of his life. On bad days, he wondered if what he had could even be called a life—and why he even bothered getting out of bed.

It was during those dark times that he was glad the doctors had pulled him off the heavy-duty narcotics. He didn’t want to think about where his head would be if he had access to bottles of the mind-numbing crap he’d been living on before he’d met Layla. Right now, he was making do with over-the-counter painkillers and prescription muscle relaxants.

And Layla’s constant support.

He wasn’t sure how much longer that was going to last since he seemed to be blowing the only chance he had with her. When she walked out of his life… Well, something told him he wasn’t going to last too long.

Jayson swallowed hard and picked up the barrel of the Beretta, practically attacking it with the cleaning cloth. He could see himself pushing her away even while he was shouting at himself to stop messing up the only good thing he had going in his life. Yet he couldn’t seem to stop.

He didn’t understand what the hell was wrong with him. He was in love with Layla, had been since the moment they’d met. He loved every inch of her, from her feline grace and beauty to her quiet strength and patience. But every time he opened his mouth to tell her that, the dumbest shit possible came rolling out. And when he wasn’t saying something provoking and hurtful, he was ignoring her.

A few months ago, when Layla had first confessed she was a shifter and worked for a secret organization called the DCO, they’d been on the verge of sleeping together. These days they barely talked, much less touched. He hadn’t kissed her like a man was supposed to kiss his girlfriend in weeks.

He knew she was just about at the end of her rope with him. He was surprised she’d put up with his childish crap this long. On good days, he was an angry, broken man without much of a future. On bad days, he was barely tolerable, even to himself. Why the hell a woman like Layla hung around with him in the first place was a mystery to him. Sooner or later, she was going to wise up and figure out he was a lost cause, then leave his ass.

The mere thought of the one bright spot in his life not being there was depressing as shit. Having Landon and John Loughlin, the director of the DCO, help him land this gig had given some purpose to his life lately, but there were days having a job involving open access to loaded weapons didn’t seem like the best thing for a guy like him. All he had to do was pick one up and put it to his head…

He determinedly pushed those thoughts aside, refusing to let his mind even go down that path. He knew from experience—in his first few months after coming back from Afghanistan—that depression was a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more you thought about how shitty things were, the bleaker things looked.

He finished cleaning the Beretta and moved on to the other weapons that had been used this morning. He kept everything carefully segregated as he pulled off the slides and took out the various parts, checking each piece for damage and unusual wear marks as he did so. He was so lost in the rhythm of it that he didn’t even realize someone had come into the building until he heard the sound of footsteps on rough concrete. He looked up and saw Dick Coleman, the DCO’s deputy director, standing there.

“Thought I’d find you here.” Dick smiled, nodding at the disassembled weapons on the table. “You want some help with these?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he took off his suit jacket and draped it over the back of a nearby stool, then rolled up his sleeves and began cleaning one of the Colts. Jayson wasn’t surprised. While Dick might be the second most powerful man in the organization, he was easy to talk to and always willing to lend a hand as well as an ear. The guy was a good thirty years older than Jayson and had the gray in his hair to prove it, but they never had a problem finding something to talk about.

Dick held one of the .45 barrels up to the light to inspect the chamber area, his gray eyes narrowing as he checked it for wear. “I didn’t notice you in the cafeteria for lunch, so I thought I’d come down and see how you’re doing.”

“I wanted to get these cleaned up first,” Jayson said. “I was planning to go up later to get something.”

One look at Dick’s expression told Jayson his boss knew he was full of crap, but the older man didn’t call him on it.

“You spend too much time down here by yourself,” Dick said. “I appreciate all the work you do for us, but no one expects you to work your fingers to the bone, you know.”

How could he tell his boss that he didn’t like going to the cafeteria during the normal rush because he hated the idea of everyone watching him slowly shamble across the room with his tray?

Dick picked up another barrel and ran a bore brush through it. “I see the lessons you’re giving Layla on that SIG Sauer she’s partial to are really paying off. She looks great on the training exercises.”

Jayson grimaced. Layla’s training was a love/hate issue for him. He wanted her to succeed, but it also reminded him that she was moving toward a life he could never be part of. Knowing she was doing things he used to be able to do and couldn’t do now was hard as hell. He knew it was shallow and petty, but knowing that didn’t change the way he felt.

BOOK: Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5)
10.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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