Book 1 in the Dirty Series
Alec Drummond didn’t make his billions by playing nice—or by playing much at all. When it comes to pleasure, Alec only has time for whatever’s quick and easy, which is exactly what he gets from his company’s hot new computer genius. But Gaige Owens isn’t some pushover. He pushes back, and it’s giving Alec a rush. The question is, could Gaige be the one who’s leaking trade secrets? Just to be safe, Alec keeps him close at hand . . . night and day.
Gaige never thought he’d roll over for a man like Alec again, but who could resist sex this mind-blowing? Then there’s the draw of Alec’s mysterious side: his cutthroat ambition, his covert CIA connections, and the murder in his past. For Gaige, a deeper look proves an irresistible temptation. But when Gaige and Alec are stripped of their defenses by an unseen danger, everything they don’t know could bring them closer together—or tear them apart. Only one thing is certain: Before it’s all over, someone’s going down.
Book 1 in the Dirty Series
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Gaige Owens stood in the alcove between the door to the server room and the one to the hall and waited for the “go” signal. The light on the entry scanner beamed a steady red. If it didn’t start blinking within the next few seconds he’d be stuck there when the cameras clicked back online and the actual photos of the halls and rooms of Drummond Enterprises were beamed back to the security room. Not the fake images he’d looped in to cover his tracks.
He stayed alert and ready to swipe his forged entry card through the reader. The alarm system would be down for exactly six seconds and register as a glitch. Long enough for him to slip inside and close the door, just as he’d planned it.
In the early morning silence, the whispered warning boomed through Gaige’s ear mic. The sun hadn’t risen and only a few security personnel and employees wandered through the ten-story, glass-walled office building. But Gaige couldn’t think about anything but the adrenaline shooting through his veins.
A surveillance team hovered out there in the quiet darkness of the streets, using infrared to track the other bodies in the building and guiding him around them. He only knew one person on the other end of the faceless mic. The one who summoned him to Munich and sent him on this operation. He sure as hell didn’t trust that guy. Not any of them, actually. This wasn’t his team. He worked alone in a warehouse loft with a bank of computers. But he wasn’t really given a choice two days ago when they threw him on a plane from Washington, D.C.
When the light started blinking, he pushed the stray thoughts out of his head and opened the door with a click. Followed the protocol he’d been given with the card and code.
The bottom of his sneaker squeaked against the floor as he stepped inside and slipped the keycard back into the front pocket of his black jeans. A whooshing noise registered a second later. A familiar rush of coolness blew from vents in the floor followed by the steady hum of the cooling system as it recirculated clean air.
The voice started in his ear again. “Move it. You only have two minutes.”
“Stop talking.” What he really wanted to say was fuck you, but these guys carried the kind of guns that could rip through steel. They’d tear him apart and no one would give a shit. No one would even know to come looking for him, which was exactly how he preferred his life these days.
His gaze swept over cables and down the equipment stacked in the racks of each row. He’d been directed to take photos but he skipped the camera and went right to the area he needed. Right there in the third row.
He skimmed his fingers over each server, across buttons and green lights, enjoying the feel of metal and plastic against his skin. He pulled on the drawer in the center of the stack and drew out the computer. Flipped up the screen and started typing.
“You have one minute.” The monotone voice echoed in Gaige’s ear.
Jesus, that’s annoying.
“Quiet.” He glanced at his watch, preferring to trust his countdown to the one being blasted through the mic.
He typed fast, his fingers flying and the keys tapping, then hit enter. A warning flashed in red. Wrong password. Never mind they gave him this one. Insisted they had inside intel.
His mind raced through the possibilities of what this meant. A setup or another stupid test. Good thing he came prepared. Not trusting anyone always proved to be a smart move.
He reached into his back pocket and took out the handheld black device he’d created and plugged it into the side of the computer. The code went to work and the algorithm kicked in. Seconds later numbers and letters flashed on the small display as the scrambler in his palm worked to call up the right security pass code.
At the sound of the unexpected shout, Gaige’s breathing stopped. He swore he could feel his lungs deflate as the air rushed out of them. The frantic pumping of his heart overtook everything. It hammered in his ears, causing his concentration to blink in and out.
He had no idea what the words meant but he guessed it was a version of stop or you’re dead. “English.”
“Fine,” the voice ground out. “If you so much as twitch I will blow your fucking brains all over that screen.”
No German accent. The guy sounded American, with one of those indistinct drawls that made it impossible to pin down an exact geographic location. He also sounded more than capable of following through on his threat.
Time’s up. That phrase ran through Gaige’s head as he fought to think. That’s what he did best. He’d talk and stall, smartass his way through the danger until something brilliant came to him. He just needed his brain rebooted fast.
“Okay.” He slowly raised his hands. Even as a new rush of energy pounded him, urging him into fight-or-flight mode, he kept the rest of his body frozen. No need to invite a bullet. “I’m stopping.”
“Damn right. Turn around.”
The deep voice, husky with an edge of fury, tugged at him. Gaige couldn’t place it, which meant it didn’t belong to anyone on the team that sent him on this suicide mission. It also meant he’d stepped into the middle of someone else’s battle.
He shifted in slow motion, careful not to startle or piss off anyone behind him. When he finally stopped turning, he came face-to-face with him.
“Alec Drummond.” The name slipped out before Gaige could think to call it back.
People threw around the word genius but the term actually applied to Alec. Even people who hated him, which seemed to be most anyone who’d ever gone against him in a business deal, conceded his brilliance.
At thirty-six he’d been running the company for years, increasing the value and earnings of the family’s dying business well beyond expectations. Despite the public-relations potential of that sort of press, he refused to be interviewed or photographed. That only drove more interest in his direction.
But there was another side to the success. People talked about his history in hushed whispers. There were rumors of how he killed the competition—literally. But right now, this close, only feet apart, Gaige saw the man not the reputation. His gaze skimmed over every inch of Alec’s fucking hot body. All six feet—damn, was he six-three?—of him.
He was loom-over-you-and-stare-you-down tall. Lean with broad shoulders that slid to a perfect V at his trim waist. His hair straddled the fine line between dark blond and light brown. Those green eyes telegraphed an iciness, an almost soulless detachment from the world around him.
Attractive in a rough-and-earned-it kind of way. Not even a little pretty. Certainly not a guy who gave off an open or inviting vibe. But sexy. Like, he would know what to do with his mouth and hands once he had you up against a wall.
Yeah, Alec Drummond stood there looking exactly as he’d been described by so many sources. Mysterious, lethal, thrumming with heat and rich as hell. From the perfect black suit to the deceptively simple stainless steel watch he wore.
Alec’s gaze never wavered. “If you know who I am I have to wonder why you were reckless enough to break in here.”
“You’re not even holding a gun.” That thought pinged Gaige’s brain and struck him as oddly funny after the earlier threat. He didn’t doubt that behind all the proper breeding and those fancy boarding schools and big boardrooms Alec knew how to win a street fight. Determination practically oozed from him.
“Me being unarmed is why you’re still alive.” Without breaking eye contact, Alec nodded and the two obviously armed men with him stepped forward, headed straight for Gaige. “Search him.”
They closed in, each grabbing an arm. That fast Gaige’s temper spiked and his body pulsed with the need to strike out. But he tamped down on his instinct to slam the men into the racks and take his chances with their boss. He had to ride this out.
They patted him down but Gaige refused to flinch at being shoved around. “I didn’t take anything.”
“We’ll see.” Alec watched the body search. His gaze traveled all over Gaige, following his men’s hands as slipped over Gaige’s torso and down his legs. When they dumped the scrambler and keycard on the shelf next to the laptop, Alec’s intense stare locked on Gaige’s face again. “You were saying?”
“Not stolen. Those things are mine.”
Alec motioned for his men to step back before he started talking again. “You’re very sure of yourself for someone who was just caught attempting to steal data. I wonder if you’re stupid or if you have a death wish.”
“Neither.” Gaige shrugged. “Maybe both.”
With that, the energy in the room shifted. The suffocating tension gave way to different sensation. Gaige couldn’t describe it but it felt oddly like excitement. The thundering sound of his heartbeat stopped echoing through his body. A strange calmness settled over him as his mind began to spin with ways to win a verbal battle against the one and only Alec Drummond.
“You like danger, do you?” Alec’s voice sounded perilously soft as he asked the question.
“I’ve been known to play.” If Alec wanted to spar that worked for Gaige. He liked games. He excelled at them, in fact. Engaging in a battle with someone like Alec proved to be a an intoxicating pull.
They could go back and forth, seeing who would blink first. Since he no longer had anything to lose, Gaige battled back his fear and focused on his prey. Poured every ounce of his will into proving to Alec that he was not the only hardass in the room.
First, he wanted to throw Alec off. He didn’t strike Gaige as a man who enjoyed banter, so that’s exactly where he went. “Technically, I was typing not stealing.”
For a second Alec just stood there. His broad chest lifted and fell on heavy breaths. “That’s really your answer?”
“Nothing is going to happen to me.” Gaige had no idea if that was true but there was something truly freeing in grabbing onto the idea and riding it out.
“That’s an interesting take on your current situation.”
Gaige shrugged again and watched Alec’s jaw tighten. “Call me an optimist.”
“That’s not the word I’d use.” A nerve in Alec’s jaw seemed to twitch and his jaw stayed locked. “See, I think you believe we’ll turn you over to the German police and then you’ll sweet-talk your way out of this somehow.”
He’d never make it that far. Gaige knew that much. The team outside, the one supposedly working with him, would put a bullet in his brain before letting German police or intelligence walk in on this scene. “I can be very charming.”
Alec’s gaze roamed over Gaige’s face. “You think the way you look will get you out of this.”
For a second Gaige’s mind flashed to something other than this situation and the idiot who’d dragged him into it. Flipped back through some of the other rumors he’d heard about Alec being wild in bed. How he liked to take charge and draw out the pleasure.
Gaige couldn’t help but ask . . . “How exactly do I look?”
Alec’s breathing seemed to tick up, lift his chest in a faster rhythm. “Like a man who doesn’t understand what’s happening.”
“Explain it to me.” Gaige took a step forward, closing the distance between them, forcing the thick air to dance around them.
When the guard on Alec’s left moved, Alec lifted his hand. The small gesture was enough to get the guard to step back in line again.
For a second, no one said anything. The sound of the churning air and the other guard shifting his weight filled the room. Alec broke the sharp silence by taking a step of his own. Now he stood right in front of Gaige, no more than two feet away, and leaned in. “You walked onto my property. I’m the only police that matters here. I make the rules.”
“That response is a bit much, don’t you think?”
That nerve twitched in Alec’s cheek a second time. “Being a smartass is not helping your case.”
This close Gaige could see the stark emptiness in Alec’s eyes. His skills in the boardroom were legendary. He made threats and followed through with them. He prized loyalty and did not hesitate to lose short-term money on a deal if that’s what it took to break his opponent in the long term.
Gaige had dealt with ruthless men before, the kind determined to win at any cost. To say anything, do anything. Sacrifice every decent thing for an advantage. Men who ripped through life like a machete, mowing down any obstacle. But something else lingered around Alec. A simmering heat, just under the surface. Maybe anger or maybe something else.
Something significant made a man that hard. Gaige wondered what it would take to break him. “Look, this is your show. But I would point out you need better security. Getting in here was pretty damn easy.”
Gaige made a carefree humming sound even though he felt anything but light or disinterested. No, Alec intrigued him. Fascinated him. Gaige wanted to believe it was in a scientific, study-him sort of way. His mind raced with questions as he analyzed every move and every syllable.
“Just trying to help,” Gaige said, not knowing what reaction that would bring. “The next man or woman who sneaks in here might try to do some real damage to your business.”
Alec didn’t blink. “You have an answer for everything.”
“Tell me why you’re here.”
Gaige toyed with the idea of making up some story. The truth wasn’t likely to end the showdown any faster, but he tried it anyway. “I’m on a job.”
“Who sent you?”
The slight narrowing of his eyes. The way his right hand balled into a fist. Gaige picked up on Alec’s telltale signs. Small but there they were. Alec couldn’t control this situation and Gaige could almost feel the anger bouncing around inside him over that fact.
When it came to the question of what put him in the middle of Alec’s path Gaige didn’t feel one ounce of loyalty. He’d been forced to do a job and specifically told not to lie if caught. This was a test of sorts, one he’d originally thought was meant to measure something in him. Now he realized it was really about pushing Alec. “You’re not going to like this part.”
Alec didn’t move but his eyebrow did lift a fraction. “Indulge me.”
Alec blew out a long haggard breath as he opened and closed his hands at his sides. “You’re fucking CIA?”
The reaction eased some of the adrenaline coursing through Gaige. He didn’t relax because dropping his guard against Alec seemed like a bad choice, but he no longer waited on edge for the blow to come. He and Alec might not be on the same side here, but neither of them appeared to trust Seth and his work in the special ops division of the CIA.
“I actually never fuck anyone in the CIA. The testosterone-soaked, attack-dog thing is not my type.”
For a second it looked as if Alec was going to smile before his mouth fell into a flat line again. “Where is the annoying asshole?”
“He should be here any second.” Gaige glanced at his watch but didn’t have time to see much more than a blur because he had no intention of taking his focus off the man in front of him. “He thought it would take you longer to detect me in your system. Congratulations on beating the expectations, by the way.”
“Is he testing you?” Alec scoffed as his shoulders relaxed for the first time since the showdown started. “If so, you failed.”
Fucking Seth Lang. That was one thing Gaige could agree with Alec about. Seth was playing and using the two of them in the process. “No, I passed because I’m pretty sure the goal was to get your attention. It seems I have that.”
Alec lowered his head and his voice dipped even lower. “So you know, working for Seth doesn’t automatically mean I won’t kill you.”
“He told me you’d say that.” Gaige leaned in until his head almost touched Alec’s. “And, so we’re clear, I don’t work for him.”
“Really? Because he’s the only person who might save you right now.”
Gaige almost laughed at that. “You don’t want to kick his ass?”
The clapping had them all turning to the only entrance into the server room. Seth walked in, calm and sure of himself. He had dark hair and wore a smirk. Didn’t appear even a little intimidated by Alec or the two men pointing guns at him. “That’s upsetting, Alec. I thought we’d become friends.”
“What the hell is this?”
Seth frowned. “A meeting. I thought that was obvious.”
“Excuse me?” Alec’s hands went to his hips.
Gaige couldn’t help but notice his long fingers. All that strength. It pulsed off Alec.
“I told you we needed to meet. You didn’t respond, so I did this. I kind of wanted to prove I could.” Seth walked right over and put his hand on one of the guard’s forearms, forcing him to lower his weapon, but his gaze never left Alec.
Alec shook his head. “I’ve made it clear I don’t work for you.”
But Seth just smiled. “You do now.”