Authors: Helenkay Dimon
The Talented Mr. Rivers
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept Ebook Original
Copyright Â© 2016 by HelenKay Dimon
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
Cover design: Okay Creations
Cover photograph: kiuikson/Shutterstock
He reached the top of the staircase and turned left. Flames licked up the dining room walls, peeling the expensive paper, melting and swallowing it as the fire burned its path.
There wasn't much time left. Smoke floated through the air, growing thicker as it gathered near the ceiling and filled every last inch of open space. Visibility decreased with each passing second. The muffled yells of people frantic to escape sounded all around him.
The faint whisper of sirens in the distance. The crashing of furniture and thud of footsteps. Hunter plowed through it all. He folded his arm and fit his mouth in the crook of his elbow. Tried not to breathe in too deep. Bit back the rough coughs shaking through him as he struggled to see.
He had to find them. The Rivers brothers. This was their home, and their horrific choices had led to this mess. The CIA had lit a match to their fancy rambling estate in the British countryside to cause a diversion and save members of an extraction team, all while flushing the Rivers family out into the open.
Hunter knew because he'd helped come up with the plan. But something had gone wrong. He should have been able to grab the oldest, Peter, on the way out and throw him into the waiting arms of the intelligence officers swarming the property. Hadn't happened. No, he'd vanished, taking Will with him.
Will, the youngest Rivers sibling. The one Hunter had been playing the role of fake bodyguard to for months. The one who pretended not to know about how his family trafficked in death. That they made their millions off the grid while maintaining an air of respectability and running a legitimate textile business in the public eye.
Will, the one Hunter fought to think of only as a job.
Hunter's knees buckled as he moved into the main hall. Museum-quality paintings crashed to the floor. He stepped right through one and felt the broken frame prick his calf as he stumbled in the darkening space. He made it to the first doorframe. Leaned against it as he peered into the main living area. Fresh air poured in the hole blown through the far wall. Even with the breeze, fire engulfed the curtains and traveled up the walls.
He started to call out for Will but stopped on the off chance the noise might bring others running. Others who might shoot Will rather than just grab him. Hunter couldn't let that happen. They had unfinished business.
Will was his.
HREE WEEKS LATER
Hunter Cain walked the back hall of the same Paris club for the third night in a row. The Duplex, a members-only space in the basement of a popular steak frites joint. A labyrinth of tunnels and rooms. No one famous, or not obviously so, lingered. Just the thump of music and a moody atmosphere that conjured up thoughts of dark corners and shady bargains. A group of people who wanted to talk, drink, dance, and disappear.
He hated this kind of shit.
Intel said his target would be here, probably in a private room. Two previous tries and no success. Hunter needed this to be the one. He could only break into the same place so many times before someone fixed the security code on the back door. Of course, he'd still get in after that, but the inconvenience would annoy him.
He slipped through a crowd of twentysomethings arguing about sexual politics and sipping drinks. He suddenly felt every minute of his age. Amazing how big a ten-year difference could seem.
His target wouldn't be in one of these groups. No, he'd be sitting down, watching the room while people desperate to be close to him fed off his vibeâone of wealth and power. Hunter had seen the action many times. Stood back as the parasites made their moves. While they climbed over one another trying to please.
Yes, Hunter knew all about his target. Knew his habits and weaknesses. Had studied him. Followed him. Now he hunted him.
He slipped through the few people dancing and by the impressive bar, complete with crowds and the obligatory hot tattooed bartender in charge. Not that he had time to notice. He'd spent those two months of bodyguard duty not being able to notice anyone else and the last three weeks intent on locating one man. That was a lot of time wanting someone he shouldn't want, getting edgier by the minute.
He could go long spells without sex. His work demanded it, but the itch was scratching hard. If he didn't find his target soon and end this, the need and being pissed off would get all bound up together, and then he'd really be in trouble. He liked angry sex as much as the next guy, but not if it screwed with his work.
He went down a few steps and through a heavy door before moving into the quieter section of the club. The one that came with security guards and locked doors. From previous surveillance, he knew there were twelve rooms. That left a lot of area to cover.
He turned a corner and stopped right before running into a six-foot damn-he's-big bruiser in a navy blazer. The guy had an earpiece and didn't bother to hide his gun. Not the friendliest welcome Hunter had ever experienced but certainly not the worst.
The guard stood in the middle of the hallway leading back to the first set of rooms. “I think you're in the wrong place.”
“I don't need directions, but thanks.” Hunter tried to push past the guard but the other man wasn't having it.
The guard shoved Hunter back, then held up his hand. “This is not for you.”
“How do you know what I like?” Hunter thought about breaking fingers. That might be faster than an actual fight or choking off the guy's air supply. Certainly quieter than shooting him.
The guy nodded to the area behind Hunter. “Go upstairs and back to the dance floor.”
“I guess we'll do this the hard way.” Before the guy could stop frowning, Hunter nailed him in the chin with the heel of his hand.
The guy's head snapped back. Actually made an odd sound. Then he faced Hunter again.
This one wasn't going down easy.
The guard rammed his shoulder into Hunter's stomach. The shot vibrated to his feet but he didn't make a sound as his back crashed into the wall. He'd been trained to fight quick and quiet. Attack, destroy, disappear. His body moved on instinct. He brought his elbow down and nailed the guard at the base of his neck. The guy dropped to his knees.
Ignoring the guns and other weapons on him, Hunter went with his arm. He locked it around the guard's neck. Pressed while the guard started to flail and reach around for Hunter's legs. Hunter didn't let up. He tightened at the bend of his arm and in eight seconds the guy went limp. Hunter let him fall to the floor.
He heard the footsteps before he could reach for his gun. Not wanting his back to anyone, he turned around. Two more men stood there. No blazers and they lacked the guard-at-the-club look the other one possessed. No, he'd bet these two were former military. The short haircuts, the way they held themselves. Something in the confident demeanor.
Hunter recognized the type. Hell, he was the type. He'd moved from the Army, a job that had blown his family apart and made his own father try to kill him, to the BND, the Bundesnachrichtendienst. German intelligence.
The man on the left stepped forward while the other ordered some of the more curious in the nearby private rooms who'd ventured into the hall to go back inside again. They were an interesting pair. One scowled and talked in grunts. The other headed right for Hunter.
“They said you'd prefer a fight,” the man said with an accent that said American.
Hunter cared less about the geography than the wording. The “they” could mean anyone who knew him, really. But that was just the thing. No one was supposed to know him here. He hadn't exactly announced his visit to France. He'd been undercover and living in other countries, adopting different accents, for so long he wasn't sure he'd recognize what was supposed to have been his temporary London flat if he walked by the building.
“How many guards do you have back there?” Hunter glanced past the men to the end of the dark hallway. “Just so I have an idea how much beating I'll need to do.”
“We don't work for the club.” The same man spoke while the other stood next to him, unmoving.
. “Then I don't have a problem with you.”
“Oh, you definitely have a problem.”
Just what he needed, a guy who talked in bad action movie sound bites. “I'm looking for someone.”
And since he'd run into a guard and now these two, Hunter assumed he was headed in the right direction. Looked like the third time was the charm.
The guy nodded. “I know.”
Hunter didn't spook easily. He'd never experienced an attack of nerves. The coolness had served him well over the years. He couldn't always read peopleâthat was not his specialtyâbut he could maintain control. Wait out his prey and take down any attacker. He'd been trained by the best counterintelligence and infiltration experts in Germany and abroad. These two men did not rattle him.
“You're not my type,” he said.
“You don't do anything for me either.” The talker looked Hunter over. Dropped his gaze down Hunter's body, then back up again. “I like 'em a bit more battle-scarred and tough.”
Hunter almost laughed. Looked like he'd found someone who sucked at reading people more than he did. “Make sure to put that on your dating profile.”
The guy shook his head. “You're not going anywhere, blondie.”
This was almost too much. Hunter looked at the quiet one. Stiff shoulders with his hands folded in front of him, seemingly unimpressed and unworried about the scene unfolding in front of him. Yeah, that's the guy Hunter needed to be concerned with. Not the blowhard trying to scare him with stupid words.
But from all the fanfare now he knew he'd definitely located the right club. His target was here and sending out men to do his dirty work. Typical bullshit. Hunter would get to him, but first he had to dispose of the big talker. “You've got the wrong guy.”
“You're Hunter Cain.”
Hunter didn't even flinch. Didn't let one sign of recognition show. “Nope, still the wrong guy.”
as in plural. That made Hunter wonder if he had to fight these two or an army. Either way worked for him. “Gentlemen. The club isn't the place for this. For the record, you should feel free to leave. I'm fine in here.”
“Funny man. I wonder if you'll be laughing when we kick your ass.”
Hunter rolled his eyes. “Damn, you talk a lot.”
He didn't waste any more time. One slamming punch to the side of the talker's head. The hit had the guy spinning. Hunter launched again. A second shot to the temple and the guy went down. Slipped bonelessly to the floor.
Not really looking to leave a pile of bodies behind him in Paris, Hunter crouched, feeling for a pulse. The thump was steady, which proved that him acing the takedown part of training all those years ago hadn't been a fluke. He'd been using the skills ever since, but it was easy to go too far. This time he hadn't.
One to go.
Hunter stood up and looked at the other guy. The one who never moved or said anything. He still waited there. Hadn't shifted an inch. Hadn't tried to help his friend either, which Hunter found
Hunter looked the guy up and down, doing a weapons count. Late twenties, black, and attractive. Chiseled features and smooth skin. In a different type of bar on another night, many months ago, Hunter might have sized him up and made a move. Right now his priorities were different and his interest, no matter how much he tried to stop it, centered on one guy. Not this one.
“What about you?” he asked, ready to go for round three.
The guy shrugged. “I prefer using a gun.”
“Smart.” Hunter slipped one out of the holster at his side. “Me too.”
The guy didn't get all twitchy. Didn't even look concerned. “We could do this the nice way.”
“What's the âthis' in that sentence?”
“I'm not known for being nice, but I believe he's talking about me,” Will Rivers said as he opened the nearest closed door, the one to room number five.
For a second Hunter just stared. He found it hard not to. It had been that way since the first time he saw Will at his family's massive London countryside compound, just home from getting his fancy degree. All shiny and happy from six years of college and whatever other education he'd wasted his time on. He'd lacked the air of entitlement possessed by the rest of his family but still reeked of wealth.
Then, like now, dressed in black pants and a long-sleeved shirt with a simple but very expensive watch. Dark-rimmed glasses and a perfect face, one that could be in magazines. He had a runner's body and maintained the discipline to endure long distances every day. Broad-shouldered, trim waist, in shape, and a constant temptation.
Hunter had never wavered off course in an assignment and he hadn't this time, but his common sense had taken a beating. More than once he'd mentally run through a pro/con list of having sex with the one person in the Rivers family who might not be a nasty piece of shit.
“About time you appeared.” Hunter tried to ignore the relief flowing through him at having tracked Will down before other intelligence agencies, other countries, could.
“You were busy doingâ¦this.” Will gestured to the two men on the ground. “You're putting on quite a show out here.”
Hunter shrugged. “I aim to please.”
“I've been looking for you.”
That was news to Hunter. “You could have called.”
Will smiled. “But this way was so much more fun.”
The words, that lookâ¦Hunter hated playful, flirty Will. That version of Will tested Hunter's resolve. That one had him believing only the older Rivers siblings were involved in the family business of international kidnapping and murder for hire.
Turned out killing for sport was a lucrative business. On the outside, the Rivers family appeared to be perfect. Attractive, with the right looks and clothing. They attended few parties and even then never made a scene. They stayed out of the press, never caused public trouble, and had powerful connections.
They owned an impressive townhouse in London and a sprawling compound outside of it, or they had until Hunter and agents with the Special Activities Division, the special ops branch of the CIA, blew it up. After, the CIA covered up the firefight, using the news media to spread the story about a massive explosion caused by a previously unknown gas leak under the main building on the grounds. No one but those with clearance, a very few in some government intelligence agencies, knew the Rivers family was anything other than what it seemed.
The father, the old man who'd branched off the family business and turned it into a killing machine, had already been on his deathbed at the time of the explosion and didn't survive the fire. The sister, Stacia, was also dead, killed by CIA officers during the explosion. Peter wasâ¦well, big brother could be anywhere.
And Will was very much alive and unscathed and standing right in front of Hunter.
The quiet guard with the gun finally moved. He took a step toward Hunter as he talked to Will. “I'll take his weapon.”
Will held up a hand. “Don't bother. He'll have more than one.”
“I can search him.”
“Not necessary.” Will opened the door behind him to the small private room. “If anyone's going to touch Hunter, it's going to be me.”
Hunter ignored the comment and focused on the room. He could see plush couches stacked with pillows and a table with one lone glass on it. What he didn't see was a secondary way out.
With the quick surveillance done he circled back to the innuendo. “You'll have to buy me a drink first.”
Will gestured for Hunter to go inside. “You may need one by the time we're done.”
“I've missed you, too.” He said it with a load of sarcasm but it was the truth. Hunter hated that part.
Will's smile only grew wider. “Let's see if you're saying that twenty minutes from now.”