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Authors: Liliana Hart

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BOOK: Dane - A MacKenzie Novel
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***

Two hours later, the truck was unloaded and
furniture was in a semblance of where it was supposed to be. Cade
looked at the clock and decided there wasn’t a thing wrong with
having beer in the morning if you hadn’t been to bed yet. He took
two more into his bedroom at the back of the house and handed them
to his brothers, who were putting together an enormous four-poster
bed that had belonged to his great-grandmother.

“You don’t have the sex life for a bed like
this,” Shane said, sucking on his skinned knuckles.

The bed in question was dark and ornate and
had been hand-carved by his great-grandfather MacKenzie. It also
had to weigh close to a thousand pounds. His Grandpop had been a
hell of a carpenter. There was a large matching armoire, with a
hidden panel large enough to fit a rifle and two handguns, and two
nightstands that held knives sharp enough to cut a blade of grass.
His Grandpop also believed that it never hurt to be prepared.

“You whine like a woman,” Cade said, handing
out the beers.

He went to the large window and looked out at
his sloping backyard. It led to a small creek that ran behind all
the houses on his side of the street, and huge trees grew from the
sides of the bank. Sunlight shone through the branches and dappled
across his scarred hardwood floors. There wasn’t a fence between
his house and his sexy neighbor’s, so he was able to see all of her
yard as well.

She had a hot tub under a large arbor that
was shaded by thick tendrils of ivy and some kind of big bloomed
flowers he’d never seen before. Candles were set out around the hot
tub, and he couldn’t help the slow curl of lust that wound through
his body as he thought of the heated bubbles kissing her naked
flesh, the candlelight glinting off her hair.

He shook his head at his undisciplined
thoughts and turned his gaze to the narrow path that ran between
their two houses. Finding the ability to swallow the cold beer was
getting harder, and he felt his lungs close up at his discovery. If
he stood at just the right angle he could see into the big bay
window of her bedroom and through the ridiculous excuse for lace
curtains she’d hung. She was going to kill him. He wouldn’t have to
wait on Miguel del Fuego to hunt him down after all. Death by lust.
It was a hell of a thing to have to tell one’s mother.

“I think someone’s got a crush on the babe
next door,” Shane whispered loud enough that Cade had to roll his
eyes. “Maybe we should call the police and tell them she has a
peeping Tom.”

Declan shook his head. “He is the police.
It’s a sad world we’re living in when those sworn to uphold the law
are the ones breaking it.”

“Speaking of your new job—” Shane said.

“Were we?” Cade asked, his expression
fierce.

The last thing he wanted to discuss was his
new job with the Fort Worth police department. It was a ruse plain
and simple, but no one was supposed to know about it but his former
Director at the DEA. His experience with the agency had made the
transition easy, and the police department had shuffled him
straight into working Vice with little fuss, though they were
suspicious of his motives for jumping ship. The only thing that had
come into question was his accuracy with a weapon.

Several years before he’d been shot in the
hand stopping a drug shipment from leaving his hometown of
Surrender, Montana and crossing the border into Canada. His cousin,
Cooper, had been working the job with him, and the bastards had
gotten off a lucky shot. The bullet had passed right through the
tendons in his hand, and the DEA had had no choice but to stick him
with desk duty until he could prove himself useful again. He still
hadn’t gotten full use of his right hand back, but he’d worked his
ass off with his other hand until he was almost as accurate a
shot.

Then just as things had started to go his way
and the DEA had handed him the assignment of a lifetime to
infiltrate Miguel del Fuego’s cartel, things had gone to shit and
his life had fallen apart completely.

He’d spent three years undercover in the del
Fuego cartel, and the DEA had given him a background sure to make
him attractive to a man like Miguel. All traces of his real life
and family had been completely wiped from the system, and for all
intents and purposes, he was the son of Miguel’s dead cartel rival,
a part-time terrorist, and a full-time gunrunner. He’d been just
exactly the kind of man del Fuego had wanted to breed with his only
daughter.
Sick bastard
.

Cade still didn’t know how his cover had been
blown—how del Fuego had known to bug his room that night. Someone
had betrayed him. Once Miguel had discovered Cade’s true identity
and his position within the DEA, he’d had to go into deep hiding
for almost two years until most of the major players in the cartel
had been taken down. But del Fuego was still alive, and Cade knew
they hadn’t snuffed out the cartel completely.

It wasn’t his problem anymore. He’d chosen a
new path—a new life. The DEA hadn’t wanted to let him go, but he
hadn’t given them a choice. This was the last job he’d ever work
for the agency—though technically he wasn’t working
for
them, being more of a consultant than an actual agent—and they
weren’t happy about it.

He fully expected for the cartel to hunt him
down. Knew they’d come after him. But if Cade’s plan worked out
like he thought it would, then he’d be luring them right into his
trap and get to take them out once and for all. Then he’d turn in
his badge once and for all.

Cade helped his brothers lift the king-size
feather mattress and put it on the bed frame, and he managed to
ignore their silent looks to each other. He’d gotten good at
ignoring the looks his family gave him every time they were
together. They were worried. His time undercover in del Fuego’s
cartel had changed him, and there was nothing he could do to bring
his old self back. He wasn’t as quick to laugh or tease as he once
was. There was a darkness inside of him that would never go away.
Too much exposure to true evil did that to a person over time.

“This is a good move for you,” Shane said,
ignoring the warning look Cade gave him. “You’re still doing what
you love.”

Not even his brothers knew that his current
job was just another cover, though he had a suspicion that Declan
was in on it. His brother seemed to know everything going on all
the time.

“And now you have a house and a sexy
neighbor,” Shane said, shrugging. “It’s very mature. You’re
thirty-six years old. It’s about time you settled down.”

“Enough, Shane,” Cade growled, thoughts of
the future and children he’d never gotten to share with Carmen
clouding his vision. “I don’t want to settle down in some picture
perfect life of what you think would make me happy. I’ll do my
fucking job. I might even do my fucking neighbor. But I’ll be
damned if I bring some woman and a bunch of kids into the misery
that is my life. You think del Fuego or his men will ever stop
looking for me? My family would never be safe. I’m a wanted
man.”

“Bullshit, Cade,” Shane said. “There have
been no reports on activity again in the cartel. You’re just afraid
to live again. For the last couple of years you’ve done nothing but
be miserable to yourself and everyone around you because of what
happened to Carmen del Fuego. I know you loved her. But you might
as well be dead the way you’re living now. You’re trying to get
yourself killed. You think we’re too stupid to know that you’re
setting yourself up as bait?”

Shane was always the more hotheaded of his
brothers, and he never knew when to shut his mouth. Cade could see
Declan shaking his head from the corner of his eye and moving into
position to get between them if things got violent. And Cade knew
that Dec wouldn’t pull his punches if he was forced to break up a
fight.

Cade had worked with his middle brother on
several ops over the years, and Cade still had no idea what branch
of the government Dec worked for or exactly what he did. He only
knew that his brother always showed up when he needed to, and he
wasn’t someone to mess with.

“It’s my life, Shane. They’re my memories, my
regrets, and it’s my fucking guilt. I’ll do what I need to, and
I’ll do the job I’ve been given. Even if it means I spend my last
breath watching the cartel come to an end. Don’t ever expect
anything more from me. I don’t need the hero worship you had for me
as a kid. I know my duty.”

“You’re sure as fuck not anyone’s hero
anymore, Cade,” Shane said. “You think it doesn’t break Mom’s heart
every time she sees what you’ve become? Miguel del Fuego might be
the most unimaginable bastard to ever walk the face of the planet,
but even he’s got life in him that you don’t have. Because he has a
purpose. His purpose might be to kill you, but it’s a purpose all
the same. What the hell do you have?”

“A brother who doesn’t know when to shut
up.”

Shane grabbed his shirt off the floor and
jerked it on, and Cade followed him into the living room, feeling
the acid churn in his gut as his brother grabbed his duffle bag and
slipped on his sunglasses. He wanted to stop him. To apologize. To
just do—something. But he didn’t say anything.

“You know what the shitty thing is, Cade?”
Shane asked as he turned back, his eyes hidden behind his glasses.
“It’s like your whole family died with Carmen that day. I don’t
know why the hell we all bother. I’m leaving on assignment
tomorrow. I’ll be back in country in six weeks.”

Shane waved a hand negligently as he walked
out the door, and Cade decided he’d be better off going to the
kitchen for another beer rather than throwing something against the
wall like he wanted to do.

“Are you leaving too?” Cade finally asked
after Declan had been silent for what seemed like forever.

“Might as well. I’ve got a job coming
up.”

“I can’t help the way I feel, Dec. And I
can’t change the way I am.”

Cade heard Declan sigh, and his grip
tightened around the bottle in his hand at the disappointment that
one breath of air seemed to express.

“That’s not for me to say, Cade. And I know
it won’t be one of us who has the power to make you feel
differently. Maybe it’s time to just open your mind to the
possibilities of having something more. I’m not saying you have
to,” he said, before Cade could interrupt. “But maybe there’s a
chance you didn’t die that day with Carmen after all, and there’s a
lot of life ahead of you. She wouldn’t want you to do this to
yourself.”

Cade grunted and brought the beer up to
quench his dry throat. He was just so damned tired. And empty. And
lonely.

“Just be grateful Darcy and Grant aren’t here
to add their opinion to Shane’s.”

A rusty laugh rumbled from Cade’s chest as he
thought of his two other siblings. Grant had just gotten married
and was settling in nicely with his new wife, and his sister,
Darcy, was finishing up her Master’s Degree and trying to figure
out what she wanted to do with her life, driving everyone crazy in
the meantime. One of the reasons he’d moved from Montana to Texas
was because he never had any peace. Someone in the family—between
his parents, siblings and cousins—was always trying to give him
advice on how to get his life back together.

“Oh, believe me. I’m grateful.”

Declan nodded and grabbed his own bag from
the hall closet. “You’ve got a nice house here, Cade. It’s older,
and it’s going to need some care and maintenance, but she’s got a
solid foundation. You’ve got a lot in common, I think.”

“You know I love you guys, don’t you, Dec?”
Cade said, feeling the urgent need to let his brother know it. “I
just need some time.”

“I know. Try to stay out of trouble. We
haven’t heard rumbles of the cartel moving again, but my gut’s been
churning ever since you took this job. They’ll find you, and I know
you’re expecting it, but shit happens. I’ll be mighty pissed if you
end up getting killed.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Declan grinned, stretching the ragged scar on
his right cheek into a fine white line. “And don’t give the pretty
lady next door too hard of a time. She’s going to give you a run
for your money.”

“Never in a million years. Did you see the
way she glared at me? No man wants that kind of grief all the
time.”

Declan’s laughter followed him out the door.
“Whatever you say. You know how to reach me if you need me.”

He gave a two-fingered salute and slipped out
the back door silently, through the trees in the backyard and to
the car he had parked about a mile away. Declan was a paranoid
bastard, and he had good reason to be. He also had uncanny
instincts, and if his gut was churning then Cade could all but
guarantee the cartel had found him. Perfect.

Chapter Two

 

 

Guilt ate at Bayleigh as she tossed and
turned in her bed the rest of the morning. There was no way she was
going to get back to sleep. Not that she didn’t have a good reason
to be a bitch at that time of the morning. No judge in a court of
law would convict her once they’d learned she hadn’t had her
coffee. But still, she should have shown a little more restraint,
and she shouldn’t have let him get under her skin. She’d paid for
enough therapy to get over her self-esteem issues. And he’d
apologized, though he’d looked damned angry about it.

The thought of those dark, wicked eyes had
her body heating and her breasts aching. He was dangerous—the scars
on his hard body the proof of the life he’d led—but despite the
first impression of him that had stolen the breath from her body,
she hadn’t been afraid. Because as much as she hated to admit it,
there was something about him that called to her baser nature.
Animal instinct
. There was no other way to explain her
reaction to him.

Hell, maybe she didn’t have the sense that
God gave a turnip, as her brothers so often reminded her. Trouble
had a tendency to follow her around, but she knew how to handle
herself. Growing up as an army brat with a retired Colonel for a
father, a brother who was a Navy SEAL, and another brother who
worked for Homeland Security had given her the necessary tools to
strike out on her own. But the man next door was trouble to the
millionth degree, and she had a feeling there was nothing in her
arsenal of tricks that could protect her from him if he ever got it
in his mind to come after her.

BOOK: Dane - A MacKenzie Novel
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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