Secrets can get you killed in this riveting story in the SCVC Taskforce romantic suspense series by USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Misty Evans.
He killed her best friend when they were only girls…but she got away.
Now he’s hunting her again.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “It was hot and sexy and real at the same time.” ~ Amy, So Many Reads book blogger
Nearing midnight, Brooke sat in his Jeep as Roman covertly finished signing off with the locals, Feds, and Cooper Harris. Harris’s taskforce had been working on a budding crime syndicate from Guatemala that had teamed up with MS-13 and he’d called Roman to see if he still had contacts inside the vicious Mexican gang. Not only did he still have a CI inside, he knew exactly which one wanted out of MS-13 and would flip on them.
He just hadn’t realized Cornell and his biker gang had expanded their territory until he’d seen the man and his goons enter the bar.
In the end, however, Roman had saved Augie and taken down Cornell, who was still alive but not going back to his gang anytime soon. Both men would receive medical care, and Augie would get off with a light sentence if he helped Harris and his team with info on the Guatemalan gang.
“Thanks, man.” Harris slapped Roman on the shoulder. They stood out of sight of the cop cars and bystanders. Since Roman couldn’t publicly take credit for Cornell without blowing his undercover identity, Harris would get the credit.
Works for me. “Augie’s not a bad kid, just mixed up in this crap because it’s been part of his family for generations. Try not to get him killed.”
Harris tilted his chin in Heaton’s direction. Roman’s Jeep was in the corner of the parking lot, away from prying eyes. “Sure she’s okay?”
One of Harris’s taskforce members, Ronni Punto, was in the Jeep talking to Brooke. They’d worked together, Dr. Heaton consulting on several SCVC Taskforce cases involving violent crimes and religious terrorists. Roman was just a little jealous. “I offered to have her checked out and she refused. Claims she’s fine and just wants to go back to her hotel.”
Which sounded perfect to him, even though he had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting himself invited to her room.
“If she were working a case for me,” Harris said, “I’d require a psych eval. The good doctor is a tough cookie, but she’s not a field agent. Being shot at is not in her usual line of duty.”
“That’s just it, she’s not on the DTT. I can’t require her to do anything.”
Harris frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “She wasn’t working with you tonight? And here, I thought you’d stolen her from me, which by the way, sort of pissed me off.”
Roman shook his head. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Harris. She’s doing a lecture circuit at SDSU. Apparently, she came out with some of her nerd friends tonight and bam. Right time, wrong place.”
“Didn’t you try recruiting her?”
“Tried, yes. I need her on The Reverend case, but she won’t take my calls.”
“Huh.” Harris grinned good-naturedly. “She always takes mine.”
The jealousy in Roman’s stomach amped up a notch. “She doesn’t seem to like me, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.”
“You saved her life, tonight.” Harris winked. “My guess? She’ll be more than happy to take your calls now.”
Roman’s mood lifted as he gazed at the car. “You think?”
Harris chuckled. “I sense that you’d like Dr. Heaton to do more than consult on your taskforce.”
Boy, would he. “If my Bruce Willis act tonight didn’t seal the deal, nothing else will.”
“Take it from me, she’s more of an Indiana Jones kind of gal. You might try that instead.”
Indiana Jones, huh? Roman stuck out his hand. “Thanks for the tip.”
Harris shook it. “Good luck, man, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy about sharing her.”
As Harris walked away, Agent Punto emerged from the car and headed toward Roman. She slowed as she neared him, but didn’t stop. “She’s totally lying about being okay.”
“Is she hurt?”
“She’s freaked.” Punto stopped a few feet away, watching two Feds talking near the crime scene tape. “You need to put her to work.”
“Contrary to popular opinion, she’s not on my taskforce.”
“Then get her on it,” Punto said. “She needs a case to get her mind off what happened here tonight, and we don’t have any that require her expertise at the moment. If she sits in her hotel room and stews, she’ll never feel safe helping any of us again.”
She shot him one searing look and went to join Harris.
Roman turned back to his vehicle and saw Brooke in the front seat, staring at him. Her hair had come loose from the bun and curly strands grazed her shoulders. She looked shell-shocked. Or was that her pissed expression?
What choice did he have? One way or another, he was going to get Dr. Brooke Heaton into bed with him.
Figuratively speaking, of course.
Roman Walsh had just saved her life.
Brooke’s head swam, her ears still ringing from the gunshots inside the bar. Ronni—sweetheart that she was—thought Brooke’s brain fog was the result of hitting her head, or maybe shock.
Shock was a possibility, but she had not hit her head. Dr. Walsh had made sure of that, his strong, capable hands cradling her skull after he’d jerked her off her feet.
All of her SDSU compatriots were safe. Scared, but not injured, outside of a few cuts and bruises from the mass exodus.
As Roman headed to the car, she saw the normal swagger in his step was off ever so slightly. The flashing lights from patrol cars and two ambulances silhouetted his lean but muscled frame. He glanced at her through the windshield as he approached, then his gaze darted away and he scanned the area around them.
The memory of his body against hers, his lips murmuring in her ear, sent a shiver down Brooke’s spine.
She’d never dreamed she would be held in those strong arms of his, much less hugging him tight and curling a leg around him, but that’s exactly what had happened. She’d lost her ever-loving mind, her body betraying her as bullets rained down, and her nice, comfortable world had become one she didn’t recognize.
“I don’t know whether to thank you for saving my life,” she said as Roman climbed into the driver’s seat, “or be appalled at the way you yanked me off my feet in there.”
“Too Cro-Magnon for you?” He grinned with all the nerve of a confident, egotistical shark.
“I caught you, didn’t I?” He started the car, the rumble of the Jeep dropping into a solid purr. “And I did warn you to exit the premises before the shooting began.”
“Yes, I had all of three seconds to do so. Thank you so much.”
His face glowed blue from the tricked out dashboard. “Are you seriously pissed at me right now?”
She held up her lone shoe. “You owe me a new pair of Steve Maddens. My other one is still in the bar.”
“I’ll take you shopping tomorrow. What time do the stores open? We can grab breakfast on the way.” He put the car in drive. “On one condition, of course.”
Oh, boy. Like she didn’t know what that was. “No.”
Seemed like that was one of the few words she didn’t have any trouble saying to him tonight.
His gaze swung her way. “Come work for me, Dr. Heaton. I need you—your expertise.”
And, oh that irritating grin was more than her heart could handle after the recent shock of the shooting.
I need you. The words sent her pulse skipping as erratically as when she’d been shot at.
A part of her wanted to smile back, maybe even grab him and kiss him to say thank you. The other part—the sane good girl, professional academic—wanted to whack him a couple times with her shoe. “I’ll send you the bill for the new pair of shoes I pick out. On my own.”
The grin fell. He shook his head and sighed, pulling out of his space. “Why won’t you consult for the West Coast DTT?”
Because you scare the hell out of me. “I’m about to leave for a dig.” The excuse came easy. “Besides, you have plenty of experts on your team.”
He drove them out of the parking lot and away from the pulsating red and blue lights, quiet for several blocks. “Are you really that vain?”
Vain? “Are you really that rude? Why would you say such a thing?”
“You won’t consider working for me because I have other experts on my taskforce? Your ego needs the spotlight that bad?”
Brooke squeezed the shoe in her hand so tightly her fingers cramped. “Rejecting your offer has nothing to do with my ego. I’m more than happy to work with the caliber of experts on your taskforce. Your ego, however, could be one of the reasons I’ve repeatedly declined your offer in the nicest way possible. Since that has been completely ineffective, let me state my refusal more clearly: no way in hell will I work for you.”
“With me,” he corrected. “You wouldn’t work for me, Dr. Heaton, only with me.”
“Your ego can’t handle it.”
He chuckled. “My ego can handle anything you dish out, sweetheart. I welcome the challenge.”
The look he flashed her confirmed his statement, his eyes made even more intently blue in the dashboard light. The shoe clenched in her fingers didn’t get a reprieve, but her solid grip was for an entirely new reason.
The devil on her shoulder liked this cat-and-mouse game. Liked how Roman was as at ease trading banter with her as he was saving her from a rain of bullets.
I need you.
How long had she waited to hear those words? From anyone?
Plus, she was actually talking to him while in the close confines of his car where she could smell the not intolerable scent of coffee and male sweat under the alcohol he must have splashed onto his shirt to convince his contacts that he was drunk. Maybe if she kept him on his toes and their dialogue laced with her honest irritation at him, she could stop feeling like a ridiculous teenage girl.
“You may enjoy a verbal sparring match, Dr. Walsh, but I find most of them to be tedious and unnecessary.”
“Is that so, Dr. Heaton?”
He was just as mouthwateringly gorgeous in profile as he was full on. The right side of his mouth quirked as if he were holding back another insouciant grin. He may have been reining in the smile, but his voice was full of mocking humor.
All right. Walsh wasn’t the only one who liked a good challenge. She was known for her stubbornness. “Look, Dr. Wa—”
“Call me Roman. I did, after all, save your life less than an hour ago.”
He wasn’t going to let her forget that she owed him. The tiniest bit of guilt sizzled in her belly.
I do owe him.
She dropped her head back against the headrest. She’d love to call him by his first name, but that evoked a level of friendship, an intimacy, they didn’t share, regardless of his heroic act in the bar. “Even if my current work schedule wasn’t already maxed, providing consulting services to the DTT would present a challenge for me. I’m already consulting with the SCVC Taskforce when needed. There could be a…conflict of interest.”
“Conflict of interest?” He snorted. “Cooper Harris and I are on the same page. Our cases often overlap and we share resources, just like tonight. Thomas Mann’s CI inside the MS-13 group recently went missing so I stepped in and used mine. Yes, Harris and I report to different directors, but we’re all on the same side.”
Arguing with him was getting her nowhere and they were nearly to her hotel. “Why me?”
The question seemed to catch him off guard, which was exactly what she’d intended. “Why not you?”
“No, I mean it. Why me specifically? Why are you so determined to get me on your team?”
She wasn’t sure what she expected to hear, and she watched his expression intently to see if he had to comb through the reasons.
He didn’t. As he pulled into the hotel lot, he put the Jeep in park and turned to her. “You’re the best on the West Coast, Dr. Heaton, in all areas of your expertise. Maybe in the entire country.” He gave her that irritating grin once more and took the Madden from her hand as he leaned in close. “And I only ever allow the very best on my team.”
Before she could respond—she was once more speechless anyway—his phone rang.
The Jeep’s in-dash nav system was linked to his cell by Bluetooth. The sexy nav voice told him the incoming call was from Polly. Did he want to answer?
Polly, of course. Probably his girlfriend. Brooke reached for door latch. “Thanks for the ride.”
She started to get out, but the door was locked. A hand landed on her arm as he answered the phone.
“What’s up, P?”
The woman’s voice sounded young, a little anxious. “You okay, boss? We heard about the gunfight with Merton.”
“All limbs intact, although I’m on the hook for a pair of shoes by some guy named Steve Madden.”
“O-kay. I can help you with that if you need it.” Her confusion vanished and she went into business mode once more. “We’ve had another incident, looks like the work of The Rev.”
“Shit.” Roman shook his head, his hand on the steering wheel balling into a fist. “What happened?”
As Polly, obviously from the DTT, relayed the details of a massacre at a small church just outside the city limits, Roman put the Jeep back in gear, his face grim.
“At least thirty dead, half of them children.” Polly said softly. “All were undocumented. One of the victims left a suicide video on his phone, detailing what they were doing. He referred to The Reverend as Pastor Luke.”
Brooke’s stomach churned. Roman punched the steering wheel. “Send the address to me. I’m on my way.”
He disconnected, then turned to Brooke. In the depths of his eyes, she saw the distress at the deaths of thirty-some people, including children, underlined with determination to find their killer. “Have you heard of The Reverend?”
She’d heard of him all right. He was a serial killer targeting those in the area whom he considered ‘unclean.’
Twenty years ago, she’d gotten up close and personal with the same sort of man.
“Just drive,” she said. Whether she wanted to or not, she was about to help the DTT tonight. “I’m going with you.”
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