Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5) (7 page)

BOOK: Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5)
7.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The detective’s jaw tightened, but he didn’t say anything. Obviously, he was smart enough to realize this wasn’t a battle he could win. Even for a former senator, Thorn possessed a tremendous amount of influence in the DC area. Add that to the power that came with his position as CEO of Chadwick-Thorn and his place on the DCO Committee, and Thorn could easily make life a living hell for the detective if he wanted to. The only problem was, Braden Hayes seemed like the kind of man who loved tilting at windmills, even if the windmill always won.

She’d better step in and say something before the two men decided to drop their pants and compare dick size. “What do we know about the thief so far?”

Hayes and Thorn continued their staring contest for another long moment before the detective finally turned his gaze on her. “Unfortunately, we don’t know much of anything about the thief at this point. We can’t even say for sure how many of them there were.”

“No evidence left behind, I’m guessing?” Landon asked.

Hayes shook his head. “Nothing. No fingerprints, hair, fiber, or trace materials. No footprints anywhere on the grounds, no obvious signs of forced entry, and not a single mark on the safe. No one would even know it had been tampered with if it weren’t for the fact that it was left hanging open.”

“How did the thief get in?” Ivy asked as she wandered around the study.

“We’re still looking for his entry point into the home, but right now it’s looking like he came in through a third-floor window in the hallway, by way of the roof. I was up there earlier with some of the security staff. You’d have to be a psycho to walk around on that tile, but that seems to make the most sense. I’m thinking the thief lowered himself down from the edge of the roof somehow and came in through a window, but how he did it is beyond me.”

Ivy’s estimation of the detective went up a few notches, not just because he’d actually figured out how the shifter had gotten into the home, but also because he’d been committed enough to clamber around on the roof and confirm his suspicions.

“About all I can say for sure is that the thief is good,” Hayes added. “Based on the time line established by the security people working last night, the thief couldn’t have been on the property for more than fifteen minutes.”

“What did he take?” Landon asked.

“This,” Frasier said, handing Landon a photograph of what looked like a flawless diamond. “It was last appraised for twenty-five million and is worth considerably more than that now.”

Ivy blinked. While she couldn’t tell the exact size of the diamond from the picture, it looked huge.

Landon handed the photo back to Frasier. “Was anything else taken?”

“No,” Thorn said quickly—too quickly. “Just the diamond.”

Ivy’s kitty alarm immediately went off. Thorn was lying, she was sure of it. And something told her that the former senator was more interested in getting that other item back than he was the diamond.

Detective Hayes hung around a few more minutes before announcing he was going to start checking the usual fences to see if they’d heard of anyone looking to sell a diamond.

He handed Landon his card, then gave both of them a nod. “If you’d like to compare notes, give me a call.”

The moment Hayes left the room, Thorn looked at Ivy expectantly. “Was the thief a shifter?”

“Could be,” she said. “Especially if Hayes is right about how the person got into the house.”

“Could be?” Thorn frowned. “I thought shifters could identify other shifters purely by scent?”

Ivy gave him a bland smile. “My sense of smell isn’t that good. I have feline DNA, not bloodhound. If it was a shifter, they weren’t here long enough to leave much of a scent trail behind. Not that it would have mattered. With all the cops and crime scene techs running around here, whatever traces left behind have been obliterated by now.”

Thorn swore. “I want you two to stick close to Hayes. I get the feeling he already has a few ideas about who this thief might be. If so, figure out who he is before Hayes can pick him up.”

Landon exchanged looks with her. “What do you want us to do when we identify him?”

“Get the information to Frasier.” Thorn’s mouth twisted into an evil smile. “He’ll take care of it from there.”

A chill ran down Ivy’s spine. Whatever the female shifter had taken, it was obviously something the former senator was willing to kill to get back.

Hayes was waiting for her and Landon outside.

“I thought you were going to talk to some fences,” Landon said drily.

“I’d appreciate both of you staying out of the way on this case, regardless of what Mr. Thorn said,” Hayes said, then added, “I’ll give you as much credit as you want, as long as you don’t interfere in my investigation.”

Hayes didn’t wait for an answer, but simply walked over to his silver Dodge Charger and got in without a backward glance. Landon chuckled as Hayes drove off. “I think I like this cop. He reminds me of Clayne—without the claws and fangs.”

Ivy silently agreed. “Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Hayes is as stubborn and relentless as Clayne too. If there’s someone out there who could catch a shifter cat burglar, it would be this guy. Normally, I’d be all for that, but in this case, it’s going to get the shifter killed, and probably Hayes too.”

“Then I guess we’re going to have to ignore his request and interfere in his investigation,” Landon said.

Chapter 4

“I don’t understand,” Jayson said as he pulled on his shirt. “If you need me in the field so urgently, why not just let me go meet up with Layla? I could hook up with her and get the adrenaline rush or whatever the hell you said I need to activate the serum.”

Dick gave him a placating smile. “The doctors and I already explained it to you. We need to put you in a very specific field environment, one in which you’re going to be exposed to the proper amount of stress to make your adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol hormones spike, not to mention all those other hormones and neurotransmitters the doctors mentioned. The situation in Glasgow is already resolved, so it wouldn’t do any good to send you there.”

“So send me on another mission with Layla,” Jayson insisted.

Dick sighed. “Jayson, think this through. We don’t have time to screw around waiting for the right situation to develop somewhere in the world. Moreover, the doctors have a very legitimate concern that being around Layla your first time in the field might actually delay the process. She’s too much of a calming influence on you, and your body wouldn’t react to the stress the way we need it to in order for this to work.”

Jayson almost growled in frustration. After all the crap he’d gone through, he really didn’t feel like waiting any longer.

“Look,” Dick said softly, pulling him off to the side and out of hearing range of the two old doctors who were still eyeing him like a lab rat. “I promise we’re going to get you into the field with Layla as soon as we can. Until then, you need to work with me on this other mission so we can see if this serum really worked.”

Jayson understood what Dick was saying, even if he thought the man was completely wrong. Sure, there was still some pain in his lower back, but he was able to move around better than he had in a long time. He could even bend over and touch his toes. He felt some pain, no doubt about it, but to be able to do something like that was frigging amazing.

The doctors said that was only the first step in a very long process though. The new hybrid serum had been designed to make small, incremental changes to his body because it would be less stressful on him and less likely to lead to a violent rejection scenario. They’d told him that if the drug worked the way it was supposed to, he could expect even more healing in his back, followed by the emergence of shifter skills. It would take time—and the right application of stress-related hormones.

Jayson knew he was indebted to Dick—the man may have given him the greatest gift he could have ever asked for. If that was the case, why did he suddenly feel so wary?

Dick put a hand on his shoulder much the same way Jayson’s late father used to do. “Jayson?”

He nodded. “Let’s do this.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” Dick smiled and squeezed his shoulder. “Come on. Everything’s set up in the main conference room.”

As they left the lab a few hours later and walked over to the operations building, Jayson thought about Layla. Even though Dick hadn’t given him details, it sounded like the mission in Glasgow had gone well. That meant she was probably already on her way back. If he were lucky, she’d get there before he left. Hopefully by the time she returned, he’d have figured out how he was going to explain to her what he’d done and why. While he was thrilled with how everything had turned out, he realized now that his decision to take the drug had been reckless. Layla was still going to be furious with him, but maybe this time he’d be able to get her to understand why he’d taken such a huge risk.

When they got to the operations building, Dick led him into the conference room. One of the big screens on the wall at the front displayed a map of Russia and Ukraine while the other four displayed photos of various people. A pocket-protector type was at the table manning the computer and leafing through folders.

Jayson sat down just as Powell walked in. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as Powell took the seat across from him. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why the asshat was here. Powell was going to be his partner on this mission.

You have to be fucking kidding me.

From where he stood at the head of the table, Dick directed a laser pointer at the screen with a photo of a smiling kid who looked about seventeen. The picture looked like it had come from a high school yearbook.

“This is Dylan Palmer,” Dick said. “He’s the son of Norman Palmer, the counselor of political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine. Four days ago, Dylan didn’t come home. Given what’s currently going on over there, the embassy immediately sent someone to look for him, thinking he might have been kidnapped. They quickly realized they had a much bigger problem on their hands.”

Dick nodded at the guy manning the computers and a blog came up on another screen. Jayson quickly scanned it. There were posts about Russian aggression, autonomous regions, cease-fires, and military atrocities.

“Dylan fancies himself an investigative journalist,” Dick continued. “Apparently he’d heard rumors about all the bad stuff going on in the Russian-controlled territories around Donetsk and decided he needed to experience it firsthand. He loaded up his iPad and ran off to a frigging war zone to do a little snooping and write the next Pulitzer-worthy story. The best the embassy can tell, Dylan has been in Donetsk for at least two days.”

Jayson winced. He watched a lot of news these days—the perk of not being able to sleep at night. The fighting in Ukraine had been headline material for weeks, and even though the media had grown bored with the subject and moved on to the next big thing, the fighting there was still going on.

Most of eastern Ukraine was populated with people of Russian ancestry who had ties to their native country. Western Ukraine, on the other hand, was predominantly populated by Ukrainians who had loyalties of a completely different nature and a tendency to look toward Western Europe for direction, as opposed to Mother Russia. The battles with pro-Russian forces against the separatist forces along the border of the two distinct parts of the country had been bloody and violent. If the kid had been looking for a place to find a gritty story, he’d definitely gone to the right area.

Dick pointed the laser at a photo of a dark-haired girl about the same age as Dylan. “Everything indicates that Dylan is with his Ukrainian girlfriend, Anya Zelenko, and possibly several of their friends, but nobody’s saying much, and the embassy doesn’t want to stir up anything because they fear the militias running the region will hear about it and start actively looking for him.”

“Why hasn’t the embassy sent some of their people in to go get the kid already?” Powell asked. “The CIA could be in and out of there in a couple hours.”

“I’m sure they could,” Dick agreed. “But unfortunately for Dylan, the U.S. is currently taking a hands-off approach to the whole region and has no desire to call attention to the fact that there’s an American citizen, the son of a diplomat at that, running around what is essentially Russian-held territory. They’re disavowing any and all knowledge or involvement in this situation.”

“So Dylan is on his own?” Jayson asked.

“Except for us, yes.”

“Donetsk is a pretty big city,” Jayson pointed out. “Do we have anything as far as the kid’s current location?”

“His father got a text from him about two days ago saying he was somewhere around the international airport near a small town called Oktyabrsky,” Dick said.

The blog disappeared from the screen to be replaced by a map of the area.

Jayson narrowed his eyes, trying to remember why Oktyabrsky was important. Then it hit him. “I remember seeing that place in the news. Didn’t both sides shell the hell out of that city?”

Dick nodded. “That particular area is still seeing a lot of violence and militia activity. The majority of the region’s citizens are stuck in the middle, trying to keep their heads down and survive. There’s no government control in the autonomous regions so militia groups are vying for control and whatever power they can get.”

Militia groups
. That was a nice way of saying they were a ragtag collection of current and former military who had the weapons and know-how to make sure they came out on top in a crappy situation.

“But none of that matters,” Dick added. “This is a simple track, bag, and drag mission. There should be no reason to even come into contact with any of the militia groups, much less engage with them.”

Jayson wasn’t so sure about that. He’d learned from experience that it was rarely a good idea to assume you could avoid contact with any group in possession of a large amount of weapons.

“Besides, that punk kid is probably hiding in a basement somewhere, pissing his pants and scared to death,” Powell snorted, his gray eyes hard. “All we need to do is find him and get him back to daddy. We should be in and out of there in a few hours.”

Jayson wondered if he should suggest that Dick and Powell go together since they both seemed to think this mission would be such a breeze. He bit his tongue and instead asked how many different militia groups occupied the area, where they were headquartered, how large their territories were, who might be willing to help them, and most importantly, the best route to get the kid out of Donetsk once they had him.

Powell got bored about halfway through the questions and got up to leave, telling Jayson he’d get their gear ready.

“For whenever you get tired of talking and decide to start doing,” he added snidely.

That was when it really hit Jayson. He was going to a war-torn part of the world with that asshat to do a mission that wasn’t exactly going to be a walk in the park.

“Are you sure sending me out on a mission like this is a good idea?” Jayson asked after the briefing was over. “We don’t even know what I can do.”

“If we don’t send you now, we’re never going to know what you can do,” Dick said. “Like you said, this kid doesn’t have anyone else to help him. He’s a political liability. If we don’t go over there, he’s probably not going to make it.”

That was what had Jayson worried. If the serum didn’t work and he couldn’t do the job, Dylan might not make it anyway.

“You know Powell and I don’t exactly make the best teammates, right?” he asked. “I’m completely new at this—at least as far as DCO missions are concerned—and from my few run-ins with him, Powell doesn’t seem much more experienced than I am. Shouldn’t I be going out with someone who’s been on these types of missions before, someone who can work with a shifter?”

“You have enough field experience for both of you,” Dick said. “Powell is just there to back you up and let me know how you did.”

Jayson nodded, but he was still concerned as hell.

Dick must have seen it on his face, because he frowned. “What’s eating you all of a sudden? You were Special Forces. You’re used to this kind of stuff. You don’t worry about who you’re going with or what the mission is going to be. You just go.”

That had been true until that day in Afghanistan when they were lured into a trap and blown up. His head was spinning at a thousand miles an hour. He’d just admitted to himself a little while ago that taking the hybrid serum had been rash—and stupid. Was he making another rash, stupid decision by going out on this mission so soon after taking the drug, especially with Powell as a partner?

Dick sighed. “I need you to do this for me, and I need you to be a success. There are people on the Committee who didn’t view you as a suitable candidate for the new serum. They thought you were too damaged. I put my neck out and said they were wrong. I told them that you aren’t only a major asset to this organization, but that you’re also a war hero who needs a new lease on life, not just a job. A hand up, not a handout. If you can’t do this, the Committee is going to use that serum on people they think fit their mold. You’re the prototype for the kind of person who should be getting this treatment. You need to do this, for both our sakes and for the sake of other amazing people out there just like you.”

Jayson ground his jaw, hating what the situation was forcing him into. But Dick was right. He’d stuck his neck out for Jayson, and Jayson couldn’t let him down—even if his gut was telling him he was making a huge-ass mistake.

* * *

Layla walked into the DCO operations building with her emotions in a tangled knot. She’d called Jayson last night to tell him she was on her way back from Glasgow, but he hadn’t answered his cell or his home phone. She’d tried to tell herself not to worry, that Jayson had probably taken a stronger pain med and was just sleeping. She’d stopped by his apartment this morning before coming to the complex, hoping to catch him before he went to work, but he wasn’t home. He wasn’t in his office or on the shooting range either, and he still wasn’t answering his phone. That’s when her instincts screamed that something was terribly wrong.

As she hurried down the hall to Kendra’s office, Layla’s fear that Jayson had taken Dick up on his outrageous offer grew more intense. But if he’d taken the hybrid serum and something awful had happened, wouldn’t Ivy have called her?

She quickened her step, practically running the rest of the way to Kendra’s office. The DCO’s resident jill-of-all-trades was sitting at her desk dialing the phone when she rushed in, but the minute she saw Layla, she stopped and dropped the receiver back in its cradle.

“I was just calling you,” Kendra said. “It’s Jayson.”

Layla tensed, praying her instincts were wrong but knowing they weren’t. “What about him?”

“Dick talked him into taking that damn hybrid serum,” Kendra said. “I was out yesterday at my ob-gyn appointment and didn’t even find out until this morning.”

Layla’s heart plummeted.
Oh God
. “Is he okay? Where is he?”

“I don’t know if he’s okay or not. Dick sent him straight out the door on a mission with Powell.”

Of all the people Dick could have teamed Jayson up with, he had to pick that jackass. “What kind of mission? Shouldn’t they have waited to see if Jayson had a reaction before sending him into the field?”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I don’t know what kind of mission it is or where they went, but I’m hoping Zarina can tell us something.” Kendra put a hand on the arm of her chair and pushed herself to her feet. She might still be in her second trimester, but she looked like she could have given birth to the twins at any minute. “Want to come to the lab with me?”

BOOK: Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5)
7.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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