Fatal Courage, Shadow Force International, Book 3
© Copyright 2016 Misty Evans
She’d almost blown it.
Ruby’s pulse hammered in her ears. Her legs, in the four-inch heels, wobbled as she half-ran for cover.
That’s what Jaxon Sloan did her.
Every damn time.
She scooted past a dancing couple, dodged a groping hand, and slid off the dance floor behind a woman slightly bigger than her. Her undercover training kicked in, her brain commanding her breathing to slow and her body to move less erratically.
Less like prey.
Seeing Jax out on the dance floor shocked her system from head to toe. The months—they felt like years—had slogged by and suddenly he was here. An apparition. A ghost of her failure come back to haunt her.
Heading for the rear of the club, she didn’t dare look behind her. She’d nearly keeled over from a heart attack right there in the middle of everyone on the dance floor.
What was he doing here? How did he know she was in Chicago?
He could have blown her mission. Again.
Worse, her little slip and she’d almost let him. After all of her training and twenty-one missions with only that one, single failure, she knew how to handle surprises. Nothing tripped her up.
Tall, dark, and forever full of himself, his sudden appearance had thrown her but good. For a second, she’d thought her subconscious had wished him into being. She’d been thinking of him—couldn’t get the man out of her mind even after all this time. With every move of her hips, she’d thought of him and their time in Marrakech as she danced. The way he’d touched her, the way he’d made her moan his name and beg for more.
She hit the back hallway, signs for the restrooms pointing to the left. Ruby went right.
Her pulse returned to normal and she dodged into a office doorway to avoid being seen by one of the owner’s goons. The back entrance was only a few steps away. Her car waited in the parking lot.
The goon disappeared and Ruby started forward, stopped. Now that she was thinking more clearly, she had to consider the consequences of bailing. A part of her didn’t want to go. Instead, it wanted to confront Jax. Yell at him. Tell him to get the hell out.
Or maybe, take him back to her place.
Yep, she’d nearly flaked out on the dance floor when she saw him in the flesh, his smoldering dark eyes eating her up. Her heart had frozen in her chest, her limbs suddenly quivering with anticipation.
That’s what happened when you’d been fantasizing about a guy for months and then he showed up looking even better than he did in your dreams.
Fantasy. That’s all he was and that’s how he had to remain.
Mission first and always. She didn’t have time for distractions. Elliot was counting on her. The Agency was breathing down her neck.
And the last person on the face of the earth she wanted to talk to—regardless of the fact he was the only man who’d ever chiseled his way past her solid walls—was Jaxon Sloan.
She took a step out from her hiding place. Jax’s deep voice stopped her in her tracks. “Are you running from me, Ruby?”
Running. That’s exactly what she was doing.
Not that she would ever let him know that.
A shiver slid down her spine from his simple nearness. In the background, the music continued to beat, snapping at her nerves. “I don’t run from anyone.” Liar.
“Sure looks like that’s what you’re doing.”
She whirled around to face him; her breath caught.
He’d trapped her under a broken overhead light and the shadows around him made him look even bigger and badass than she knew him to be.
Swallowing the tightness in her throat, she stomped on the lust bubbling up inside her. Never had a man affected her the way he did. Never had anyone gotten under her skin like he had. His presence, his voice, ignited the dry kindling inside her.
“What do you want?” She forced her voice not to betray the wild emotions riding her. She was an operative for God’s sake, deceiving the enemy came with ease.
And Jaxon Sloan was definitely her enemy.
He was also the one man who saw past her duplicity every time.
His eyes swept over her, lingering on her hips for a second before coming back up to her face. “You know why.”
“No, I really don’t, and I can’t be seen with you. You’ll blow my mission.” She brushed a strand of hair from her face. “You’re good at that as I recall.”
He didn’t flinch. Didn’t even so much as blink. The barely there light from farther down the hall caught on the scar on his temple. “You’re not working a legitimate mission, so knock it off. Whatever this is, it isn’t important.”
“Isn’t important?” Clearing Elliot’s name was her only mission. Sure, she was in Chicago to help the FBI with a counterterrorism case, but that was only to make her boss happy. Little Gus had connections she needed for Elliot. “Of course, that’s what you’d say.”
She turned her back on him, the past anger surfacing as she headed for the back entrance. But that was good. Anger kept her clearheaded. Anger suffocated her tangled emotions.
Anger would keep Jax at a safe distance.
She’d have to come back another night to see if she could get to Little Gus.
Two strong hands grabbed her by the arms and spun her around Jax pinned her wrists to her sides and pushed her against the wall.. “Where is he?”
She jerked her wrists away. Only because he allowed it. He could probably crush every bone in them with ease. “Who?”
“You know who.”
He smelled like cedar and warm rain. Her mind went back to that night in Marrakech, the soft rain starting after midnight, falling outside as he did wicked things to her body.
Concentrate. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
His liquid brown eyes, black in the shadows, narrowed and his head tilted slightly. For some stupid reason, she wanted his hands on her again. “Are we really playing this game?”
“I’m not playing a game. I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Shut him down. Get away, before you become a blubbering, lusty bitch. Oh, right, too late. “Get out of my way and don’t come back here to harass me again.”
She tried to leave him. He moved to stop her, his arm shooting out, his hand resting on the wall near her head.
He leaned in, studied her face. His full lips beckoned. “You’re lying.”
“I know you think that’s all I do is lie, but that’s not true.”
She’d told him the truth that night and then she’d betrayed him by taking Elliot’s side when everything went south. He’d returned the favor by “proving” her partner was a traitor.
Elliot wasn’t a traitor anymore than she was. Jax had it all wrong. If only she could make him see that.
Proof. She was going to get proof of her partner’s innocence. That’s why she’d been here tonight, trying to get in good with the biggest gangster the Southside of Chicago had ever seen. He had the connections she needed.
Jax’s face was inches from hers. His gaze dropped to her mouth, slid back up to her eyes. “You honestly don’t know, do you?”
A tense silence ensued. He still wasn’t sure.
His proximity—so close she would raised her lips an inch and kiss him—was doing strange things to her. Like making her think about kissing him.
Down girl! “Jax, honest to God, either tell me what this is about or get out of my way.”
The words buzzed inside her head, blurry, indistinct. “What?”
“He was in the medical ward after a fight and somehow ended up exchanging clothes with a guard and walking right out of the place. The guard is in serious condition, by the way, from a blow to the head.”
My God. If she hadn’t been backed up against the wall, she might have staggered. “Elliot would never do that.”
His eyes challenged her. “See that’s where you and I disagree. You think Elliot is this great guy. I know he’s a miserable, lying traitor who will do anything to cover his ass.”
Her jaw tightened. “There has to be a reason he would bail like that. He knew I was working on clearing his name. Why would he run?” On the heels of that unpleasant thought, came another. “Why didn’t my boss notify me about this?”
“Probably because the CIA knows you’re sympathetic to the douchecanoe.”
Her exasperation morphed into outright annoyance. Mostly because he was probably correct. “Why do you care? Why did you come here to tell me this? To rub it in that you’re right about my partner?”
“Ex-partner. He’s not worthy of the ground you walk on, and no, I didn’t come here to remind you he’s a worthless goatwaffle. I came here because I know you’re the first person he’ll run to for help.”
“That’s sweet, but he’s not stupid, and again, I don’t understand why you care if he does come running to me for help. You made sure he went to prison after Marrakech, but he’s no longer your problem, is he? He really was never your problem. You made him into a traitor, so while I’m sure it upsets you that he’s escaped, the Agency will find him. Go back to your life and forget about him. Forget about me.”
The words tumbled out of her mouth, even as her heart clenched. She didn’t mean it. If anything, she wanted the opposite. To the man who’d probably slept his way around the world, she wanted to be the one woman he would never forget.
The clean-shaven SEAL of six months ago was gone. He’d grown a short beard since she’d last seen him and her fingers itched to touch it. To feel the scratch of it against her skin. His focus—so intense it made gooseflesh rise on her arms—dropped to her lips. “I will never forget you.”
Bam. He’d read her mind.
Her heart stuttered. “Jax…”
He laid a finger against her lips. “Here me out. I didn’t come here to fight with you, Ruby. I know you’re running an unsanctioned mission to find proof Elliot was innocent of the charges I brought against him, but you need to switch your focus and help me find him. He will come to you. You’re the only person that ever believed he was innocent to begin with, and while I respect that kind of loyalty, you could be in danger. You think I ruined your career? Honey, let me tell you, if you in anyway assist a federal fugitive—this federal fugitive—I’ll make damn sure your ass lands in a prison cell next to his.”
Her stuttering heart hardened. Thankfully or not, she was speechless. If she tried to stay anything, she’d probably lose it. So she shoved at his chest, pushing all her emotions into it.
A brick wall met her shove. Once she’d loved his solidness, his strength. Currently, she found it annoying as hell.
Like everything else about him.
Training, dammit. Ruby could hear her boss yelling in her ear. Don’t let him see he got to you. Turn the tables on him.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, she set her face to neutral, dropped her hands from his chest. “I’m not helping you hunt down my partner, which is not your job anyway. You’re obsessed with Elliot because you’re jealous of him. Why won’t you own up to that?”
He traced her jaw with the same finger that had silenced her. “You think I’m jealous of Elliot Hayden?”
Her body shivered at the intimacy and she smacked his hand away. “You and I had a one-night stand, Jax, but that’s all it was. One night. You wanted more and I refused. You thought you’d snap your fingers and I’d fall at your combat boots, and when the shit went down with Elliot and Abdel, you expected me to side with you. I didn’t and you still can’t believe it. You don’t respect the fact I’m loyal to my partner. You’re jealous of him.”
His chuckle was low and soft, raising goose bumps along her skin. “You want to know why I’m here watching your backside and asking for your help with Hayden?”
This should be good. The man was in total denial over his true motivations. “Why?”
“Because, honey.” He rubbed the pad of his thumb over her chin, raising more gooseflesh. “The CIA hired me to hunt him down.”