As a member of the elite Hostile Operations Team, Jake “Harley” Ryan expected that deadly assignments were a part of the deal. What he didn’t expect was to be sent on a suicide mission.
There were three men in the room besides him. Colonel John Mendez, the bad ass HOT Commander; Lieutenant Colonel Alex Bishop, the quieter but no less lethal Deputy Commander; and Declan MacKenzie, the legendary founder and leader of MacKenzie Security, a firm with government contracts and operatives around the world. That a private contractor was here in the HOT command center didn’t surprise him. That a private contractor was here to request his help did.
“You want me to go back to Georgia and pretend the last seven years didn’t happen? Just waltz up to the clubhouse and act like nothing’s changed?” He cocked his head as he stared at the three men. “What makes you think the Brothers will take me back? It’s more likely they’ll kill me on sight.”
Declan MacKenzie exchanged a look with Mendez. Then he shoved himself off the table he’d been leaning against and reached for a folder. He took out a sheet of paper and handed it to Jake.
“They might kill you, sure,” Declan said. “But I think you’re smart enough not to let that happen. And the colonel here is smart enough to make sure you get sent home under less than honorable circumstances so everything looks legit. Play your cards right and they’ll take you back.”
Jake glanced at the paper in his hand—and his gut twisted. Judge Harold Mason, aged sixty-four, widely believed to be on the short list for a Supreme Court seat, lay in a coma in an Atlanta hospital after a single car crash. His wife had died. There was a picture of the accident scene. It wasn’t pretty.
“That’s the judge who offered you a choice, right?” Declan asked. “Prison or the military?”
“Yeah.” It was more complicated than that, though. Judge Mason was responsible for who Jake had become—and who he hadn’t become. Jake had been young and angry when he’d faced the judge. Hell, he’d even been stupid—but his court-appointed attorney had not. Jake had barely been eighteen, and he’d figured going down with the Brothers of Sin was simply a rite of passage. He was still a recruit at that point, but he’d have done anything to belong to that group of badasses and earn the right to be a full-fledged Brother.
His attorney, along with the judge, had convinced him otherwise—Jake still didn’t quite know how—and here he was. An elite soldier. The best of the best. A man who could face overwhelming odds and win every time. Who stared death in the face and fucking laughed at it.
“He’s still in danger,” Declan said. “Unless we can get Brandon Cox and the Brothers on murder charges for Mrs. Mason and attempted charges for the judge.”
Jake set the paper down. “Look, I’d do anything for Judge Mason. He saved my life—but I wasn’t a witness to the crime. How can I possibly do anything to prove the Brothers had a hand in it?”
“You can’t. But there’s a woman who can.”
Another piece of paper was thrust into Jake’s hand. A woman’s face stared back at him. She wasn’t smiling. She had a faraway look that spoke of sadness and determination. She was climbing from a car, her long legs bared as her skirt rode up. She had long dark hair and blue eyes. She also had a wealth of tattoos, all in shades of black and gray—on her arms and legs, across her collarbone, over her belly where the cropped top she wore exposed the skin. There were words on her thighs.
It wasn’t ugly, though. On her, it was beautiful. As if she were made to wear ink.
He shook himself. “Then why aren’t you talking to her? Why ask me to get involved?”
It wasn’t that he wouldn’t throw himself on a grenade for the judge, but he wasn’t quite seeing how this worked yet. Why they needed him.
“We’d love to talk to her—but she won’t talk to us. Her name is Eva Gray. She’s twenty-four, a tattoo artist. She does work for the Brothers. Hell, she may even be involved with one of them, though we don’t know that for sure. But I can’t get any of my guys close enough without putting her in danger. You, however, could walk in as a Brother and get what we need.” Declan paused, his gray eyes growing troubled. “She’s in danger too, Jake. If my FBI sources are right, she’s the only witness willing to finger them. We have to get in there and get her out—and we have to convince her to talk or she’ll never be safe again.”
Jake glanced down at the photo. “She doesn’t look worried. She’s probably someone’s old lady. Maybe even Brandon’s. How do you know she’ll talk at all?”
“She called in an anonymous tip to the FBI. She’s willing but she needs some persuasion. Time is running out.”
Jake stood and handed the photo back to Declan. This woman had dared to break the code and call in a tip. It might have been anonymous, but clearly the FBI knew who’d done it. And the Brothers had ways of finding out things they shouldn’t know. When they did, they’d eliminate her.
“When do I go in?”
* * *
Eva Gray shook her hair from her face and bent back to the arm of the biker she was currently tattooing. It was a colorful tattoo, one with skulls and roses and twining vines. The dude gritted his teeth as she set her needle to his skin again. The inside of the arm was one of the worst possible places to get a tattoo. The skin was thin, the nerve endings were abundant, and it hurt like a motherfucker.
“You gonna make it, Duke?”
The old bastard snorted. “Yeah, little girl, I’ll make it.”
Eva laughed as she continued her line work. “I think you will. Tough man.”
She kind of liked Duke, as much as it was possible to like any of the Brothers. Which, for her, wasn’t much. But he was nice enough and never tried to cop a feel the way the others did.
The door to the studio opened and a chill breeze rolled in. It was October, so the days were getting cooler, but that wasn’t the source of the coolness in the room. At least not for her. Without looking up, she knew that Brandon Cox had walked in.
Yeah, she had to take it easy. Because she’d gone through a lot to get this close to the Brothers—to Brandon—and it wasn’t over yet. Years of work. No sense rushing when she was on the verge of victory. Patience was a virtue. It had served her well for seven long years of preparation, and it would continue to serve her well until she achieved her goal.
“Hey, baby, how you doing today?”
Eva glanced up at Brandon and gave him a sugary sweet smile even though he made her stomach turn. “Just great, Brandon. How about you?”
He swaggered over and leered at her. He wouldn’t touch her. Not yet, though she suspected his patience was beginning to wear thin on that score.
“I’m great, baby. Be even greater if you’d let me taste those sweet lips of yours.”
Revulsion slid down her spine like rancid grease. But she smiled anyway. “Can’t do that, man. You know I don’t mix business and pleasure.”
When she’d started tattooing the Brothers six months ago, she’d made it clear that if they wanted her art, they had to respect her rules—which had become doubly important when she moved to the compound a little over two months ago. Since she was damn good at what she did, they went along with it—other than the various attempts at copping a feel, which she always stamped down hard.
“Honey, there are other tattoo artists.”
“But none as good as me.”
Duke snorted. “She’s got you there, boss.”
“Yeah, yeah, all right. Shame to waste that body though.”
“Is there something you wanted, Brandon?” she asked. “I’ve got another hour on Duke before I can get to you.”
“Not me, baby.” He turned and made a motion and another man walked inside. “Need you to do something for my man Jake.”
Eva’s heart skipped as her eyes met cool amber ones. Her jaw felt as if it had dropped to the floor. She swallowed.
Jake Ryan. Dear God. He’d been a Brother all those years ago when Heather was still alive. She knew it because, before he’d joined a motorcycle gang, he’d been in her high school. She’d spent hours staring at Jake from behind her glasses. Hours imagining pressing her mouth to his and tasting him. He’d been a bad boy, moody and just this side of delinquent, and she’d been oh so fascinated. Her and every other girl.
He hadn’t made it through their senior year, however. At a certain point, he’d left school. She’d seen him around town in his cut, the jacket that proclaimed him a Brother. How he’d gotten a motorcycle she’d never known, but just seeing him rumble through town on his Harley had been enough to set her heart racing.
Her heart was hammering now, and not because he was gorgeous. She told herself that he wasn’t going to recognize her. No one had. No one. Not the people she’d known in school, not her aunt who still lived in town, not a single person. She’d changed that much. Deliberately.
Who she’d been before was dead, and there was only Eva Gray in her place. It had to be that way.
But she still dropped her gaze from Jake’s and focused on Duke’s arm. She’d bobbled the line she was working, but she could fix it.
“All right, sure. What’s he want?” she asked.
Brandon clapped Jake on the back. “He’s going to need the Brothers of Sin freshened up. It’s faded a bit since he left us for the military.”
Military? She’d wondered where he was when she’d returned to town and he hadn’t been in the club anymore. Thought maybe he’d gone to prison or something. So many of the Brothers rotated through the system like it was a revolving door that she didn’t think he’d be any different.
And she certainly hadn’t cared that she’d be taking him down along with the rest of them when the time came.
“Sure thing. Just have to finish Duke first.”
“Take your time,” Jake said. His voice was so unexpected that it hit her like a splash in an icy pool. Deep, resonant, filled with all that sexy promise she’d worshipped back in the day.
After Heather had gone inside the club, she was only allowed out with an escort. She’d visited Eva and their mother as often as she could, and sometimes Jake was the one tasked with accompanying her when she did. He wouldn’t come inside the house, but when Eva took him a drink on the porch, he was nice to her.
“I intend to,” she said. Because she couldn’t afford softness with these men. They were predators. One whiff of weakness and they’d rip her throat out.
He snorted. “I see why you hired her,” he said to Brandon. “Sexy and bitchy. She’d make a great old lady.”
“Don’t go gettin’ any ideas,” Brandon said gruffly. “Eva treats her body like it’s a sacred temple or something. She won’t fuck a Brother. Will you, baby?”
She didn’t glance up. “Nope. I gotta stay true to my art.”
“See? Crazy bitch, but she’s good with the ink.”
“Love you too, Brandon,” she deadpanned.
One of these days she’d go too far, but for now the leader of the Brothers of Sin only laughed. Evil, murdering bastard.
“You let me know when you’re ready for some real lovin’, baby, and I’ll give it to you good and hard.”
Not if she gave it to him good and hard first. And she wasn’t talking about sex.
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