by Lora Leigh
wn what she had looked like. She had used a fake passport and credentials, and she had none of her own contacts there. She hadn’t reached out to any of her uncle’s contacts either.
So how had they known not only where she was, but also who she was pretending to be at the time?
She’d had a feeling she had been betrayed then, but only her men had known where she was that day, and what she was doing. No one else had known, and she sure as hell hadn’t given up her location herself.
Her thoughts were cut off as the elevator door opened, depositing them out into the busy lobby of the hotel.
“Too damned bad that fucker Brandenmore died,” Malcolm muttered behind her. “We could have just beaten the information out of him.”
That had been Malcolm’s suggestion from the beginning. Hell, his Christmas wish had been for two minutes with the dead man to ensure he suffered before he killed him again.
A grown man who still made Christmas wishes. It never failed to amuse her.
Just as the thought of Brandenmore never failed to piss her off.
Brandenmore had been in bed with the Genetics Council well before he’d even realized it. His father and his grandfather both had supported the Genetics Council and hoped to benefit from the experiments and creations the Council had conceived.
Through his connection to them and the revelation of the aging retardation with Breed matings, Brandenmore had been drawn in to research the phenomenon.
A phenomenon he had found reason to suspect could not only retard aging but would also cure any human diseases the human mate may have.
Once any female child given the serum hit puberty, Brandenmore had theorized, then she would possess the ability to mate with any Breed as well. That the serum would slow her aging once she hit her sexual maturity, cure any disease, and also ensure Breed hybrid conception and possibly help Brandenmore find the cure to the cancer that ran in his family
Which wasn’t exactly true, as Diane understood it. Mating heat did much more than Brandenmore’s serum, and much less, if his files and the information Rachel had given her were anything to go by.
Breeds mated for life, Rachel had told her. The Breeds known to have lost a mate and survived that loss lived sad, miserable lives. The serum wasn’t a mating. It couldn’t ease or cure a mating. And in Brandenmore’s case, it had caused a painful and horrifying death.
“Wyatt is sending a car for us,” Aaron informed her as they crossed the lobby and headed for the front exit. “It’s supposed to be waiting outside the hotel.”
Diane nodded rather than making the scathing comment she would have at any other time.
This meeting with Jonas was too important to chance any transportation other than the Bureau’s. She just hoped he had gotten the hint and found a way to distract her men before the meeting began.
“One of my contacts called last night.” Thor leaned close as the other men moved ahead. “I need to meet with him tonight. He may have some information where General Roberts and his daughter are concerned.”
She glanced up at him, suddenly aware of the fact that he was ensuring no one heard him but her.
“How reliable is your contact?” she asked Thor, once again patting herself on the back for making him her lieutenant. If what he was telling her were the truth and not a betrayal.
He’d become an information magnet since achieving the small raise in pay. Suspicion aside, he had never failed to find whatever they needed, no matter the mission they were on.
“Reliable,” he said softly. “But I’d prefer to keep this between us for the moment. No sense in disappointing the others while they’re dreaming of vacations,” he snorted.
Diane forced a grin, though she had to admit, the others were anticipating that vacation if Jonas himself hadn’t learned anything.
Would a man determined to betray her be so eager to escape her presence?
“Let me know when you leave,” she told him quietly. “Do you need backup?”
“I shouldn’t,” he answered. “But I’ll let you know once I check a few things out.”
That was odd for Thor. He rarely went without backup, and never had she seen that dark glimmer of suspicion that she saw in his eyes now. Despite the excuses he was giving, there were other reasons he wasn’t informing the others of the meeting he was setting up. Looking at each man, she couldn’t imagine any of them betraying her, though she knew, to the soles of her feet, she knew someone had betrayed her in Syria. She also knew she was being watched in the past months. That suspicion, an itch at the back of her neck, wouldn’t go away.
Moving through the exit, Diane paused, her gaze moving up and down the crowded D.C. street as a frown began to pull at her brow.
Jonas was never late, and neither were his Enforcers or drivers.
“Car’s not here,” Thor muttered, his confusion and his concern evident in his voice as well.
“Traffic jam maybe?” Malcolm queried as he too began to tense.
Diane felt it then, that peculiar itch at the back of her neck, that early warning that wasn’t so early.
Riding fast on its heels was the feeling of having a target painted on her head. Right between her eyes. A finger on the trigger and that finger wasn’t going to wait.
Live by the sword, die by the sword, she’d once read. When the hunter became experienced enough, they became immediately aware of becoming the hunted. Her uncle had told her that just weeks before he was killed in that warehouse explosion.
She wasn’t just being watched. She wasn’t just being tracked. That finger was literally tightening on the trigger.
“Move!” She screamed the order even as her gaze was whipping around, ascertaining the innocents in the line of fire as she moved to push one older lady to the safety of the hotel doors.
The sound of the bullet whipping past her head was a whine of danger and death just before it exploded into the cement and stone wall of the building behind her.
Screams began to ricochet around the sidewalk as another burst of gunfire sounded and it began raining bullets. Cries of shock and fear began to fill the busy early-morning crowd that rushed to work or errands. They were now rushing to save their lives as another barrage of automatic gunfire began to spatter through the busy streets.
Car horns were sounding, the crash of metal against metal and the screams of hysteria echoed through her head as she scrambled to pull a terrified teenager from the side of the street and into the hotel entrance.
Diane was scrambling for the entrance, holding the door open as she pushed the kid in, then watched Malcolm and Thor suddenly grab Aaron under the arm as a bloom of red began to soak the fabric of his slacks over his thigh.
“Move! Move!” Diane yelled to the bystanders, ducking as the large window at her side exploded and glass began to rain around her.
The bastard was shooting at her.
She was only distantly aware of the shouts, sirens and more gunfire.
It was a crowded street no more than blocks away from the White House. The immediate response that would converge on the area would be thick with secret service, ATF, FBI and any other law enforcement alphabet agency currently based in the city.
But the bullets were still whining as Diane yelled at Thor to move his ass while she dragged a young professional through the door and hysteria threatened to overwhelm the young woman.
As she turned, searching for her men to ensure they had made it to safety, she was suddenly grabbed around the waist, hauled against a hard chest and tossed through the entrance as shards of cement exploded around her. The side of the building where her head had been looked like an iron fist had slammed inside it. Then she was flying through the air and thumping against a hard chest on the lobby floor.
“Thor!” She was aware of Lawe jumping to his feet in a graceful feline move she highly envied as she rushed for the wounded Aaron. “How is he?”
“I’ll fucking live,” Aaron snarled, his rough face tight with pain and fury.
He was stretched out on the floor as Brick fashioned a quick tourniquet around his thigh with a belt.
Cries, shouted orders and Breeds were filling the area. Cold, hard-eyed, armed and swarming through the hotel and onto the street before disappearing entirely as Diane turned, her gaze going to Lawe in narrow-eyed knowledge.
“They were shooting at me.” And she wasn’t armed. “Dammit, I told Jonas I needed that public weapons permit.”
Anger suddenly suffused her as she stared around at the wounded, weeping and shocked victims that had found safety inside the hotel.
“What the fuck is going on? What did you find, Diane?” Lawe was suddenly in her face, his canines flashing, and for once, his icy blue eyes weren’t icy.
They were burning. An inner blue flame flickered inside his eyes burning hot and furious as he gripped her shoulders and gave her a tight little shake.
“The hell if I know,” she yelled back furiously as she jerked away from him and scrambled across the floor to her men. “Where was my driver? If Jonas had his shit together and my driver had been out there, then I wouldn’t have been fucking shot at and my men wouldn’t be wounded.”
Aaron wasn’t the only one who had been hit. Brick and Malcolm were both bleeding, though Aaron’s wounds appeared to be the worst.
All three had taken rounds in their legs. Aaron’s hit was in the thigh, Brick’s appeared to be a flesh wound, while Malcolm was tying off a tourniquet on his lower leg. None of the injuries were life threatening, but they were definitely enough to ground them for a good while.
Lawe grimaced, his expression savage as he once again stared around the room while the sound of sirens outside grew shrill. “The hell if I know, but I promise you I will find out.”
The sound of gunfire had ceased, as though with the chance of picking her off with one of the bullets gone, the shooter had found better things to do than play with his gun.
“How bad is it?” she questioned Thor as she moved closer to check out her men.
“Bad enough.” Disgust filled the behemoth’s voice. “All three of them are out of commission. They’ll be getting that vacation whether they want it or not.”
It also ensured if any of the three were attempting to follow, or betray her further, that their efforts would be delayed.
Aaron, Brick and Malcolm didn’t look happy either. They were glaring at her, lips pressed tightly together, their gazes shuttered. “What the fuck is going on, boss?” Aaron growled.
Diane gave a quick shake of her head. “I don’t know, Aaron, but I intend to find out.”
“You won’t be doing anything,” Lawe snapped behind her as his fingers suddenly gripped her arm, pulling her to a stop. “The five of you are out of this. The rest of you go home.” Then he turned to Thor. “Take Diane to Sanctuary. A heli-jet will be here within the hour to transport you there, and then the pilot will fly you wherever you need to go.”
Her gaze met Thor’s as Lawe began shouting orders to the Breeds still in the lobby. Most of those orders centered around protecting her.
She was aware of her men watching her. Brick, Aaron, Thor and Malcolm remained silent as she stared back at them.
She could feel the sudden distrust, see a glimmer of it in their gazes.
She wasn’t going to be protected. It had taken far too many years to prove to her men that she could lead them. That she could protect them.
Unfortunately, for the moment, she needed them away from her. Until she found out what was going on, it was for the best.
Lawe stalked away as though his orders were all that mattered.
“Boss?” Thor questioned her softly. “What do we do?”
“Sounds to me like we’re heading home.” Brick snorted as he shot her an accusing glare.
In that second, so easily, Lawe had damaged the very foundation of her life.
“Boss?” Thor asked again, his pale blue eyes narrowed.
“We haven’t found anything yet, Thor,” she stated, keeping her voice low. “If we don’t have more information before morning, then it sounds like vacation time.”
Her smile was tight. She felt icy inside. Frozen.
She knew where she was going. She didn’t have to turn over what she knew; it could wait. If she found who or what she was looking for, then she could call Jonas in. Perhaps by then she would know which of her men was the traitor. Not that there was a chance of gaining any help from them now. Lawe was another story.
How dare he think he could rule her life so easily? That he could make such decisions and force her to follow them.
“Since when do we obey Breeds?” Malcolm bit out furiously as Thor’s nostrils flared and Malcolm cursed under his breath, while Aaron laid back, his eyes closing in disgust.
She was very aware of their perception of her, but even more, Diane was aware of her perception of herself, and her determination to never be weak again. Let them believe Lawe could weaken her, for the moment anyway. Until she found out what she was dealing with and what the hell was going on, then it was for the best perhaps.
“Looks like we’re all taking a vacation,” she stated. “There’s nothing we can do with the three of you wounded anyway.” She nodded to the three stretched out on the floor.
“He’s weakened you,” Aaron muttered without opening his eyes. “Hell of a way to be taken out of the game.”
“Is that what you really think?” she asked, her chin lifting as she deliberately kept her voice soft, her expression clear.
“What else could I think?” he grunted, refusing to even give her the consideration of opening his eyes.
“You could think, ‘I hope you have a nice vacation, boss. See you when we’re all healed,’” she told him softly before informing him, “You’ll get your pay when we’re back to work.”
Once, long, long ago, she had been weak. She hadn’t been able to protect herself or Rachel, and she hadn’t been strong when it had mattered the most.
She had sworn it wouldn’t happen again.
Never again would she allow herself to be so weak and so dependent on someone else that if they failed her, then it could destroy her.
Hell, maybe she should