Book 3 in the Bad Boys Undercover Series
When his uncle is brutally murdered, Josiah King knows that business just got personal. His uncle’s ties to the Alliance can mean only one thing: Josiah and his black ops team are targets, along with everyone they love. Primed for vengeance, Josiah is determined to unravel the plot—until long-legged redhead Sutton Dahl becomes a dangerous distraction.
Sutton’s dream job turned into a nightmare when her boss hired someone to kill her. With nowhere else to run, she turns to Josiah. Secretive, strong, and much too sexy, he’s a puzzle she longs to solve, and a temptation she can’t ignore.
Thrown together in the face of Alliance’s most lethal threat, Josiah and Sutton become unlikely partners, fighting for their lives even as the attraction between them flares into real passion. Torn between his team and the woman who means everything to him, Josiah will risk it all to save Sutton, even if that decision is his last.
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Josiah King reached for his gun and grabbed only air. Not that a weapon would do him any good. Shooting a wall-sized monitor wouldn’t stop the bloodthirsty execution unfolding in front of him.
“What are you watching…Wait, where is this feed coming in from?” Mike Shelby asked as he walked up to stand next to his team leader. “Man, I hope this is some sort of training exercise because that guy looks like shit.”
“It’s real. A video. One-way, and I have no idea how were getting it.” But this was personal and meant for him. Josiah knew that much. “I’m pretty sure it’s live.”
It had to be because Josiah would know if this horror had already happened. They all would. No, this hell played out in real time.
“So we can see this poor bastard but he can’t hear or see us?” Mike got up close and squinted as his gaze scanned every inch of the screen. Even waved his hand in front of the monitor. “I don’t get it. What exactly is this?”
Josiah feared he knew the answer. “A message.”
“Me.” That’s really all he could say. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea of his personal life being beamed into a secure facility as spectator sport.
Mike glanced over, already frowning. “What?”
Josiah kept staring up at the center screen hanging right in front of him in the Warehouse, the de facto headquarters of the undercover task force called the Alliance. He blinked a few times, sure he’d fallen into a bleak nightmare he needed to fight and punch his way out of if he ever wanted to breathe again.
Somehow he spat out the right answer. “Uncle.”
Mike shifted the whole way around and faced Josiah head on. “Uncle … as in your uncle?”
The man highlighted on the screen in front of them looked like a version of the very formidable third Earl of Stonechase, Thomas Benedict Asher, a hereditary peer in the House of Lords. For Josiah, simply the uncle who taught him how to fish. Now a man tied to a chair, his white hair sticking out in every direction. His usually pristine white shirt ripped open to reveal the folds of pale skin around his stomach and spray of gray hair on his chest.
Blood ran in a line from his temple. More pooled in a circle near his heart. Yet more on his wrist. He’d been beaten and strapped down in a room painted gray with high ceilings and dramatic print curtains. Josiah couldn’t see the bookcases he knew lined the wall, but he recognized the desk. Intricately carved, with a secret compartment used by his ancestors as they passed the secrets of the four-story stone manse down from generation to generation along with the title and the land.
It all looked familiar except for the bomb strapped to his uncle’s chest and the obvious shake moving through him. Those were the parts that finally registered in Josiah’s brain and kick-started him into action. This was no nightmare. He couldn’t wake up, couldn’t unsee the scene unfolding in front of him.
“Phone.” He snapped his fingers and pointed to his cell on the conference table behind Mike. “Get me a phone.”
“It’s … it’s too late for me. I will … die.” His uncle’s voice, usually perfectly smooth, held a rough edge as he stumbled over the words and his voice trembled. He stared straight ahead, probably into a camera, in a way that looked like he was talking directly to Josiah through the monitor. “No matter what action you take that will happen.”
Mike froze as he handed over the cell. “Sweet Jesus.”
Through the haze falling over Josiah he realized the clipped words coming through the monitor speakers weren’t delivered in his uncle’s normal style. That likely meant he read from a script or something similar. No question someone wanted to deliver a haunting message and decided to use an old man to do it.
“He says you caused this.” His uncle’s gaze darted up and to the right as he spoke, as if he were taking direction from someone in the room.
Josiah hit a few buttons and dialed to get through to his uncle’s house. A beeping sound greeted him, so he tried again, desperate to hear the familiar voice.
“Anything?” Mike’s gaze did not waver from the screen as he slipped his phone out of his back pocket.
“No.” He was going to fucking fail again. Josiah could feel it. Be so close but not on time.
His heartbeat thundered in his chest. He’d spent a lifetime in the intelligence service. Seen people cut down by bullets and shredded by explosions. He’d stayed focused. Now, his mind took off on a wild rush and he fought to wrestle it back under control. Strategies bombarded his brain, none of them workable from his position on the grounds of Liberty Crossing, the modern complex outside Washington, DC, that housed the National Counterterrorism Center. Virginia had never seemed farther away from his uncle’s London townhouse than right now.
“You and your team ruined everything.” His uncle visibly swallowed as the trail of blood seeped down his cheek and his gaze stayed locked on the camera, which must have sat just out of sight. “Now you’ll pay.”
“He’s being told what to say but seems to know he’s talking to you.” Mike didn’t wait for agreement. He shook his head. “I’m calling everyone in.”
No one else stood in the room with them. Bravo leader Ford Decker had his team practicing building raid maneuvers. Josiah had his Delta team muster for weight training earlier but they’d all moved out after showers, taking the rest of the day for some much-needed time off.
Somewhere the people who ran the Alliance sat in their offices across the Liberty Crossing grounds. Being people with access to everything they’d have access to this feed, as would other intelligence services, which were likely monitoring and mobilizing. Josiah knew in the next five minutes people would pour through the doors with theories and strategies. Later there would be questions about how this video beamed into the Warehouse with such apparent ease, about protocols and firewalls, but none of that mattered now.
He hit the emergency button and the metal doors clanked and locked with heavy precision as the Warehouse switched into lockdown mode, trapping them inside. The move would send a warning to the entire Alliance team. Bravo, Delta, and admin would get the call to come rushing back to assist. As he waited for that to happen he tried his uncle again, this time using private backdoor numbers.
The ringing in his ear echoed on the monitor in front of him. His uncle jerked at the sound but couldn’t go far in his chair thanks to the cords binding him. Something in the room, something Josiah could not see, had his uncle’s gaze shooting to that same corner spot again.
Then he looked directly into the camera. “You can’t stop this, Josiah. Please don’t try …”
The brief break in his tone. Josiah read it as a personal plea. One he had to ignore even as he knew to his soul no one could get to his uncle in time.
Phones started ringing in the Warehouse. Josiah could hear Mike relaying information, likely to team members. The other monitors lining the walls flickered to life in front of them and a steady hum filled the room as computers turned on and paper started spilling out of the printer. Lines of information filled one screen. Josiah knew his team had started working its magic but the gnawing in his stomach, the rolling bile, told him whatever they did would be too late.
Mike put a hand over the phone. “Where is he? Which residence are we looking at?”
The behind-the-scenes recon had flipped into action. The people Josiah trusted most in the world likely searched files and made calls to try to find a peaceful end to this. “Belgrave Square. London.”
“Shit, nowhere near here.” Mike repeated the information and listened for a second before disconnecting the line and going back to staring at the screen. “They’re mobilizing MI5 or MI6 or whoever stops bullshit like this in your country other than us.”
But Josiah knew it wasn’t that simple. His uncle possessed resources. Serious resources. “He has security.”
Mike shrugged. “We both know that can be broken.”
He didn’t get it. “He has guards, Mike. A damn militia within shouting distance at all times.” Josiah rubbed a hand over his face as he started to pace.
“Who the hell is your uncle?”
He didn’t wallow and never felt helpless. Right now both sensations raced through Josiah. “Someone hard to get to, which I’m assuming is the message here. No one is safe, no matter how well-connected or high up in government.”
He was about to say more, to explain why this could only be described as surreal and impossible and how it shouldn’t be happening, but the words fell away as he clenched the phone even tighter in his palm. He called the line that went directly into his uncle’s home office again, hoping to get through to someone in power and reason with him.
The second after the private line rang his uncle started talking again. “He knows you’re the one calling.”
“Who is the ‘he’ leading all of this?” Mike asked to the monitor as a second screen filled with images of men in uniform, approaching vehicles on the way to the Belgravia residence.
One name popped into Josiah’s head and refused to leave. The name of the same “he” the Alliance had been hunting across every continent, sifting through every lead and turning over every rock, waiting for him to slither out.
“There’s only one person who knows enough background on us to come straight at us like this.” Their nemesis, the enemy of every law enforcement and intelligence operation in the world. The man who hid under the radar until the Alliance had dragged him into the open seven months ago. They’d stopped a major international sale he brokered among some of the worst motherfuckers around, and then destroyed the delivery system he hid in Pakistan to spread a new viral weapon of destruction.
Mike’s mouth dropped open. “It can’t be. No fucking way.”
“He wants you to know how this works … for … for next time.” His uncle closed his eyes and his head dropped. The rest of the words muffled against his chest. “Because he will not stop. I am only the first.”
Josiah needed to walk, to hit. Much more of watching this and he’d crawl right out of his skin. Claw his own eyes out. “I can’t believe this.”
Mike grabbed the remote and zoomed in on the picture. “If it is him, he’s smart enough to stay far offscreen.”
“Goddamn coward,” Josiah screamed at the screen even though he knew only Mike could hear him.
The minute he had this guy, whoever he was and whatever he called himself, Josiah would use more than words to eliminate the threat. Some people looked at him and saw a proper British businessman. Little did they know what lurked under the surface. The rage. The ability to turn off his humanity and get the job done.
“The bomb is attached to me … to my …” His uncle squinted as he looked away from the camera. “What did you say?”
A second later horror flashed across his uncle’s face. What was left of the color drained away, replaced by an icy paleness that had Josiah dreading the answer.
“Heartbeat.” His uncle coughed out the word as he faced them again. “As it accelerates, it triggers the bomb.”
Mike turned to Josiah. “Is that even possible?”
He wanted to deny the possibility. They worked for an undercover group that answered to few and were bound by almost no laws or internal government rules. They saw fucking awful things on a daily basis. Women used as pawns and literally ripped in half. Men thrown off buildings and burned alive. And those were the lucky ones. But standing there as a mix of adrenaline and frustration pumped through him, Josiah knew the sick truth.
“Look at the incision.” His gaze wandered over his uncle’s chest, then down to his arm. “The blood. Even if making a human bomb isn’t possible, someone wants us to believe it is.”
“If my heartbeat stays even, he has a …”
“A what?” Mike leaned in, as if he were having an actual conversation through the screen.
Josiah watched as his uncle stared right into the camera, unblinking and almost still, and opened his mouth. “Kill switch.”
“Fuck me.” Mike answered the phone and hung up again without talking. “MI5 and SCO19 are moving in now.”
“Firearms Command, like British SWAT.” The words rolled off Josiah’s tongue without even thinking them through first. He’d gone into operations mode. Heard everything around him, saw the battle unfolding on the screens in front of him. Only this time he would not be able to react in time. There wouldn’t be a single defensive maneuver or offensive strike he could launch before death took his uncle.
Mike blew out a long breath. “These armed squads can get in there and—”
“I will be the first but not the last,” his uncle said in a monotone voice, clearly parroting the message he’d been ordered to communicate.
The camera moved back and panned around the room. Men in dark suits, sprawled in lifeless heaps on the floor as blood ran from their bodies and pooled on the carpet that had always been his uncle’s favorite. Worse, he was giving up. Surrendering to the end and letting the terror go. Josiah heard it in his uncle’s voice, saw it in the now-determined lines of his body.
The calmer his uncle became, the more unraveled Josiah felt. He ached to do something—anything—even if it meant tearing the giant screen from the wall and smashing it into pieces on the concrete Warehouse floor.
“You will all pay. You will all watch as …” Fear morphed into sadness in his uncle’s eyes as he continued passing on the information he’d clearly been kidnapped to tell. “You will all lose someone you care about.”
Mike grabbed his phone and started punching in numbers. The yelling came next. “Where are these supposedly impressive reinforcements?”
“You need to …” His uncle leaned in.
Sensing his uncle was breaking from the prepared script again, Josiah stepped closer to the screen, desperate to hear any piece of intel that might help. Eager to keep his uncle talking until the gunmen had a chance to storm in.
His uncle’s gaze darted around the room as he inhaled. Then his words came out in a rush. “About forty and scarred with burns. He said his name is—”
A sharp bang rang out, making Josiah jump back. He started to rush forward again but his knees buckled and he had to grab the corner of the table to keep from falling as the room on the screen in front of him blew apart.
“No!” But Josiah knew he was too late.
A static buzz sounded in his ears. The talking, the pleading cut off, and the heirloom desk vanished in an explosion of smoke. The room shifted on him as his gaze traveled over the devastation. Everything inside him stopped—his heartbeat, his breathing—as he looked at the splatter of blood and flesh on the screen.
Being thousands of miles away didn’t save him from the pure brutality of the moment. Someone he loved, broken down to nothing more than bone and skin. Not recognizable. Not even human anymore.
“Holy shit.” Mike grabbed Josiah, locked his arms around him, and wrestled him back. “Do not look.”
But he had to. It was all so unreal and impossible. His uncle had people and prestige. This could not happen. “Let me go.”
Mike held on as he stepped in front of Josiah, blocking the direct line of sight. “You don’t need to see any more of this.”
Just as Josiah broke free, the screen went blank. Completely black. He could hear a crunching sound and decided his mind had shut down as some sort of defense mechanism.
He stood there and rocked back on his heels. Buried his face in his hands and silently cursed a world where shit like this happened. As if blowing up another person were normal. “Fuck. I can’t believe … fuck.”
“Now what the hell is this?”
Josiah heard the shock in Mike’s voice and looked up. The black screen had turned a smoky gray as the video snapped to life again. The crunching sound grew louder and Josiah could make out legs through the haze. Hear the crackle and thud as each footstep landed on unidentifiable piles of debris on the floor.
The figure turned toward the camera but the lens never strayed higher than knee-level from the floor. Bodies were scattered and shards of what looked like wood stuck up here and there. Papers littered the area and a ball of something—something Josiah feared was once his uncle—lay right between two black wing-tipped dress shoes.
A voice broke into the horrible silence. “The name is Benton, but then I think you know that.”
That word. One name. It’s all they had to go on. All any law enforcement agency in the world had of the faceless, seemingly invisible international terrorist who didn’t pick sides and delivered death and destruction in the form of weapons sold to the highest bidder. A pure psychopath. One sick fuck.
“He survived.” Mike shook his head. “We lit him on fire with a rocket launcher months ago and he lived.”
But that was just it. They did hit him. Josiah knew that now. Gone was the smooth, cultured tone he remembered from their one meeting. Now Benton sounded winded, his voice scratchy. Josiah hoped that meant they’d done some real damage to the guy while in Pakistan. Nothing compared to what Josiah intended to do to him, but something he hoped hurt like hell, burned with pain, every day since.
“Your uncle was a hard man to reach, Josiah.” A harsh laugh followed the line. “But I did. I couldn’t get him to admit he knew you. So proper. So dedicated to protocol and keeping your identity secure. It’s a shame your actions killed him.”
Mike swore under his breath. “This guy sure does like to hear himself talk.”
“I started with Josiah but you’ll all get a turn.” The figure they assumed was Benton shifted as he used the toe of his shoe to push the body at his feet to the side like nothing more than garbage. “Some of you will not be able to hold on to your secrets.” He made an annoying tsk-tsking sound. “And you should know once I kill those you care about most I’ll start again and keep going until the head of everyone you know is splattered in pieces against a wall.”
“Next time I’m putting the rocket launcher right up his ass before I fire,” Mike said to the empty room.
“See you soon.” Benton delivered the line, then the screen blinked out.
For a few seconds they didn’t move. Didn’t talk. Alarms blared inside the Warehouse and monitors not already on sparked to life all around the room. Josiah heard a thunk as the lock on the main doors disengaged. The sound of voices as team members flooded in.
“They won’t catch him.” The police could surround the house and lock it down, and Benton would get out. Josiah didn’t doubt that for a second.
“No, but we will,” Mike said, making every word sound like a guarantee.
“Right.” Josiah stared at the dark screen. “We’re coming for you, asshole.”