Authors: Regan Black
Tags: #alpha bad boys, #bodyguard, #paranormal romantic suspense, #military heroes, #alpha hero romance, #political suspense, #Boston romance
“Dark, gritty, sexy suspense with one hell of a hot hero!”
--USAToday bestseller Debra Webb
By Regan Black
Published by Getaway Reads, LLC
Copyright 2013 by Regan Black
Cover art by Karl Warren
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the express written permission from the author.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love storytelling. My grandmother was a master storyteller. Many evenings of my childhood were spent gathered around her chair listening to the intriguing stories she had heard from her mother and grandmother as well as those she’d heard or experienced in her own life. She passed away when I was twenty-three but her stories live on and I have told them to my children and one day I will tell them to my grandchildren.
Another place I loved as a child was the library. We were very poor so we didn’t have many books at home. I relished every chance to visit the school library. The smell and the feel of the pages was like a balm for me. No matter what happened that day, a good story could take me far away. But I didn’t just love reading and hearing stories, I loved writing them. I have stories I wrote as early as nine years old. My mother always said it was in my blood. I think maybe she was right.
I love all sorts of stories but romantic suspense, mystery and thrillers are my favorites. There’s nothing like a love story set in the midst of danger. There are far too many talented authors in those genres that I love to read for me to name them here. Yet, once in a while an author pens a story that really catches my attention. This is the case with Regan Black’s new Unknown Identities series. The concept made me wonder just what a person would do if forced to endure horrific experiments and to change identities over and over in order to repay a debt and to stay alive. How would love and trust fit into the equation? Because, no matter what else is going on, as humans we, by nature, want to reach out to someone. As I read the first in the series, Bulletproof, I learned how the equation was solved and I fell in love with John Noble. I hope you do as well.
This book, the entire Unknown Identities series, would not exist without the creative and editorial genius of romantic suspense author and master storyteller, Debra Webb.
Her amazing talent and vast imagination are best described as a force of nature. Our brainstorming sessions became adventures through a maze of what-ifs, dire consequences, and heart-stopping emotional impact. The joy of having Debra as my editor for this project has empowered my growth as an author as much as it has strengthened the development of the story.
Debra has been an inspiration to my career since those early days when I was just finding my writing voice. In the following years, her true friendship and gracious mentorship are invaluable gifts I will treasure deeply for the rest of my life.
Boston, Friday December 20, 10:01 p.m.
Six straight days and nights. No end in sight. Heavy, shuddering clouds held the winter sun captive in the day and at night hid even the most dazzling of the stars... leaving nothing but inky darkness.
Boston smelled damp and sodden. More so than usual. The dank scent seeped through the walls and burrowed deeply into every fiber and crevice of the city. Even in this damned tavern with the cigarette smoke thick in the air and the array of sweet, tangy scents emanating from the flow of alcohol it was impossible to ignore the underlying odor of festering mold.
This time of year it should be snowing. Slush and the salt and cinders used to de-ice the streets should be frozen to every moving vehicle.
Instead, it rained.
The constant drumming messed with his head, elicited undertones from a past he’d just as soon forget. Made construction work slow and left him far too much time to think... a nuisance he favored living without.
Only one way to remedy that quandary. He lifted his glass to knock back the last of the tequila, then abruptly stopped. Anticipation whispered through him, bunching his muscles in an instinctive fight-or-flight response to what he couldn’t quite see... couldn’t quite hear.
No amount of time or distance lessened that innate recognition.
Once a hunter, always a hunter.
Never let anyone catch you off guard.
The air in the room thickened like syrup, oozing into his nostrils but failing to fuel his lungs.
John Noble blinked and performed a quick mental assessment of just how much tequila he’d consumed.
Not enough... for
He surveyed the crowded tavern, noting the man at the bar in the Red Sox sweatshirt who stared at him without bothering to look away. The baseball fan allowed his gaze to linger a moment or two more then, as another patron stumbled over to join him, turned away.
Just your imagination
Imagination or not, his senses automatically initiated a second inventory of his surroundings. Waitresses clad in ass-hugging jeans and cleavage-revealing tops continued to weave around and between the crowded tables with their precariously balanced serving trays. The Friday night revelers persisted in their sensual battle with the blaring music, bodies grinding and voices pitched for carrying across the sea of sweaty, visceral sensations. That it was only a few days before Christmas amplified the weekly rituals.
Still... something was off, out of sync. That nagging awareness just wouldn’t go away. Time felt slower. Sound grew distant, sluggish as if a killing blizzard had abruptly swept through the city, leaving a frozen wasteland between John and all else. None of the other patrons paid the slightest attention to the fact that the world around them seemed to have closed in on itself.
John tightened his grip on the shot glass and downed the tequila. With a grimace he lowered the empty tumbler to the table. It was doubtful that any action on his part would stop whatever was coming. The best he could do was brace for its arrival.
His gaze snagged on the scars on his wrists partially exposed by the cuffs of his cheap flannel shirt. Rows of twisted zeroes seared into his skin. He closed his eyes and wished away the stir of awareness that persisted. Inherently understood that it was useless.
“Good evening, John.”
He gritted his teeth and forced his eyes to open. The man who loomed over his table was tall, overdressed and far too perfectly poised to be a regular in this place. Such a self-important passerby would simply have kept walking, even in the rain.
was a working man’s sanctuary shoe-horned between a crab shack and a burger joint on the waterfront. Full of beer-guzzling blue-collar men and the rowdy women who loved to help them work off their pent-up frustrations and spend their paychecks. Not necessarily in that order. This was no place for slick suits and sophisticated conversation.
“I see your old habits haven’t changed.” The uninvited guest gestured to the empty glass. “That’s a shame.”
. John squeezed his eyes shut once more and banished the image that had already burned into his retinas. He was finished with that world. His last mission had been four years ago... a failure, but he’d done his time.
And what had it gotten him?
“I thought you’d be glad to see me.”
A laugh burst from John’s throat as he opened his eyes once more. The bastard was still there... a character from a truly shitty bad dream that perpetually haunted John’s sober nights. “What do you want?”
The guest, a man whose real name John would likely never know, pulled out the chair across the table from him and settled into it.
“Is that anyway to say hello?” He smiled in that slick way only he could. “It has been a long time.”
Not fucking long enough. John gave a succinct nod, sending a message to the passing waitress, before grudgingly meeting the other man’s gaze.
“The only thing keeping me from walking out that door,” he shot a look at the front entrance of the dimly lit tavern for emphasis, “is the
the waitress will be bringing back this way in about ninety seconds.”
John mentally prepped for battle even as a part of his mind attempted to retreat back into denial. “
What do you want?
Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be good. For John.
“Now, now, there’s no need to be distressed,” the son of a bitch dared to placate with an ingenuousness that reeked of an ulterior motive. “We have a proposition for you,
Fury ignited like a match to gas. “Don’t call me that.”
Flashes of memory twisted his gut into screaming knots. He pushed the mental pictures away. Refused to look. His respiration accelerated, forcing the useless organ in his chest to flail helplessly.
The waitress appeared, smiled broadly as she placed a new short tumbler of mind-numbing liquid on the table and deftly lifted the empty one. “There ya go!”
“I’ll need another,” John said, scarcely sparing her a moment’s attention.
Taking his eyes off the man still analyzing him for more than a fraction of a second would be a monumental mistake. He’d made that one before. John picked up the glass and emptied it in one long, desperate swallow.
“Anything for you?” the waitress asked the uninvited, double-crossing suit seated across the table.
“Nothing for me.” He smiled graciously, silky charm exuding from his distinguished face. “Thank you,” he peered at her nametag “Kimberly.”
The woman literally shimmied with pleasure at the sound of her name on his lips. “Gimme a wave or a shout if you change your mind.” She winked and sashayed away.
John leaned forward. “Have you looked at a calendar lately?” He shook his head. “I did my time. Whatever you’re peddling, Messenger, I’m not interested.”
“I’ve come all this way,” he leaned forward slightly. “The least you can do is listen to what I have to say.”
More of those long-buried memories flooded John’s brain. Vivid images from the last little tête a tête he and Messenger had shared.
“I don’t care what you have to say,” John hissed venomously. “The last time you needed me, I almost ended up dead and I got nothing for it.”
No fucking way was he going to be drawn into another trap by this bastard. Especially when Messenger reneged on the bargain – twice over, no less.
That confident smile broadened. “Ah, complacency. It’s not at all your style, John.”
The waitress breezed by, once again trading John’s empty glass for a freshly filled one.
He skimmed the crowd and the exits. Two guys loitered close to the front entrance. They gave the appearance of watching the crowd, but they hadn’t been there the last time he looked. More telling was the upgraded attire.
John hitched his head in that direction. “Your guard dogs look a little generic. I guess my style isn’t the only one slipping.”
“One makes do with what one has. None of us is immune to the deplorable state of the economy.”
Like John gave a rat’s ass. He wasn’t playing this ridiculous game of let’s-catch-up another minute. “Why,” he demanded, an eternity of bitterness crowding into his throat, “are you here?”
“You’ve been chosen for a very special task.” Messenger’s eyes sparkled with an excitement he no doubt presumed would be contagious. “The compensation is quite generous.”
John relaxed the chokehold he had on the glass, contemplated emptying this one as well, but decided against it. “Two years... and then some,” he squeezed out past the clench of his jaws, “you let me rot in that Mexican prison. Trust me, nothing you could offer would be compensation enough.”
Resentment swelled inside him, blocked his ability to breathe all over again.
He wasn’t going back down that road.
“There is a woman who needs protection,” Messenger continued as if John had said nothing at all. “Her survival is of the utmost importance.” He shrugged in that nonchalant manner that bugged the hell out of John. “It’s quite simple as assignments go.”
No fucking way. Nothing that came from
was ever simple unless it was a trap. John swallowed the tequila, slammed the glass down on the table. “You listen to me, you piece of shit –”
“Really, John.” Messenger made a face, tugging at the silk cuffs of his richly tailored jacket and reminding John that beneath his own ragged cuffs was evidence of the times he’d trusted this man and his illustrious colleagues. “Was that necessary? I’ve gone above and beyond to play nice.”