After spending years in prison under deep cover, black ops agent Tucker Flynn joins A-Tac, an elite CIA unit masquerading as faculty at an Ivy League college. Nothing can shake him-except a vulnerable young woman marked for death.
When Tucker is assigned to protect-and secretly investigate-Alexis Markham, he expects a routine mission. But this mysterious beauty has a past even darker than his: her father created a horrifying new biochemical weapon-and was murdered to keep it secret.
Alexis has spent the last decade racing to stay one step ahead of the shadowy operatives who will stop at nothing to possess her father's formula. She can trust no one, not even her handsome new bodyguard. But the heat that flares between them is impossible to resist. Will giving in to passion bring her the safety she's always craved, or will her love for Tucker draw him into a killer's sights?
It was hotter than hell. The air was heavy, the smell of flowers heady in the heat, as though the humidity was amplifying the scent somehow, the resulting perfume overwhelming the senses. Tucker had spent years in the humid rainforests of Colombia, but there had been a conspicuous absence of humanity. Here, mixed in with the smell of flora was the odor of sweat, beer, and urine. The excesses of New Orleans taking olfactory form.
The house was at the end of a block, just off the St. Charles trolley line. The homes here, while still echoing their grand history, were more run down, yards overgrown, paint peeling. Still, Tucker could see the bones of what had once been a lovely house. New Orleans at its very best.
He pushed open the wrought iron gate, careful to keep it from squeaking. He wasn’t really sure what he expected to find, but it was always best to be careful. He had no way of knowing if the the woman from the coffee shop would even be here. It was nothing short of a miracle that Hannah had manipulated the information on the flight manifest to yield a name and an address. Clearly, the lady preferred living off the grid. No charge accounts, no subscriptions. Just the basics. Shelter and food. And apparently flowers.
The roses brushed against him as he made his way up the walk, his senses moving to high alert as he noted the open door. Just inside on the floor was a duffle, and above it, lying on a credenza, a backpack. Pink with purple flowers. He frowned, wondering if the woman he’d seen in the coffee shop had a child. That would certainly complicate matters.
Above his head, something crashed to the floor. He spun around, pulling his gun, eyes on the stairs. For a moment, silence reigned, then a woman’s shriek was followed by something heavy slamming into a wall. Taking the stairs two at a time, Tucker hit the landing on a run, swinging into an open bedroom doorway in time to see a man in black with his arm locked around the struggling woman’s neck.
As if he’d said the name out loud, Alexis lifted her gaze to his, and with a flash of fierce resolution, jammed her elbow into her opponent’s rib cage. With a muffled curse, the man loosened his grip, and Alexis took the opportunity to break free, spinning out of the way to give Tucker a clear shot.
The intruder, however, rolled to the floor, exchanging fire with Tucker, the assailant’s bullets barely missing Alexis as she dove behind a four-poster bed. Tucker hit the floor as well, taking cover behind a wing chair. The gunman shot again, the bullet cutting into the upholstery of the chair, sending a spray of feathers into the air.
Using the distraction to his advantage, Tucker popped up from behind the chair and shot again, this time hitting his target, the man clutching his chest as he fell to the floor. After kicking away the man’s gun, Tucker bent to check his pulse.
“Is he dead?” Alexis asked.
“Yeah.” Tucker swallowed a curse. “Although I’d have rather had him alive. Might have given me some idea of what he was doing here.”
“I’d have thought that was obvious,” she said. “He was trying to kill me.”
“Actually, if he’d wanted you dead, he’d have shot you. Looked to me like he was trying to subdue you.”
“Yeah, well, that didn’t work out too well, did it?”
He searched the man for identification, but there was nothing. Just some extra ammo. He pocketed it and started to push to his feet.
“Drop the gun or I’ll shoot.” Alexis’s voice was low and throaty, the soft slur of her accent almost sultry, but there was also a steely note of determination that he couldn’t ignore. He laid the gun on the floor, holding his hands out. “All right,” she said, “now I want you to turn around slowly.”
He pushed up from the floor, considering his alternatives. He could probably take her, but there was always the chance the gun would go off, and he didn’t much relish the idea of being shot. Better to use words to diffuse the situation. He turned around.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked, the intruder’s gun in her hand. Her fingers were trembling, but her stance was strong and her eyes clear.
“Right now, a friend,” he said. “I heard you scream and figured you could use some help.”
“How do I know you’re not part of all of this somehow?” She nodded at the man on the floor and then at the room which had been summarily tossed, her belongings strewn everywhere. “This could all just be some kind of a ploy.”
“Lady, I don’t play games,” Tucker said, letting frustration get the better of him. “I shot the bastard because he was trying to kill me.”
“I thought you said he wasn’t trying to kill anyone.”
“I said he wasn’t trying to kill you. He seemed rather intent on eliminating me. So I took him out. I had no choice.”
“And you just happened to be walking by carrying a gun?” A vertical line formed between her eyebrows as she scowled at him.
“No,” Tucker shook his head. “I came to see you. I said I was a friend.”
“Not of mine,” her voice was resolute as she leveled the gun. “I’ve never seen you in my life.”
“Yeah, well, I know George Atterley. Which makes me a friend of a friend. And since you were the last person to see him alive, I figured maybe you had some idea as to why someone would want to blow him away.”
The words hung between them for a moment, and then, tired of the game, Tucker launched forward, grabbing Alexis’s gun hand as they fell to the floor. Weapon secure, he pinned her hands above her head, using his body weight to hold her still.
“Let me go,” she spat, smoky eyes full of venom. If the situation had been different, he might had enjoyed the feel of her body beneath him. The swell of her breasts, the feel of her hips against his. But Tucker knew, given half a chance, she’d come up swinging.
“Not until you promise to listen,” he said, his breath stirring the tendrils of hair curling around her face. She glared up at him, clearly considering her options, and then with a small jerky nod, acquiesced, her body going slack.
He released her wrists, but before he could push off of her, she rammed a knee into his groin, thankfully missing the intended targets. Still, pain rocked through him, and anger surging, he slammed her back to the floor, securing her hands again. “That wasn’t very ladylike,” he hissed, satisfied to see a flash of fear flitter across her face.
“I wasn’t feeling much like a lady,” she whispered, as their gazes locked. Clearly Alexis Markham could give as good as she got. Not that he gave a damn. In another place, another time, he might have allowed himself to get lost in the smoky gray of her eyes, but she was an assignment, nothing more. Although he had to give her kudos for bravery. Most women would have folded by now.
“Look, we can do this the easy way or the hard way,” Tucker said. “Your call. But me, I’d prefer to have this conversation somewhere off premises. My guess is that our man over there isn’t working alone. So unless you want a repeat performance…” he trailed off, waiting.
“Fine,” she conceded with a curt nod, her eyes narrowed as she held his gaze. “I’ll go with the easy way. So can we get up now?”
“You’re not going to try to make a eunuch out of me?” His groin still throbbed, and he winced as she shifted beneath him.
“Not for the moment.” She chewed on the side of her lip, still watching him.
“Not good enough.” He tightened his hold on her wrist.
“Okay, I promise I won’t try anything funny. Satisfied?”
He wasn’t, not in the least. But there was a note of resolve in her voice, and for some reason, Tucker felt inclined to believe her. At least for now. He rolled off of her and reached for the gun. No sense in letting her gain the upper hand again.
“So any idea who the dead guy is?” he asked, as he pushed to his feet.
“No.” She shook her head, eyes shooting to the body lying on the floor. “I’ve never seen him before.”
“Why the hell didn’t you get out when you saw the place had been tossed?”
“I wasn’t…” she looked down at her hands, for the first time looking a little vulnerable. “I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted to check the house. To see what they’d done.”
“Is there something particular they were looking for?”
“No,” she shook her head. “Nothing. At least not here.”
He waited, watching her.
“I had a few things in a lock box at a bank in the Quarter. But except for some money, none of it is worth someone trying to steal either. Just some things from my past.” The last was said with a hint of despondency, but almost before he’d identified it, she’d squared her shoulders, her face carefully neutral again.
“So you have no idea what he might have been after?”
“I thought you said it was me.”
“I said he didn’t want to kill you. Which isn’t the same thing. And destroying your house isn’t exactly a subtle way to lie in wait.”
“So what?” she asked, arms crossed as she paced restlessly to the window and back. “You’re saying he ransacked my house and then when he couldn’t find what he wanted, he decided to take me?”
“It’s possible,” he murmured, bending down to search the dead man again. There were no identifying marks. No scars, no tattoos. He took out his phone and took a picture of the body. It was tempting to call Drake and have A-Tac check out the scene. His brother and Hannah were ensconced in a hotel nearby. Back-up as it were. But he didn’t want to alarm Alexis. She was already skittish, her pacing signaling her reticence to trust him. One wrong move, and Tucker had no doubt that she’d bolt.
“Why the picture?” She stopped, staring down at the dead man.
“Well, I figure you don’t want to call the police. And since we can’t risk staying here, a photograph might help if we get the chance to identify him.”
“There is no ‘we’.” She shook her head, arms still crossed, her eyes back to shooting daggers. “I appreciate the help, but I can handle it on my own now.”
As if to bely the fact, the window glass shattered, and Tucker dove to pull Alexis to the ground. “Son of a bitch,” he said, rolling them behind the relative safety of bed. Bullets slammed into the side of the mattress, more stuffing spilling onto the floor. “Can you shoot?” he asked, holding out the dead man’s gun.
“No,” she shook her head, obvious regret giving her words credence. “I was bluffing before. I hate violence.”
“Well, you certainly seem to attract it,” he said, popping up to shoot once through the window. There wasn’t a chance in hell that he’d hit something, but maybe it’d buy them a few minutes to regroup. “Is there a way out of here besides the front door?” He shot again, then ducked back to the floor as a new round of gunfire slammed through the room.
“There’s a back door,” she whispered, her eyes on the window. “But it’s directly under this window.”
“They’ve probably got the front door covered too, but it’s worth a try,” he said. “If there is only one of them and he thinks he’s got us cornered, he won’t want to abandon position.”
“Okay, so what do we do?” Her voice was amazingly calm all things considered, but he could see her hands shaking, her fingers intertwining with each other as if trying to force them to be still.
“On my count, head for the door into the hallway. I’ll be right behind you.”
She nodded, and he mouthed the countdown. One. Two. Three. GO.
She sprang forward, heading for the door as he followed, firing once at the window, keeping low to avoid the responding gunfire.
After the cacophony of the gun fight, the hallway seemed abnormally quiet. Alexis opened her mouth but Tucker shook his head, lifting a finger to his lips and nodding toward the staircase. For a moment, he thought she might argue, but when a shot strafed the wallpaper behind her, she leapt into motion, and he followed her to the top of the stairs.
“I’ll go first,” he whispered, pushing her behind him as he headed slowly down the stairs, gun leading. They made it to the lower landing, just as a mirror across from the front door shattered. “Looks like there’s more than one of them out there.”
“You’re awfully quick to give up.”
“I just don’t see another way out. They’ve got the doors covered, and the windows all have wrought iron grates. I thought they’d keep me safe.” She stopped, her eyes filled with apology. “I’m sorry.”
“Look, sweetheart,” he said, “I learned a long time ago that it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. So think. There’s got to be another way out.”
“There’s a cellar. But there aren’t any windows,” she said.
“How old is the house?”
“Built in the 1850’s,” she said, frowning. “But I don’t see what…”
“I’m guessing the original furnace used coal.”
Her eyes widened as his point sank home. “The coal chute. I’ve seen it. I think it’s nailed shut, but it’s wooden and there aren’t any bars.”
“And they won’t expect it. I say it’s worth a shot.”
Alexis nodded and started forward, reaching for the backpack on the credenza by the door. Moving on pure adrenaline, Tucker ran out into the foyer, just missing her arm as she grabbed the bag. A volley of bullets slammed into the wall above her head, and, with a muffled curse, he managed to jerk her back into the shadow of the stairwell as a second volley ricocheted around the foyer.
“What the hell do you think you were doing? You almost got us both killed.”
“I’m sorry. But I couldn’t leave without my backpack.”
He glanced down at the purple-and-pink vinyl bag. “Seriously?”
“It’s all I’ve got left.” She lifted her chin, daring him to argue, and although he was tempted, he knew there wasn’t enough time.
“Fine. But we’ve got to move. Now. Your little sojourn cost us valuable time.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, eyes on the front door as she hitched the pack over her shoulder. “What next?”
“Where’s the door to the cellar?” he asked.
“Straight down the hall behind the staircase,” she tipped her head toward the hallway leading off the foyer. “It ought to give us a little protection.”
“Yes, but only after we clear the door,” Tucker said. “Look, you go first. Stay low, and I’ll provide covering fire. Once you’re clear of the front door, head for the cellar as fast as you can. No deviations. Got it?”
She nodded, dimple flashing as she gave him a tight smile.
Tucker lifted his hand, steadying the gun. And then signaled her to go. The sound of bullets flying was deafening as they ricocheted off the foyer’s walls and floor, the shooter clearly having used the brief interval to close the distance. Following Alexis, he continued to shoot until he was safely into the hallway behind the stairwell.
She was already at the cellar door, fighting to open it. “Damn humidity. It’s swollen shut.”
“Let me,” he said, checking behind them for signs of activity. The hallway was quiet, but he knew that they only had minutes before one of their assailants made it into the house. As if to underscore the thought, a floorboard somewhere behind them squeaked as someone crossed the floor.
“Hurry,” Alexis said, her voice rising with her fear, as she moved so that he could better access the door. He turned the knob, and then bracing himself against the adjacent wall, pushed for all he was worth. At first, the door refused to budge, but then, with a final screech of protest, it swung open.
“Go,” he whispered, shoving her through the opening and onto the stairs. He followed, taking time to pull the door closed behind him and jam a broken broom handle across the doorway. It wouldn’t hold for long, but at least it would buy them a little time. At this point, every second mattered.
The cellar was small, divided into one large room with two smaller ones opening off of each end. The floor was damp, and, in places, covered with moss, the sound of dripping water echoing off the bricks that lined the walls and floor.
“The coal chute is over here,” Alexis said, motioning to the room to the right.
He followed her inside and stopped in front of the boarded-up chute. Beneath it sat a rotting wooden crate stained black from years of holding coal. “We’re going to need something to get it open.”
“Here,” she said, holding out a rusted crowbar. “It’s not perfect, but it ought to get the job done.”
Tucker took the crowbar and reached for his weapon. “You take the gun and keep watch.”
“I already told you, I don’t…”
“This isn’t the time to take a pacifist stance, Alexis. Just take the damn gun and if anything moves, shoot it.”
She stared at him for a moment, then with a grimace, took the gun and moved to the door, her eyes trained on the staircase.
“Women,” he mumbled under his breath as he pulled off the half-rotting boards. Sunlight streamed through the opening, sparkling as it filtered through the dust whorls created by the falling two-by-fours.
“Someone’s coming,” she whispered, glancing back over her shoulder. “How much longer?”
“Now,” he said, tossing the crow bar as he pulled off the last of the boards. “Hurry.” The stairs behind them groaned as someone descended. He took the gun and then boosted her up and through the opening. Behind him, someone opened fire, the bullets going wide as he pulled himself through the chute and slid out onto the lawn.
“Over here,” Alexis called, already running across the grass toward a dilapidated garage. “I’ve got a car.”
Tucker followed behind her, dodging as the second shooter found them and opened fire. The garage, like the cellar, smelled of age and damp. They rushed through an ante-room filled with cast offs and into the main part of the garage. A beat up Chevy filled almost all the space, an Impala Super Sport the size of a tank and something over forty years old, judging by the chassis.
“What the hell?”
“It came with the house,” she said, grabbing a key off a hook by the door. “It’s more lively than it looks.”
“I sure as hell hope so,” he said, wrenching open the door garage door and then sliding inside the car, Alexis following suit. “I’ll drive.”
She nodded, tossing him the key, just as a bullet shattered a rear side window.
“Get down,” Tucker yelled as he jammed the key into the ignition, grateful when the old girl sprang to life. Alexis ducked, and he slammed the car into reverse just as the shooter moved into the garage’s doorway. The Chevy screeched, and its tires spun as he pushed the pedal to the floor, splitting his time between navigating the driveway and keeping an eye on the shooter.
Almost before the front tires hit the road, he pushed the gearshift into drive and held on as the car lurched forward, picking up speed with comparative ease. Behind them, he could see the gunman in the street, still firing even though the Chevy was out of range.
“We’re in the clear,” he said, returning his eyes to the road ahead of them.
“So what do we do now?” Alexis asked as she sat up, her gray eyes full of questions.
At least she’d used the word “we.” It was a start.
Tucker glanced sideways, noting again how fragile she looked, a definite contrast to the inner strength he’d already witnessed. Contradictions had always intrigued him. Anyway, whatever the hell was going on, it was clear that she needed help. And he intended to use that need to extract information.
had killed George Atterley. And now someone was after Alexis. It seemed fairly certain that there was a link. All he had to do was figure it out. And the first step toward doing that was to gain Alexis’s trust.
He glanced over at her, hunched in the seat, clutching that damned bag, expression unreadable. She wouldn’t be an easy sell.
But hell, he’d always enjoyed a challenge.
Excerpt from DEEP DISCLOSURE by Dee Davis, Copyright ©2011 by Dee Davis. All rights reserved. Reprint only with permission from author. Please contact .