Authors: Skye Warren
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica
Junior FBI Agent Samantha Holmes is assigned the case of a lifetime, along with an enigmatic new partner, Ian Hennessy. She's determined to prove herself to the bureau legend, but late nights and stolen moments lead to more than respect. They lead to desire, and soon she's fallen for the one man forbidden.
Together they hunt for the FBI’s most wanted man. A criminal. A psychopath. But when they get close, Samantha may end up prey instead. She must face her dark past to stay alive—and to protect the man she loves.
Don't Let Go is a dark erotic novel that contains dubious consent and captivity. Not intended for those under eighteen or those uncomfortable with the subject matter.
“He who fights with monsters should be careful that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
There were lies people told you. Like when the case worker said,
You’re going to love your new home, Samantha.
Then there are lies you tell other people.
My father passed away.
That was what I told people, even though he’d just turned fifty-two in a supermax prison. It was easier that way. Lies smoothed the way so we could go on pretending. They were the lube of life, and we all got a little messy in the process.
But the darkest lies were the ones you told yourself. They lurked in the shadows of your subconscious, undermining you and twisting your perceptions. They hid the answers in plain sight, right when you needed them most.
Spread out on my desk were piles of surveillance photos and notes taken over the past twelve months. I found it impossible to imagine that countless field workers and researchers had managed to miss his completely. Which meant this muddled collection of reports contained the information we needed. Hiding in plain sight.
Every image, from airport security cameras to public transportation cams to satellite imagery, showed a man with his head bent, facing down or away. As if he knew exactly where the cameras were, eluding us once again. The man looking the other direction, he could have been anyone. He probably
anyone, considering the pattern of times and locations didn’t add up. Carlos Laguardia wasn’t in a Chicago eatery known for mob connections one day, and then a Paris subway the next, and then a Florida University after that. We were grasping at straws—carefully planted straws designed to misdirect.
Only one image was different. A grainy black-and-white photograph showed a man standing still with people milling about him. Blurs brushing past a dangerous criminal. A monster. They’d run screaming if they knew all the things he’d done. I had chills just reading about it in this air-conditioned cubicle at the highly-secure FBI office.
Money laundering. Extortion. Murder. If there was a law against it, he’d done it. A wave of old pain washed over me. Men like that didn’t care who they hurt, whether it was the victims of their crimes or collateral damage.
I had been collateral damage once. Twelve years ago, I’d huddled under the coffee table when my father came home late, hands crusted with blood. I should have been grateful he hadn’t ever touched me, raped me, killed me. He did that to other little girls. And boys—he was an equal opportunity creep.
Until he finally made a mistake. A boy from my street had disappeared, and even at ten years old, I knew what it meant. I still remembered the heat of that August day and the cold bite of the chair beneath my legs. Static from the plastic seat zapped my skin while I waited in the police station. Horror and pity flickered over the policeman’s face as I told him my story.
I learned an important lesson then: criminals always make a mistake.
If I could figure out Laguardia’s mistake, I’d have him. If I could find the little man with blue pants and a red striped shirt in this real life
, he’d be mine. Unfortunately, the heavy stack of papers on my desk wasn’t talking.
This was the only image where he looked at the camera, but the resolution was too low for facial recognition software. I got the impression of patrician features—a broad forehead, a strong nose. Dark, curly hair peeked from beneath a thick skullcap. A bulky jacket obscured what looked to be a large frame of a man. Tall, compared to the people walking around him. Well, we’d always known he’d be physically fit and capable of fighting. But beneath his brawn was a mastermind who had run a global organization and eluded hundreds of trained law enforcement officers.
Not for much longer, though. The director had held an all-hands meeting last week.
“Laguardia has made a mockery of this organization,” he’d said, and at the back of the room, I’d silently agreed.
“Our ideals,” he’d continued, practically frothing at the mouth. “Our effectiveness. Even our dignity. A single man has turned us into a joke. That ends now. The time to get a gold star for effort has passed. It’s not good enough to look for him. You’re going to damn well find him. Use all the goddamn resources you need. I will find a way to get funding and support from legal, but
are the agents. You’ve got your eyes on the ground. It’s up to
to bring him in.”
That little speech had flashed me back over a decade, when I’d had my eyes on the ground. When I’d been the only one at the right time and place to capture a criminal, even if it had been my own father. Yes, I understood. Yes, I was on board, ready to catch him. Of course, as a junior agent, that would mostly involve getting coffee and making copies, but hey, that would be my contribution to bringing him down.
A soft knock came from the cubicle next to me. I peeked my head over the short beige walls.
Lance, my friend and fellow junior agent, held up a cup of baby carrots. “Want one?”
“Thanks.” I grabbed one and sat back down, munching.
We had started at the Houston branch of the FBI at the same time and bonded over the completely uninteresting work we were given. Instead of glass-walled offices, we had small stubby cubicles shoved into the corner. Instead of field assignments and fancy gadgets, we did grunt work and replaced toner in the printer.
“What are you working on?” Lance said from his side.
“Looking at this case file.”
A snort. He knew which one I meant. “Did you find his secret hideout yet?”
“Oh yeah,” I joked airily. “I think I’ve got this case wrapped up tight. He should be in custody within the hour.”
“I’m sure Brody will be over to thank you personally for your service.”
“And offer me a raise,” I added.
Our boss and regional manager, Brody, barely even knew I was alive, except when he needed coffee.
Lance’s response was cut off by a commotion in the hallway. I peeked over the wall to see a wave of suits led by Brody rounding the corner, heading in my direction. Plopping back on my seat, I swiveled to face my desk and pretended to work. I actually
been working, in a sense, but not on the budget reports I’d been assigned. I gathered the photographs into an unruly stack and stuffed them into my desk, turning my attention to the spreadsheet blinking empty on my monitor.
Instead of quickly rushing past, as expected, the thud of footsteps slowed.
Brody peered over the ledge. “Meet us in the conference room, Ms. Holmes.”
Then he was gone, and I was hyperventilating. Me? Now? The suits continued past, toward the tall-ceilinged conference room. I stared at the blank cells in the spreadsheet, heart pounding. They’d never asked me in to one of their powwows before. And everyone looked so stern—almost angry. What would they say to me? I could only imagine the worst:
you’re fired. You screwed up. You don’t belong here.
Unlikely, but try telling that to my racing heart.
Lance hissed at me through the cubicle wall. “What are you doing, Samantha? Go!”
“Why do they want me there?” I whispered back, stalling.
“I don’t know. Maybe to take notes?”
“Oh.” Relief swept through me. Immediately followed by embarrassment. “Good idea. Probably that.”
Why had I freaked out over a simple conference? They wanted a secretary, for crying out loud. What was wrong with me?
the psychology textbook would say.
A tendency to assume guilt for wrongs I hadn’t committed due to childhood trauma. In other words, I felt so freaking bad for what my father had done that it spilled over into my adult life.
I could self-diagnose like a pro after specializing in Criminal Behavior at Quantico. We applied a lot of psychological buzzwords to deviant behavior. But the most interesting part had been the total lack of blame present in those classes.
Maybe that was why criminal behavior studies appealed to me. We analyzed them like rats in a maze, trying to figure out what made them tick. No one blamed a rat for eating the cheese at the end. No one blamed him for wanting to escape.
The FBI knew about my dad, of course, and the part I’d played in his capture. That was fine. Plenty of agents got started because we’d seen the effects of criminal activity firsthand. They had just required that a psychologist sign off on me. That had been a cakewalk, after taking all the required classes on behavioral psychology.
What do you remember?
she’d asked, again and again. Psychologists were such voyeurs. They got off on true-life confessions, and then expected us to trust them. Not likely.
Grabbing a steno pad and a pen, I hustled down the hallway where a few of the suits were heading in a different direction. A smaller meeting then. When I slipped through the heavy door, I found only two men inside.
Brody sat at the head of the cherry wood conference table, but without the full audience I was used to from the staff meetings. The other man stood at the window, turned away. I couldn’t see him very well, but the gray peppered through his dark blond hair gave me a clue to his age. He kept himself fit, his body lean and exuding virility. And my last observation as a budding detective: he had power. Power enough not to wait on Brody attentively. No, he continued to gaze out the window, pensive.
“Are you going to sit down, Ms. Holmes?” Brody asked.
I’d been staring at the stranger. And caught by my boss.
A flush crept up my neck. “Yes, sir.”
I slid into a seat at the opposite end of the table, pad flat and pen poised to write. Except Brody was looking at me, as if waiting for me to talk. It felt vaguely like a nightmare, walking into class and realizing I’d completely forgotten about the assignment that was due. I wished I hadn’t worn this pale pink blouse I’d fallen in love with at an artisan fair. Even if it was covered by yards of stiff suiting to guard against any idea that I favored form over function.
Self-consciously, I tugged at the drop pearls hanging from my earlobes, wishing I’d skipped those too. I wanted to wash myself in professional bleach so they’d know I belonged at the table. I looked down, letting my hair brush across my face—hiding, wondering. What the hell did Brody want me to say?
Brody leaned forward, a predatory glint in his eyes. “Agent Holmes, I’m sure you know why we’re here.”
The only thing I was sure about was that my palms were sweating. The pen was slippery in my hand. “Sir?”
“Laguardia,” he said impatiently. “The most wanted man in the United States? Surely you’ve heard of him.”
“Yes, sir. Of course.”
Shit. His stare was intimidating. It made me want to confess crimes I hadn’t even committed yet.
Where had that thought come from. I didn’t even have a speeding ticket. I would never be a criminal. I would
be like my father. But secretly, fearfully, I’d always wondered if that was just a lie I told myself.
Brody tossed a manila folder onto the table, and a small stack of papers fanned out in front of me. “In the past year, twelve major players near Laguardia have been killed. Some of them were loyal partners. Others were competitors. In-fighting within the organization. Power struggles. They’re killing each other off.”
Since he seemed to be waiting for a response, I said, “Well…that’s convenient for us.”
A soft sound came from the man at the window, like a snort of amusement. Brody’s eyes raised like I’d said something inappropriate, and I supposed I had. Only, I suspected he wasn’t annoyed they were dying. Instead, he preferred we were the ones doing the killing. Or capturing.
“This is our best chance to bring them down,” Brody said. “We move hard and fast. While they’re licking their wounds, too busy to pay attention to what we’re doing.” He jerked his head toward the other man. “So I’ve brought in Ian Hennessey.”
The man at the window inclined his head in what I assumed was a greeting or acknowledgment. But he didn’t face us, even then, leaving me to make a noncommittal sound in my throat. What did any of this have to do with me? Maybe Ian Hennessey—his name spoken with a certain weight—was so important he warranted his own personal coffee-fetcher. Who would be me.
When Hennessey continued to stand there, Brody cleared his throat. “Ian is one of our best agents. He’s closed a hell of a lot of cases. The Di Mariano family. And the Mencia? Maybe you’ve heard of it. Big jewel heist in Manhattan. A lot of high profile cases, and now he’s going to give this one a try.”
“I’m not going to try,” Hennessy said quietly. “I’m going to close the case.”
A shiver ran down my spine at the certainty in his voice. The ferocity.
My third foster mother had a thing for the stage. Plays would come on the public programming channel, and she would watch them late at night in between requests for donations. I would huddle in the hallway in my pajamas, watching with her. To this day I wasn’t sure if she figured out I was there or if she cared.
I didn’t know why those plays had caught my interest, when other kids my age were into boy bands and Nickelodeon. But there was something beautiful about the music and the drama, something pure. Even when they’d dealt with cold subjects like prostitution and death, it had all seemed far more elevated than the real-life version of
my childhood had been.