Misty Evans

Ryker Baptiste is one dangerous man. He’s also dead…

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★★★★★ “…this is one that belongs on every TBR shelf!” ~ Margaret, Goodreads reviewer

Man Hunt, SEALs of Shadow Force, Spy Division, Book 1

© 2018 Misty Evans

Research gives you the edge

Shadow Force International Headquarters

Beatrice tapped her Mont Blanc pen on her desktop. Parker had sent a text confirming she’d “successfully targeted and collected the item.”

Translation: Mia Shaine would be in the office momentarily for a face-to-face.

Convincing the former counterterrorism analyst to work for SFI wouldn’t be all that difficult since Beatrice’s profile on Mia showed clear triggers to push for motivation. Her sister, her parents, her guilt. Any of them provided sufficient leverage, the combination of all three guaranteed success.

She punched a button on her phone and waited for the woman on the other end to answer. “Do you have the contract for Shaine?”

“I’ll bring it right over,” Cassandra Donovan, Beatrice’s new Chief Operating Officer and legal counsel, replied.

Beatrice did not engage in missions where success was not guaranteed. Her army of ex-SEALs comprised SFI’s paramilitary group, and some had learned definitive undercover tactics like the CIA employed. They needed to be able to handle undercover operations in order to help those who had nowhere else to turn, fighting underhanded politicians, renegade terrorists, and other criminals preying on innocent people.

In the past year, several missions had required kid gloves and secrecy that went beyond keeping the men’s identities and pasts private. She needed a team of spies to work alongside the SEALs, and women who could handle delicate political situations, going where the men could not, and using their feminine assets to access people and information the badass men couldn’t.

While at the Agency, Mia had been an up-and-coming star, destined to rise high in the counterterrorism group. Sitting behind a desk analyzing terrorists had been her specialty, but she’d shown solid skills in covert ops training as well. Her superior had recommended advanced operative training, which Mia aced. She’d been on a list to transfer to Paris when her whole world turned around. First her parents had died in a car accident, then her sister had… what?

Details about Mia’s sister at a political fundraiser involving democratic Senator Warren Hinch were nil, and yet, something had happened. In Mia’s Agency file—thank you, Rory, for hacking the CIA again—there was an odd notation regarding an event that had transpired that night while Mia was doing human intel.

Senator Hinch had ties to German billionaire Karl Kaiser, a man who dabbled in legitimate military arms deals, as well as a host of illegal black market and Dark Web activities. Only Kaiser was listed as a target in Mia’s case mission folder, but most of the details had been blacked out. In a follow-up report, Chloe’s name was mentioned in conjunction with an “incident” with Senator Hinch.

A senator being groomed to make a run for president and a sixteen-year-old borderline autistic girl. Hmm…

There was a knock and Beatrice summoned Cassandra in. The woman wore her usual work uniform of a dark skirt and white shirt. Her dark rimmed glasses hid delicate features, and her hair was pulled up into a ponytail. “I have included each item we discussed, plus the usual language to protect the others involved in the mission, and the overall company.”

She placed the contract in front of Beatrice who tapped her pen harder. “Thank you. I’d like you to stay during my discussion with her, if you have time.”

Cassandra nodded. “Do you want me to tape the conversation?”

“Won’t be necessary.” I hope.

“I’ll just grab my tablet for note taking.” Cassandra disappeared.

Didn’t take much imagination to figure out what might’ve transpired between Senator Hinch and Chloe Shaine, and it made Beatrice’s stomach turn. The fact the Agency had buried it, not allowing Mia to press charges must’ve sent the analyst into a severe catch-22.

And then her last assignment had blown her career into tiny pieces. Self-sabotage? In a critical mission, there was no room for errors or mistakes of any kind, and Mia had made a fatal one—she’d gotten her undercover operative killed.

Or at least everyone believed Ryker Baptiste, posing as Gaspard Manafort, an international arms dealer, was dead. Beatrice knew differently, thanks to intel the current president, Helene Halliworth Gold, had provided.

President Gold didn’t know the repercussions her intel could—would—create. She didn’t know anything about Baptiste or Mia, but someone working some form of international security for her had stumbled across information suggesting he was alive and hiding in the Australian Outback with a child.

A male child about the same age as the missing Kaiser son, heir to his father’s fortune.

Another hmm

The events of the night in Berlin were fuzzy in all the reports, perhaps intentionally so. Hard to tell with the CIA. Baptiste had requested an exfil for Petra Kaiser and her son, Jaeger. The request had been denied. There’d been an explosion and fire at the mansion, Petra had died. Another body believed to be Baptiste’s had been recovered. The boy, however, had gone missing. No body, no witnesses to a kidnapping. No contact from a kidnapper or reports of the child turning up anywhere else.

Beatrice’s phone buzzed softly. “Yes?”

Connor, working the front desk tonight, gave her a head’s up. “Jett’s on her way up with the package.”

Jett being Parker’s codename. Everyone working for SFI had one.

“Thank you.” She clicked off and tossed her pen on the desk. Cassandra returned, quietly making herself scarce and sitting on the sofa at the back of the room.

The children in this goatfuck bothered Beatrice more than anything. As a mother, she felt a strong stirring to find out the truth for their sakes as much as Ryker and Mia’s. What had happened to Chloe with the senator? Was Jaeger Kaiser alive?

It was well past midnight and she was tired, ready to go home to her daughter, but time was of the essence for this new case. If Ryker was alive, and the information she had from President Gold leaked to anyone else, the secrets Baptiste was keeping would go to the grave with him.

And if he had kidnapped the boy…

Ryker, what have you done?

A knock interrupted her thoughts. Parker walked in, Mia following.

The former agent was curvy, her dark hair in a single braid hanging over her left shoulder and her waitress uniform neat and clean, even after five hours on the clock at the bar. Her eyes took in the whole room in a single sweep, noting Cassandra before her focus came to a stop on Beatrice.

Parker and Cassandra exchanged nods. Parker spoke to her charge. “Mia, this is your new boss—”

“Bianca Marx,” Mia interrupted, sounding a bit star-struck. Or pissed. Beatrice wasn’t sure which.

Ages since I’ve been called that. “It’s Beatrice Reese now.”

“Right.” Mia snapped her fingers. “Because of the assassin Parker told me about.”

“Rory. He works for me now.”

Mia’s eyes grew wide. “He tried to kill you, so you offered him a job?”

That wasn’t exactly how it happened, but the details didn’t matter. Rory was loyal to her, and that was all she cared about. “One of the tenets of operative training, as you may recall, is to never escalate a situation but always attempt to defuse it. I’ve found that guideline to be helpful when dealing with ugly situations, Rory’s last CIA assignment—killing me—notwithstanding.”

Mia laughed, seeming to be at a loss for words. She hiked the thumb over her shoulder. “And with that?”

Cassandra nodded from the couch. “Cassandra Donovan, legal counsel.”

Beatrice wasn’t one for formalities and didn’t proffer her hand. She motioned Parker and Mia into the chairs across from her and pinned her gaze on Mia. “Ryker Baptiste was a friend of mine. I’m only going to ask you once to tell me the truth about what happened that night in Berlin. I have no need to waste your time or mine, so let’s get down to it.”

Mia stayed standing, her lips thinning slightly before she answered. “I’m guessing from this setup” —she waved a hand around the office— “and the fact you sent your employee to bribe me, you already know.”

“I know what’s in the reports. I want your version, the nitty-gritty details, or my offer goes away and you’ll be putting your sister in public school. Neither of us wants that.”

Tense silence, then, “When I worked at the CIA, I saw your name on a lot of missions that crossed my desk, and I wondered why an NSA agent was directing SEAL teams and undercover CIA operations. Your security clearance was so high, I didn’t even know what it was. A little bird told me you have a photographic memory and an IQ that endears you to Mensa, so please, don’t sit there and pretend you care one iota about my sister. I’ll tell you what happened with the mission, but to my knowledge, Ryker Baptiste died that night, and everyone blames me. I’m not sure what it is you want me to disclose beyond that.”

Beatrice rocked in her chair. “You don’t take responsibility?”

“Of course I do. I blew it. His death is on me. If he’s actually dead, which there seems to be some dispute about all of a sudden.”

Beatrice tapped a manila folder on her desk, ignoring the questioning glare from Mia. “According to this, his original handler was found dead twenty-four hours before you took over the case.”

Mia found her way to the empty chair and dropped into it. “Before the mission was dumped in my lap, you mean. I didn’t have time to breathe, much less familiarize myself with all the ins and outs of the operation. Ryker was in deep and demanding an immediate exfiltration of Petra and Jaeger Kaiser. He insisted that his handler’s death was a murder and believed Petra was in imminent danger from her husband. She wouldn’t leave without the boy. I tried to expedite a solution, but my boss put the kibosh on it.”

“Then why do you blame yourself?”

The woman’s gaze dropped. “I should’ve pushed harder. At the same time, I tried to work around the order to not engage and get Ryker some help already in Berlin, but by the time I found an unscrupulous asset who would get Petra and Jaeger out of the country, it was too late.”

The country estate had suffered an explosion during a party, the subsequent fire taking several lives, including Petra’s. Officials had ruled it a gas leak, an accident. The CIA knew differently, and so did Beatrice.

“Guilt is a faulty human coping mechanism,” Beatrice said. “It mires us in the past, and much like regret, serves no purpose. I’ve found that most people forgive others easier than they do themselves. From my analysis, you were not the direct cause of the explosion or the fire, nor responsible for the failure of the mission. Guilt and regret are a waste of emotion and energy. If you want resolution, Miss Shaine, I suggest you help me find Ryker and stop Karl Kaiser from expanding his newest criminal enterprise.”

Mia’s attention came back to Beatrice’s face. “What new enterprise? Why isn’t the CIA handling this?”

Beatrice scooted the contract and an ink pen across the desktop. “The terms of the mission and your compensation are spelled out in detail in this agreement. If you want to work for me, sign your name and date it, and we’ll get down to business.”

Mia held her gaze. “You’ve never felt guilt or regret over any of the missions you sent undercover operatives and Special Forces teams on when someone didn’t come back alive?”

“Remorse over a lost life? Of course. But I’ve found it is more beneficial to seek justice for those lives, rather than wallow in guilt.”

A subtle shift happened in Mia’s body, as if she were releasing a small weight, shedding a layer of armor. Her face softened and she picked up the pen. Staring at the paper, she nodded to herself. Her voice came out muted. “That’s all I wanted. Justice. But the CIA needed a scapegoat, someone to blame for a dead operative, and they weren’t happy about the noise I’d raised earlier over an incident with a senator. But I let them railroad me into accepting that what happened to Petra and Ryker was my fault—and don’t get me wrong, I take responsibility for not going further up the chain of command and pushing harder. Maybe if I had, there would’ve been fewer casualties. All this time, I’ve believed Ryker Baptiste was dead.” Her eyes lifted once more, spearing Beatrice. “You’re sure he’s alive?”

Beatrice gave her a single nod. “This is your chance to wipe your ledger clean. All I’m asking for is seventy-two hours of your life, and in that time, you’ll have the opportunity to resolve your guilt and regrets.”

“Oh, I’m not doing it to relieve my guilt.” Mia scribbled her name at the bottom without reading it. “If Ryker is alive and let me suffer all this time believing I killed him, I’m going to kick his ass from here to eternity.”

★★★★★ “I laughed a lot, I yelled a few times, and I felt my heart speed up with action and suspense. In the end, I finished the story with so much hope and a full heart. I can’t wait to read another Spies of Shadow Force book!” ~ Reader review

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