Iniquus is an elite, top secret group run by some of America's most formidable retired special forces operators. Their jobs include intelligence gathering, hostage recovery, and taking on black-ops assignments when the US government needs plausible deniability.
One of their newest intelligence hires is Lexi Sobado, code named Lynx. While Lynx tries to make a name for herself as a the only female operative on the team, a new neighbor moves into her neighborhood — their pasts are dangerously linked together.
Lynx becomes a pawn in a deadly international game, is kidnapped, and flown out of the country.
Driven by their iron clad determination and fierce loyalty, Lynx's team, led by Striker, is tasked with finding Lynx. While they are used to saving strangers, this time they are trying to save one of their own.
Release date: May 21, 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 385
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I strained against the seat belt, leaning forward with impatience, as if by weight and will I could get us there faster. My fingers drummed anxiously on the car door. I wanted to be at the airport now; I had waited more than a year to see my mentor, Spyder McGraw, and hear his rolling thunder laugh.
Striker slid his eyes toward me then refocused on the road. A little smile played across his lips. “You think that screaming like a Hellhound through Washington is going to get Spyder off his plane any faster?”
Striker Rheas took up a lot of space. His silken rusty-brown hair with its tight military cut brushed the roof; his shoulders — powerfully built from his days in Special Ops Forces — spread wide against the seat back. His bearing was always calm, and capable – sometimes too much so. And while I obviously amused him right now, he was pissing me off. I answered him with my best withering stare and turned to the window as he drove sedately through the city streets.
The snow outside fell in big light flakes, powdering the trees and cars, making the road shiny and slick. DC traffic was non-existent this morning. Everything had shut down for Christmas.
Striker pulled into Reagan International Airport’s parking deck and set the brake. I narrowed my eyes so he would know not to hedge. “At least give me a hint. What kind of assignment are we going to be working on?”
There it was again, the glimmer of amusement. “I’ve told you everything I’ve got. I’ll be finding out the same time you do.”
“Okay, then where’s Spyder coming in from?”
Striker released his seatbelt and swiveled toward me. “He flew his last leg from Dallas - DC” He held up his hands. “I swear that’s all the information I know.”
“This is a little surreal.” I pushed a blond curl behind my ear. “One minute I’m starting new classes at the University, and the next you’re handing me my gear to take down some bad-guy. I had a plan.”
“Plans change. Seems serendipitous — Spyder reappearing just as you wanted to head out the door.” He flashed a smile. I loved Striker’s smiles — slightly crooked, hint of dimples, straight white teeth. His smiles started in his warm green eyes where the flecks of gold danced. They disarmed me, but I wanted my armor up.
I arched a brow. “I think perhaps you used more bullying and less serendipity to change my heart. Maybe a little bribery?”
“Incentivizing, Lynx. You wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to serve your country – and, of course, to work with Spyderman.”
I got out of the car. The wind whipped the skirt of my Christmas-red cocktail dress around my legs. I was still dressed from the party last night. After the guests left, Striker surprised me with the news about Spyder coming home. Since my parents had passed away, Spyder took on a bigger role than playing my mentor; he became my other dad. Spyder’s homecoming was the best Christmas gift ever. Well, that and the beautiful gold brooch Striker gave me under the mistletoe – along with the kind of kiss that should end every great romance novel. The kind that promises a happily-ever-after.
Ah, if life were only that simple. I didn’t need a fairytale ending. Right now, I just wanted to regain my balance. And truth be told, Striker wasn’t looking for fairytales, either.
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that kiss. Striker was his job. He was a highly effective operative dedicated to protecting national security. Everything was secondary. Everyone was secondary. Would I change that? No. Could I live with it? Hmmm. I tried before with Angel, and that ended about as badly as anything could end. If Striker wanted a relationship with me, he’d want it on his own terms. He hadn’t articulated his parameters to me. Probably because he knew I wouldn’t like them.
I tightened the belt around my short wool coat as Striker walked over to my side. His eyes caught mine. He tilted his head with that assessing look of his. “That’s a curious expression, Lynx. What were you just thinking?”
I smiled up at him. “That the décolleté on this party dress might be a little inappropriate for Christmas morning.”
Striker grinned. “You’re probably right, but I’m not complaining. I think you’re beautiful.” He planted a light kiss at my hair line, entwined his fingers with mine, and we walked toward the terminal.
Even in my heels, Striker’s six-foot-three frame towered above me. His Irish cable knit sweater and pair of 501s accentuated everything a girl could want accentuated. His assets weren’t lost on the woman passing us, pulling her carry-on behind her. She turned to give his rear an appreciative glance, clearly enjoying the view. Pretty tactless — the man was holding my hand, and she didn’t know we weren’t a couple.
In the waiting area, I shed my coat and paced in front of our seats, wringing my hands. Impatience and excitement made me hot and twitchy.
“If you get any warmer, there isn’t much left to shed, Lynx.” Striker stretched out his long legs and slouched back in the hard plastic chair.
“It’s Lexi. I don’t use my call name when I’m off the clock.”
Striker’s eyes moved over my dress. The low cut bodice showed off my full breasts and cinched tight at the waist like a starlet from the fifties. I felt flirtatious and sexy when I danced at the party. The skirt ballooned out as I spun around showing off legs toned from years of running and martial arts.
“What if he’s late? Did you check and make sure he made his flight?” I pulled my hair back into a ponytail to get it out of my face. “I should take another peek at the board, maybe there’s been a delay.”
“That’s fine. You go do that.”
I focused down the hall where the flight board stood. “I can’t.” I plopped down beside him. “My feet hurt too badly.”
“I will never understand why a woman does that to herself.”
“You think my high-heels are sexy, don’t you?” I straightened my leg for him to see.
“And that’s why I wear them.” I kicked off my shoes. The cold floor eased the ache. I didn’t care too much about propriety, since we were almost the only people at the airport. “They make my legs long and my butt perky. I like dressing girly and pretty.” Actually, looking young, cute, and approachable made my job a whole lot easier. Being discounted as a piece of fluff let me go places, and do things, that would normally set off alarms.
Striker wrapped his arm around my shoulders pulling me to him. “I totally agree with the girly and pretty part, Chica,” he whispered into my hair.
I pushed Striker off me and jumped to my feet. “Oh God, he needs our help.”
“Who does?” Striker rose beside me his eyes scanning the room for a threat. “What are you talking about?”
I hopped on one foot, cramming my shoe on to the other one. Striker cupped my elbow to hold me steady.
“Spyder. I heard him say it in my head.” I tapped my finger to my temple as I came upright.
Striker’s body shifted. His muscles tightened and the laughter left his eyes. “You heard this ESP-wise?”
A disembodied voice over the loudspeaker announced Spyder’s flight was deplaning.
I didn’t bother answering Striker. Of course ESP-wise. Why else would I be hearing voices in my head?
I grabbed up my coat and purse and ran toward the security gate. The passengers coming up looked rumpled and droopy eyed. I, on the other hand, was chomping at the bit, eagerly searching the crowd.
Normally, Spyder McGraw stood flag-pole tall and thin. The contrast between his white teeth and midnight, blue-black skin was startling, and the only distinctive thing about him. He shaved his head and wore non-descript clothes. Spyder liked to blend.
There! The last one off. His tall frame loomed in the back behind the swarm. His shoulders bowed uncharacteristically as he moved forward zombie-like.
With my focus glued to Spyder’s face, I pushed through the crush of travelers leaving the security gate. The guards jumped up from their posts – my actions drawing their attention, but I didn’t care. I had to help Spyder. One guard grabbed at my arm. His other hand popped the snap on his holster. Striker brandished his Iniquus ID, and the guards fell back.
I swam forward against the current of travelers until I could reach Spyder. The deadly strong arms, that I knew so well, hung lifelessly by his sides. I pulled him in to a hug. Sweat glistened his face, and his body trembled against mine. I reached up and touched his head; the heat wavered off his skin in almost visible pulses.
“I need a wheelchair.” I commanded the guards whom I caught in my peripheral vision. They had braced for action mere inches away. My focus never left Spyder’s face. “Spyder, you’re burning up.”
He mouthed, “Malaria,” and keeled over.
Striker lunged for him but couldn’t get a good hold from over my shoulder. I dropped to the ground to protect Spyder’s head from the tile floor.
The guards pushed passengers out of the way.
“Call an ambulance!” I shouted and struggled out from underneath Spyder.
He was conscious, but his eyes were glassy and unfixed. I patted his face and called his name. He didn’t even try to respond or focus on me. Striker loosened Spyder’s clothes at the neck and waist.
Grabbing my purse, I upended it, searching frantically through the debris to find the extra diabetic supply kit I carried for when I babysat my neighbor’s little girl, Jilly-bean.
With shaking hands, I grasped Spyder’s finger. I have done blood checks about a thousand times as a volunteer EMT, but my training whispered from deep in my brain - muffled by the storm clouds of my emotions. Memories of the night my dad and I were in the car accident swamped my mind. I knelt exactly like this, on the side of the road, holding my dad’s head and praying the same prayer, “Please be okay, please be okay,” even though it was obviously too late for him.
The number on the meter came up low. Way too low. Verge of coma low. “Think,” I commanded myself as I reached blindly for the glucose gel from my purse jumble.
“Striker, hold him still.” My EMT voice sounded focused and in charge. Where did that come from? I felt everything but professional; I felt gelatinous. “When I give Spyder this glucose, he won’t understand what’s going on. He’ll fight for his life.”
Striker fastened down on Spyderman’s wrists. Straddling him, Striker used his weight as leverage.
Kneeling, my thighs clamped like a vice by Spyder’s ears to restrain him and protect his head. His chest didn’t rise or fall. Horror jetted through my veins. I put my cheek toward his face to reassure myself that he was still breathing. Spyder’s exhale whispered against my skin. My breath blew as thinly as his. My legs and feet burned and tingled from lack of oxygen. “Breathe deeper!” I ordered as much for Spyder as for myself.
By muscle memory and not from conscious thought, I held Spyder’s nose until he unclenched his teeth and parted his lips. I stuck the tube into his mouth and squirted the glucose down his throat. I used all of my leg strength to protect his head, and to keep him in place while I squeezed the gungy gel. As he fought, glucose smeared everywhere.
Striker wrestled Spyderman down like they were on the Olympic mats, going for a gold medal. I knew Striker would have to. Once I watched Spyder lift a man twice his weight and throw him like a rag doll. Spyder had long thin limbs made of steel.
I had tunnel vision. Nothing existed but Striker, me, Spyder and the red goo. As I worked, I chanted my mantra. Each inhale was a “Please.” Each exhale, “Be okay.” “Please, be okay.” Like the Little Engine-Who-Could cheerleading itself through the crisis. “Please, be okay.”
I startled when the security guard crouched beside me.
“The rescue squad’s in the building, ma’am; they’ll be here in a minute.”
“Grab more gel and pop the top off for me.” I pointed at the tube with my chin. The guard put it in my hand and waited for further instructions.
“Hold his legs down.”
The security guard looked dubious but did as I said.
I was squirting the second tube of glucose into Spyder’s mouth, as the paramedics rushed over with a gurney. I knew one of the guys, Chuck; I recognized him from my volunteer-training. The sight of him buoyed me. We had resources now and trained support. I put on a costume of competence. My teeth stopped chattering; my hands stopped shaking.
“What’ve you got here, Lexi?” Chuck asked, setting his equipment bag beside me.
“Forty-five-year-old male, with no history of heart problems, weak vitals, reporting a recurrence of malaria. High fever. Exhibiting signs of hypoglycemia. I checked with a meter I had. It read 29. I have most of one tube of gel in, and I’m working on the second one. If you’ve got any more, we could probably use it.”
Chuck opened his case, grabbed a tube, and pulled off the plastic top. He laid it beside me and took out his official blood glucose meter. He swabbed Spyderman’s finger, with Striker’s help.
“22. He’s not coming up, yet. He’s thrashing too much to try to run a line with dextrose. We may want to use a Glucagon shot.” Chuck rummaged in his supply kit.
I caught Chuck’s eye. “Since he’s not unconscious yet, let’s see if I can get enough gel in to calm him down, then we can put him on the gurney and strap him down for the IV.”
He nodded. “We’ll work your plan. Let me get more gels out. He’s spitting most of it on you.” Chuck pulled a handful of tubes from his kit.
* * *
I was covered in gel; Spyder was covered in gel. It took every single tube the paramedics had brought with them to get Spyder stable. While Spyder became lucid, the EMTs wiped him off and loaded him on to the gurney. I sat on the floor and watched – nerves vibrating.
Chuck tapped his pen against the clipboard. “Malaria. How’d you know to check for hypoglycemia, Lex?”
Spyder had contracted malaria when he was in Africa supporting a DEVGRU operation. It was Striker who carried him out of the jungle to safety. When Spyder returned home to recover, I made sure that I knew everything I could about the disease. I wasn’t about to lose another loved one. Not if I could help it. “I don’t know,” I said. “I must have read something about it along the way. Quinine and hypoglycemia…”
Chuck nodded. “Do you have a name and address?”
“His name is…” And I stopped. I didn’t know his name. He was like a father to me, but the only name I’ve ever associated with him was his call name, Spyder — or as Iniquus baptized him “Spyderman” since Striker and Spyder sound the same over the airwaves. I had no idea what his legal name was. I searched out Striker’s eyes, and he shrugged.
“His name is Mr. McGraw. He’s just back in the country. I don’t know where he traveled in from. He’ll be living with me.” I gave Chuck my contact information.
“Are you following us to the hospital?” Chuck placed a kit between Spyder’s legs on the gurney. His partner attached the IV bag of dextrose and saline onto a support arm.
“Yes,” I said from my place on the floor.
“Okay, he’s packaged for transport, so we’re going to head on. We’re taking him to Suburban; dispatch says they have a pathologist on call this morning. I’ll catch up with you at Emergency. It’s good to see you again, Lexi. Sorry it’s under these circumstances.”
I slowly gathered the contents of my purse back together. Striker helped me to my feet and held me steady until I caught my balance.
“You’re sticky.” He moved his hands out and away so as not to spread the goop any farther.
“Yeah, let’s wash up, and then we can go,” I said.
The shock my body was processing pushed me beyond exhaustion. I shambled into the ladies’ room and stood in front of the mirror. Not girly. Not pretty. Not even approachable. I was one big fat mess. Red slime in my hair, on my dress, up and down my arms. My mascara had run with the tears down my cheeks, leaving black rivulets. I did my best to wash off, took a deep breath, and headed back to the car with Striker. He opened the passenger-side door for me. I sat down, but couldn’t swing my legs in. I stopped for a minute.
“You okay?” Striker crouched beside me.
“Ha! My legs are shaking from that workout. Spyder fought like a madman.”
Striker put his warm hands on my thighs and slowly massaged them up and down. I reached out and grabbed his wrists, his hands caught under my skirt. I swirled with emotions - too many feelings in one big rush; they made my head spin. “Please don’t.” The last wayward tear slid past my lashes and got stuck beside my nose.
“Lynx, I was trying to help - I wasn’t thinking.” Striker said earnestly.
“Not your fault. I’m just - it’s too much. My emotions have been doing cart-wheels since the party.”
“It’s been a hell of a morning for you.” Striker looked deeply into my eyes. His calm confidence steadied me. “Okay, Chica?”
Striker slowly brushed a stray lock of hair back, kissed the tear from beside my lips, and walked around to the driver’s side.
I hauled the door shut with the last of my energy. “I’m exhausted.”
Striker slid under the wheel. “It was a hell of a fight for first thing in the morning.”
“What I want to know is why Spyder would chance travelling in that condition. You spoke to him — he said nothing about his being on death’s door-step?”
“All he said was, ‘I’m coming in for Christmas, gear up, I need help beheading the Hydra.”
“My thought, exactly.” Striker warmed me with a smile, pulled his belt across his chest, and steered down the early morning streets with his normal calm – which, as usual, drove me absolutely crazy.
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