Master No, Masters and Mercenaries Book 9

Disavowed by those he swore to protect…

Tennessee Smith is a wanted man. Betrayed by his government and hunted by his former employer, he’s been stripped of everything he holds dear. If the CIA finds him, they’re sure to take his life as well. His only shot at getting it all back is taking down the man who burned him. He knows just how to get to Senator Hank McDonald and that’s through his daughter, Faith. In order to seduce her, he must become something he never thought he’d be—a Dom.

Overcome by isolation and duty…

All her life, Dr. Faith McDonald has felt alone, even among her family. Dedicating herself to helping others and making a difference in the world has brought her some peace, but a year spent fighting the Ebola virus in West Africa has taken a toll. She’s come home for two months of relaxation before she goes back into the field. After holding so many lives in her hands, nothing restores her like the act of submission. Returning to her favorite club, Faith is drawn to the mysterious new Dom all the subs are talking about, Master No. In the safety of his arms, she finds herself falling head over heels in love.

Forced to choose between love and revenge…

On an exclusive Caribbean island, Ten and Faith explore their mutual attraction, but her father’s plots run deeper than Ten could possibly have imagined. With McKay-Taggart by his side, Ten searches for a way to stop the senator, even as his feelings for Faith become too strong to deny. In the end, he must choose between love and revenge—a choice that will change his life forever.

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Reviews

MASTER NO was hands down, the BEST book of the series for me! This nail-biting, pulse-pounding, scorchingly hot, emotionally driven beauty of a book, had me up until the wee hours of the morning. I went through a myriad of emotion while reading this book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I laughed. I cried. I sighed. I blushed. I cried some more. Fans of the M&M series, NOTHING will prepare you for the events that occur in Blake’s latest masterpiece. ~ 5 Stars, Shayna, Shayna Renee’s Spicy Reads, shaynareneesspicyreads.com

I finished this book a couple of days ago and still my first thought is wow. This book will change this series. Action packed with lots of hot loving makes this book a must read for anyone who loves a little bite with their romance. ~ Top Pick, Terri, Night Owl Reviews, nightowlreviews.com

What a treat. I have been a fan of this series for a long time and I'm still astonished when a new book comes out and it lives up to the rest or is even better. That's quite the accomplishment for Ms. Blake since we are talking full length novel #9 and countless novellas on the side. I'm still invested and interested in these characters, their relationships and their kick-ass missions. I love coming back and I could read a few hundred more if we would be so lucky to get them. ~ 5 stars, Flo, Coffee Addict Books, CoffeeAddictBooks

Good grief, Lexi Blake – the things you do to me. You manage to keep me always chomping at the bit for the next installment of your Masters and Mercenaries, and MASTER NO was no exception. This is a story that makes you consider the meanings and ramifications of the ideas of revenge, justice and redemption. The sex was hot, and emotionally charged in many beautiful ways, but the title character’s journey sealed this as a 5-star for me. ~ Rebecca, Scandalicious Book Reviews, ScandaliciousBookReviews.com

Master No is a real emotional roller coaster ride - one minute I'd be laughing at the McKay-Taggart gang's banter, then the next minute I'd be in tears. It's definitely a stand out book in a five star series, Master No is a must read. Five fabulous stars!~ Julie, JJ's Kinky Books, jjsKinkyBooks.blogspot.co.uk

WOW.. this book blew me away! It's strong, powerful, passionate and action packed. Lexi Blake is one of the best erotic writers out there. Her Masters and Mercenaries Series walks a wonderful line between action/adventure, BDSM, and pure romance. ~ Shauni, Tea and Book, TeaAndBook

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Outside of Monrovia, Liberia West Africa Present Day

Faith McDonald turned her face up to the sun and breathed in long and deep. It felt like she hadn’t taken a deep breath in the last six months, hadn’t taken time to acknowledge something as small as the warmth of a lovely day because her world seemed so very filled with death.

“Hey, is that an actual smile I see on your face?” a familiar voice asked.

Faith opened her eyes and couldn’t help but smile at her new friend. In the last several months she’d become close to her bodyguard. Erin Argent had a mass of unruly red hair and a sweet smile that belied her incredibly sarcastic nature. Faith appreciated both. “Togar’s fever broke this morning.”

Togar was a young Bassa boy. His mother had died in the first wave, when it had all seemed like another day in West Africa. Ebola had reared its ugly head, but in the beginning, none of the doctors in Faith’s small charity hospital had truly understood what was coming for them. Togar had lost his mother, father, and three sisters in the months that followed before falling ill himself.

She hadn’t been able to deal with it. She’d kept that toddler healthy all these months and his death right at the end of the horrible tide would have potentially broken her, but this morning—this beautiful and glorious morning—she’d won one. Togar had woken weak but asking to eat.

It was the classic doctor mistake. Don’t get close. Don’t let them in. Fix the ones you can and let go of the rest. Triage.

She hadn’t been able to do it. There were times when what she did required more than mere logic and reason. There were times when it required a win to keep going. One life saved.

Erin joined her on the front porch of the small hut she lived in while she worked at the hospital. “I’m glad to hear that. I got fond of that kid. What happens to him now that we’re going home?”

Home. God, she wasn’t even sure where that was anymore. At least Togar had one. “I finally located his grandmother. She’s in Sierra Leone. She and her husband will be here by the end of the week. He’s going to be okay.”

“Because you’ll make sure of it. How much did you give the grandmother?” Erin asked, suspicion in her voice.

Faith sighed. “A couple hundred bucks, but she didn’t ask for it. She really was happy to find out her grandson was alive. I won’t miss it, but two hundred dollars can potentially change a life here.”

Erin sat back. “I get it. I really do. Hey, babe.”

Faith couldn’t help but smile at the newcomer. Theo. That man was hot. With close-cropped blond hair, broad shoulders, and a body that didn’t appear to contain a single ounce of fat, Theodore Taggart was simply divine. He was also taken by Erin. Like totally taken. She’d caught them kissing one night. Though she was ashamed to admit it, she’d hidden and watched. She’d watched as big, manly Theo had pressed Erin against the door of her hut and inhaled her like she was more necessary than his next breath. His hands had cupped her ass, hauling her close, and she’d heard him growling at her in a low, sexy, very dominant voice.

Yeah, she was getting hot thinking about it. If the bad news was Theo had a girl, the good news was he also apparently had a twin who looked an awful lot like him.

“Hey.” Theo looked perfectly comfortable with the P90 strapped to his chest. His gaze warmed as he took in his girlfriend.

His sub. That had been a shock. Erin and Theo were involved in a D/s relationship. Not in a million years would she have expected to find another D/s couple out here in Africa.

Not another. She wasn’t in a relationship anymore. Her “Master” had decided she wasn’t worth the trouble and dumped her via text. It wasn’t that she was horribly hurt. She hadn’t been that invested, but now she was at loose ends and the prospect of trying to find a good play partner was daunting.

“So I hear you’re coming home with us, Doc,” Theo said, leaning against the railing.

“I don’t know.” When Erin had made the offer, she’d practically jumped at it. Not only were Theo and Erin in the lifestyle and really pleasant to be around, they had connections to a very swanky club in Dallas. Normally Faith played in her home city of Houston for a few months during her leave, but the breakup with her old Master might make things uncomfortable.

And wouldn’t a new start be amazing? She only had a few precious months before she would be back here, fighting disease and poverty and increasingly dealing with radicals who would love to take out a Western doctor. Most of the year she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and those sweet times when she could shrug off responsibility and indulge in her submissive side were like gold.

Did she really want to waste them on all the drama that would go with going home? Not only would she have to deal with her old Master and the nastiness of the mean girl club subs there, she would have to deal with her father and sister. She knew they loved her but they also judged her. With judgey eyes. Yeah, there was a reason they kept her far from the press. She used words like judgey.

“You don’t know?” Erin asked with a frown. “I thought it was all settled. You can stay with me.”

“With us,” Theo corrected. “Faith, you are more than welcome to stay with me and Erin. We have a new house. It’s not huge, but it’s certainly got enough room for you.”

“What?” Erin asked, her face flushing.

Theo’s lips tugged up in a sexy grin. “Surprise, love. I asked my brothers to find us a place while we’re here. I didn’t want you to have to go back to your sad, nondescript apartment. You’ll find Case and Ian have moved us totally into our new home.”

“They moved me out of my apartment?” For a second Erin sounded shocked, almost angry, but then she took a deep breath. “That’s a big surprise, Theo. Maybe we should have talked about that.”

He shook his head. “You know that apartment was in a dangerous part of town, and I won’t have you unprotected. You’ll see. This is going to work out beautifully, and now we have a place for Faith. I would hate for her to have to sleep on your couch.”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t impose,” Faith said quickly.

“Well, now you’re not,” Theo replied. “Now you’re helping my lovely sub and I move on to the next phase of our lives. We’ll be more than happy to have you with us, and I’ve already talked to my contacts at Sanctum. When we touch down in Dallas, there will be a contract waiting for you.”

“Seriously?” She’d heard about Sanctum. It was kind of legendary in their circles. And incredibly exclusive. “I’ve got to ask. If you can afford a Sanctum membership, why are you here?”

“You can afford it. Why are you here?” Theo shot back.

He used that deep, dominant voice on her and she realized she was being incredibly rude. Even part-time Doms preferred politeness. It was one of the things she liked about the lifestyle. She would never be twenty-four seven, but she deeply enjoyed patches of time where she could sink into her submissive role. “I apologize. You’re correct, of course.”

Erin gave her a grin. “And he totally can’t afford a membership. His brother runs the place. I’m surprised Theo could afford the house.”

Theo shrugged. “I’m full of surprises, baby. And you know I always give you what you need.” He winked. “I’m going to pack. Our flight leaves at 0900. If you’re game, I’ll set up a cyber meeting with a Dom from Sanctum. He can go over all the rules and your contract. If you decide to come with us.”

Theo gave them a nod and started walking toward the security office.

"You’ve got some time, you know,” Erin said. “Three glorious weeks where we check each other for fever twice a day. It’s going to be a blast.”

“My dad’s place in Munich is beautiful.” It was outside the city, actually. Out in the Bavarian countryside. She didn’t go there often but her father and sister used the place for skiing holidays. Personally, she thought a three-week quarantine of perfectly healthy people was overdone, but her father had asked her to do it and offered up a really nice check for her clinic, so she would allow him to go all over the press stating his hero doctor daughter was observing the rules. Naturally they were rules set up by freaked-out politicians who knew nothing about medicine, but they were somehow “the rules.”

That was the kind of crap one put up with when one’s father was a senator. God, she prayed he never ran for president.

“Thanks for inviting us along.” Erin sat back, crossing her legs at the ankles and leaning her back against the solid wood of the frame. “You know, I really admire you. I can joke about the rich girl stuff, but you do good work, Doc. I’m pretty cynical about the world myself, but you’re the real deal.”

“I don’t know about that.” Faith sometimes thought she was simply making up for all the crap her father pulled. Politics was a dirty business. “And it can be hard to stay naïve out here, but I try.”

“Naïve? Why would you want to be naïve?”

That was an easy question and one she’d answered long ago. “Because cynics don’t change the world. Naïve people do. Naïve people aren’t smart enough to know that they can’t beat a disease. When wave after wave of bodies start rolling in, the naïve idiot stands there and tries to hold the line.”

She wasn’t smart enough to cure the thing. Her sister was the research genius. Faith thought of herself as a private while Hope was a general.

Erin’s lips turned up slightly. “It really is a war. I didn’t get that until I saw it myself. You’re a good soldier, Doc.”

That was probably the highest compliment Erin could give. “Thanks, and please call me Faith.”

“I will. Besides, it looks like we’re going to be roomies for a while.”

“You seemed a bit irritated with Theo.”

“Only because he’s a high-handed asshat who really should involve me in the decision-making process,” Erin began.

“Is there trouble between the two of you?” She didn’t like the thought. She kind of liked Erin and Theo being solid. She needed a couple to aspire to.

Erin turned thoughtful. “Always, but…let’s just say I’ve learned a lot here.”

Africa could do that to a person. It was why she kept coming back. She’d learned a lot about herself, about kindness in the face of adversity. About death and life. “Is it wrong that I really want to go to Sanctum?”

“Why would it be wrong?”

She was getting maudlin. “I don’t know. I guess I’m going into it knowing it’s only a short-term relationship. I want to relax.”

“You want to have sex,” Erin corrected. “And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Faith, there’s not a thing wrong with asking for what you need. You’re surrounded by death and misery nine months out of the year. Party the rest of the time. You deserve it. Anyone who says otherwise can bite my ass. You don’t have a relationship right now so that frees you up to do as you please. If doing some super-hot Dom pleases you, then go for it.”

She sighed. “Will he be super hot?”

“Oh, he’ll be hot. I can promise you that.”

“Might he look somewhat like your Dom?”

It seemed to take Erin a moment to understand, and then her eyes went wide. “Oh, no. No. You don’t want Case. Jeez. Case acts like a five-year-old most of the time and I swear the dude needs a maid service. No. I’ve got the perfect Dom in mind. But you should know, he’s definitely not a forever kind of guy.”

She wasn’t looking for that. She was looking for some fun, for some relaxation, and maybe an orgasm or two. “Do I get a choice?”

“Absolutely. Spend the next few weeks talking to Master T and we’ll see how it goes from there. You’re going to like it at Sanctum.” Erin stood and brushed off her cargo pants. She always dressed in a utilitarian fashion. “And Faith, you should know that I’ll make sure you’re okay.”

“What?”

“At Sanctum, I mean. Whatever happens, you’re going to be okay. See you in the morning. I’ve got a few things to sort out with my Master.” Erin strode off in the same direction Theo had walked.

And Faith made a decision. It didn’t matter. Erin was right. Her life was her own and she wasn’t going to let petty rules keep her from something she needed. Sanctum would be private. Her business wouldn’t get out in the press and embarrass her father. She would be safe to indulge, and when the time came to head to her annual birthday party in the Caymans, maybe she would have a handsome Dom on her arm.

It was only for a while. She wouldn’t get what Erin had obviously found, but that was all right, too. Not everyone found true love. She wasn’t expecting that at all. She wanted a little companionship.

Some really good sex would be amazing, too.

Mostly she wanted some peace. That was really all she could ask for.

* * * *

Tennessee Smith sat in the cool conference room and stared at the file. Faith. What a fucking joke. Hank McDonald had named his daughters Faith and Hope. Very likely the bastard thought having daughters named after virtues helped him with the voting public. It certainly hadn’t been because the man placed any value at all in either word.

Two sisters. One was polished and perfect looking. In the photo he held, Hope McDonald was dressed in a tailored Chanel suit. Everything from her hair to her manicured nails, right down to the heels she wore screamed money and power. In the shot he had of Faith, she looked weary. No makeup, scrubs, her hair frazzled like it hadn’t seen conditioner in a few days. But the light hit her skin making it luminous. Her eyes seemed to stare out as though asking for something from him.

What did she need?

“So I dug up some interesting information on Hope McDonald.” Michael Malone passed him a file folder from across the table.

“You dug it up?” Hutch huffed and rolled his eyes.

“Well, I compiled it and did the actual analysis. You just gave me a bunch of websites to click on, and I’m pretty sure one of them infected my laptop.”

“Nah, that was from all the porn,” Hutch shot back.

"Boys, do I look like I need to listen to this argument?” Ten gave his men a stare guaranteed to have them falling in line.

He might not be a CIA agent anymore. He might have been disavowed. Hell, there was probably a price on his head, but he was still in charge of his damn team. Well, the ones who had been dumb enough to follow him.

At least he still had them. It was funny how knowing they’d been willing to give up their careers had made the whole “US government turning against him” thing easier to swallow. If he was half a man he would send them all away, but he’d proven time and time again what a ruthless son of a bitch he was. He needed them. And he needed Taggart.

The conference room door opened and Big Tag strode in followed by his half brother, Case. Any issues the two had in the beginning seemed to be resolved, and things had gone exactly the way Ten had always feared they would.

Case Taggart was Big Tag’s man now, the way his twin Theo was. It was precisely the reason Ten hadn’t mentioned them to Tag in the first place. He’d needed time to get two of the best soldiers he’d ever recruited loyal to him. He should have known in the end it wouldn’t matter. Blood won out. It always did.

In the end though, he knew every man here would be Tag’s, and that was all right.

After all, Tennessee Smith was fairly certain he wouldn’t come out of this mission alive.

“Seriously? How am I supposed to take you seriously when you’re wearing a baby?” Ten asked. The six and a half foot pain in Ten’s ass was wearing something he’d only recently learned was called a sling. It was pink and covered Tag’s chest in a large swath. There was also a tiny baby hand poking out of the top, as though the infant was reaching for her father.

Wanted. Kala or Kenzie…whichever kid it was…that baby was wanted. That child got carried around and cuddled close. No one had ever tossed her away like a piece of garbage.

Tag put a big hand on the sling as he lowered himself into the conference room chair. “She’s fussy. When Kenzie’s fussy, she likes to be in the sling. You’re lucky because Kala’s hanging off her mama’s boob right now or I would likely have them both. What can I say? They like their dad.”

Their dad had turned this whole office into a freaking day care center so he didn’t have to place his precious babies out in the world. He could tell Big Tag was going to be a helicopter parent. An Apache attack helicopter parent.

“So are we a go? Did your girl do her job?” It was the question he’d wanted answered for weeks.

Erin Argent and Theo Taggart had been sent undercover months ago. Their mission—to get Faith McDonald to trust them. To bring her back to Sanctum. They’d been hired on as bodyguards for the small clinic Faith ran in Liberia. Now they were stuck in quarantine because they’d done their job in the middle of the worst urban Ebola outbreak in history.

Tag sat back in his chair. “Erin says we’re a go. By the time they land in Munich, I’ll have sent Faith a temporary contract and information about you. You’re going to be her contact with Sanctum and you’ll be her escort the first few nights here. I suggest you find some of that charm you used to have and get her interested before she steps foot in the club.”

“Why not explain to her that I’m the only Dom available?”

“Because she understands the way things work and that would be highly suspicious. I don’t want to scare her off. We need to figure out what her type is and go from there. All Erin will tell me is she doesn’t like douchebags. Unfortunately for her, that’s all I have here.”

In the past such sarcasm from Tag would have gotten Ten’s middle finger to make an appearance, but he couldn’t work up the will to care anymore. He only cared about one thing now and that was bringing down Hank McDonald. With Phoebe safely and happily married to Jesse Murdoch, he could focus all of his attention on burning the man who’d burned him. More importantly, Hank McDonald was the man responsible for getting Jamie Grant killed.

James. His brother, not by blood but by choice. Jamie and Phoebe had been his only family in the world, and McDonald had sold out Jamie’s unit, given them over to be tortured by the enemy.

McDonald was going to pay, and Ten didn’t care how many virtuously named daughters he had to go through to do it.

“So what you’re saying is if she comes to Sanctum and has zero interest in me, I have to let her find another Dom.”

“Yeah,” Tag replied. “I put in the no-caveman-calling-dibs rule years ago. I thought we’d spent months on training, man. What about safe, sane, and most importantly consensual do you not get?”

Case leaned forward. “Look, according to Erin, Faith is pretty attracted to Theo. Ian and I have been talking and I’ll take a crash course in D/s over the next couple of weeks. If you can’t get her to bite, maybe I’ll be able to.”

She was attracted to Theo? Well, it wasn’t so surprising. Theo was young and strong and he didn’t have a body covered in horrific scars. Theo was an open-hearted idiot who smiled for the sake of smiling. Naturally she would want Theo.

“This is my op.” And he didn’t want anyone else messing with it. If he couldn’t get into Faith McDonald’s bed, he couldn’t get on to that island and into her daddy’s house. All his intelligence pointed to the information he needed being in that house.

Faith McDonald spent her birthday at her father’s vacation home in the Caymans. She’d always taken a boyfriend with her. He was going to be that boyfriend.

Not boyfriend. Dom. He was going to be her Dom.

He was also going to be the man who betrayed her because he would use her to bring her father’s house of cards down all around her.

“It’s always your op, Ten,” Tag said in the most patient voice Ten had ever heard him use. “But if she doesn’t want you, you’re not going to force her.”

He might. There were nights lately when he thought about simply putting a gun to Faith’s head and seeing if Daddy loved his baby girl. The problem was Ten was fairly certain McDonald didn’t really love anything beyond money and power. “I’ll make her want me.”

He could summon up some charm. It wasn’t like it ever came easy to him in the first place. He’d learned it. If there was one thing he was good at doing, it was adapting. He’d figured it out at a tender age. When being rambunctious got his arm broken by a particularly brutal foster parent, he learned to be quiet and not make waves. When he found out shooting rifles was one of his kind guardian’s obsessions, he’d become a marksman. As a teenager, he’d learned women were a damn good way to forget his troubles, so he studied and figured out how to please them.

He could wrap Faith around his little finger if he wanted to. After all, she identified as a submissive. She wanted to please the people around her according to Tag. The rich girl needed praise, it appeared.

She would get it. Eventually. The beautiful thing about D/s was it put him in charge. He would control Faith McDonald. He would train her to obey him. Oh, she would give him trouble in the end, but he would be ready for that, too. He stared down at her photograph. Unlike her sister, Hope, there were no press photos of Faith. Hope stood by her father in many of his publicity photos, but the shots they had of Faith were all casual, taken by Theo or Erin in Africa. Faith wore scrubs when she wasn’t rocking a hazmat suit. Her dark hair was almost always back in a utilitarian ponytail, and if the woman knew what makeup was, he couldn’t tell.

So why did she practically glow? She wasn’t wearing a stitch of makeup and he was pretty sure he’d never seen a prettier woman. Not glamorous. There wasn’t anything artificial about her. Or so she wanted people to think. He would withhold judgment. The good news was he likely wouldn’t mind fucking her, which was good because fucking her was absolutely integral to the op. A woman who looked like that might show some loyalty to the man in her bed.

Until she realized the man in her bed was going to tear her world apart.

“What do we know about McDonald’s movements?” He didn’t like thinking about Faith. She was a tool, a means to an end. She wouldn’t be the first woman he’d screwed to complete a mission, but she might be the most innocent looking.

Hutch had his ever-present laptop out. Ten could swear the machine was surgically attached to Hutch. “He’s back in DC, but several members of his senior staff are currently in Pakistan. According to his office, they’re gathering intelligence on the situation in the Middle East.”

Ten didn’t believe that for a second. Any intelligence McDonald gathered would be to enrich his own bank accounts. “My contacts say McDonald’s looking for new clients. Since we took out Hani al Fareed, McDonald’s money supply dried up. I’ve been talking to Ibrahim al Fareed.”

“Any way we can convince Ibrahim to go undercover?” Tag asked.

Ten shook his head. The al Fareed brothers had gotten tangled in one of McDonald’s plots. Hani had been working with radicals and experimenting on US servicemen in order to create sleepers to send back to the States. His brother, Ibrahim, had been horrified at Hani’s activities. After Hani had been killed, it had been Ibrahim who took Ten in and allowed him to learn about the world Hani had chosen. It was a nasty underbelly filled with radicalized sons of Islam and money-hungry politicians who didn’t mind blowing up parts of the world for fun and profit. And corporations. He’d been shocked at how many were thriving because the world was focused on groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. Terror was quite profitable, Ten had discovered.

“I won’t bring Ibrahim into this any further than I already have. He’s a moderate, and beyond that, he’s not trained to handle this. He’s an intellectual.” With three happy wives and fourteen curious children. Every member of that family had accepted Ten into their home and made him feel welcome. He wouldn’t bring them into danger now. “I’ve been talking to some of my contacts and also to Damon.”

Damon Knight ran the European branch of McKay-Taggart Security Services. He was former MI6, and his contacts ran deep.

Tag nodded and the squirmy thing wrapped around his chest seemed to have gone to sleep. “Good. I talked to Damon about embedding a couple of his men on the island. He’s sent the new guy and Brody in. They’ve taken jobs at a resort close to McDonald’s compound.”

“McDonald spends a ton of time at that resort. He plays golf there often and he uses them for catering.” Case frowned. “I guess crime really pays. I want a personal chef.”

“Yeah, you really need that, brother. You need gourmet chicken strips and hot wings.” Tag liked to needle his siblings, but he was right on this one.

“You eat like a five-year-old.” If Case knew how to do anything in a kitchen beyond warm up frozen food, Ten would happily eat his own shoe.

He, on the other hand, had learned to cook at a young age. Another way to please the people around him so they might keep him for a few months. Survival tactics. He was damn good at those.

He bet Faith hadn’t had a decent meal in months. Unless her father provided them with a personal chef during their quarantine.

“So we’re set in the Caymans. I wish we could have gotten someone in the actual house,” Ten mused.

Case shook his head. “That’s a no-go, boss. McDonald’s very careful about employees. Everyone’s local. I think he thinks he can buy their loyalty more easily. Guests are a different matter. Expect a few for the week you’ll be there. Faith’s sister will be invited. Likely a few of her friends.”

“And the senator?”

Tag was rocking back and forth in his seat. “He’ll show. He might not be there the entire time. Your best bet to get the data is before he shows. He’ll have staff and security with him. Have we had any luck doing that computer thing to him?”

Hutch rolled his eyes. “Seriously? Does anyone know what I do?”

“You eat a lot of candy and make sarcastic remarks. You’re a lot like all the other computer geeks,” Tag replied.

“Yeah, but I’m cuter.” Hutch grinned. “So I’ve been trying to infect the senator’s computer with a virus that will allow me to control his system.”

“Like Citadel?” Citadel was malicious software used by cyber criminals everywhere. Unlike Ian, Ten actually liked to try to keep up with his techs. They tended to speak a language he didn’t understand most of the time. He hated to feel like he was behind, so he read all the reports the Agency sent out on the latest ways technology could fuck a person over. Well, he had before he’d gotten the boot.

“Citadel is child’s play compared to what Chelsea and I came up with. If we put this sweet piece of malware out on the Dark Web, we could charge at least twice what Citadel goes for,” Hutch bragged. “Not that we would because that would make us criminals. And I don’t do that anymore.”

Sure he didn’t.

“Could someone explain what Citadel is to those of us who don’t spend all our time in cyberspace?” Tag asked.

“Citadel is USDA prime malware,” Hutch began. “It’s basically a virus, but it doesn’t shut your computer down. It’s so much sweeter. It allows someone like me to take control of your system without you ever knowing I’m there. You move along like it’s just another ordinary day, but your computer is now a zombie, controlled by me.”

“Because you want to know what porn I watch?” Case looked at Hutch like what he was saying was no big deal.

“No, because he’ll steal every password you have and drain your accounts. He can make it look like he’s you,” Ten pointed out. It was exactly what he needed.

“Dude, I’m not stupid enough to click on the places where I’ll get infected,” Case groused.

Hutch leaned over and started typing. “Give me a sec, Little Tag.”

“Wait. When the hell did I become Little Tag?” There was the sound of a chime and Case pulled out his cell phone. His eyes widened as he looked at the screen. “What? What the fuck? This is a banking alert. It says I pulled five hundred dollars out of my account.”

Hutch sat back, reaching for a licorice stick like a satisfied dude having a cigarette after sex. “You probably shouldn’t have gone to that monster truck site.”

“Son of a…” Case started to stand up.

“Sit down,” Tag barked. “He’s putting it back now. How many of us?”

Hutch was already playing on the keyboard again. “You’ll find it all detailed in the report I sent. I thought it would be a good way to probe the team’s weaknesses. Oddly enough, you and Charlie were among the ones I couldn’t get to bite. You’ve got some serious protections on your systems. Chelsea?”

Tag nodded. “Yes. Please tell me you got Adam. Please. It will do my soul good.”

“No can do, boss. Adam’s system is secure, but I managed to get both Jake and Li with puppy videos. I’m not kidding you. I tried porn on them but nothing worked until I came up with videos of baby animals. Porn totally worked on Erin. That girl likes some seriously nasty shit, if you know what I mean.”

If he allowed it, Hutch would go on all day. “Tell me you got Faith McDonald at least.”

“There’s your five hundred back. And you should really save more money than that. It’s pathetic.” He turned back to Ten. “Of course I got her. I’ve had her for days.”

“And you didn’t bother to mention this to me until now?” He was well aware he’d gone ice cold.

“She hasn’t done anything interesting yet. And her Internet is spotty. I’ll write a report when she does anything interesting.” If Hutch was put off by the chill in his tone, he didn’t show it.

Sometimes Ten thought he’d been too easy on his team. “I want to know everything. How did you get her?”

Hutch’s eyes came up, looking thoughtfully at Ten. “Shopping for cheap medical supplies. I took her to an actual website I’d already infected and forced her to download an app to order. Once the app was active on her system, I was in and she got cheap latex gloves and surgical tape. I’ve got copies of her e-mails. It looks like her last Dom dumped her for a more submissive thing. I wouldn’t ask Faith to mop your floors. I don’t think she’s that kind of sub.”

“I thought you didn’t know much about her.” He found he didn’t like the idea of Hutch getting such a personal look at Faith McDonald when all he had was a few reports from Erin and a folder detailing Faith’s life.

Hutch shrugged in a way that let Ten know Hutch was more invested than he would like to be. “I find her interesting. I kind of wonder if it’s right to use her like this.”

Hutch was asking him that? Hutch, the former black hat hacker. Hutch, who had hacked literally thousands of people’s lives? Hutch, who would likely be in jail if the Agency hadn’t recruited him. “Do I need to remind you how many people died because of her father? They didn’t simply die. They were tortured in horrific ways. Hank McDonald doesn’t give a shit about the Geneva Conventions. He cares about money and if we don’t shut him down, more of our servicemen and women are going to fall to his greed.”

“We have no reason to believe she knows anything about her father’s dealings,” Hutch argued.

“We do know she’s the only way in,” Tag said, his voice deep with authority. “Do you think I didn’t look at every angle? When Ten brought me this plan and asked to use my people, I analyzed it and found every single hole I could. This is the best plan of action, and Ten will ensure the girl doesn’t get hurt. Well, physically hurt. It isn’t our fault she was born the daughter of a monster.”

“If we don’t act, those deaths are on us.” Case closed the file in front of him. “We’ll all watch out for her. I know Theo really likes her.”

It seemed Faith was good at finding friends. For Ten it was suspicious. No one was that good, that pure. Especially no little rich girl. He was already certain Hope McDonald was dirty. She was a doctor as well, though she hadn’t gone the same route as her sister. Hope worked for a large pharmaceutical company. And there were hints she liked to test in non-FDA approved ways.

So why would Faith be different?

“I want everything you have on her. I want to read her e-mails. You said she recently broke up with her lover?” He needed to know everything about her. Not because he wanted to. No. His fascination with her was all about the op and nothing more.

“The dude was a dickwad who wanted a maid more than a lover,” Malone said. “Faith knew him before he got into the lifestyle. He was a doctor she knew from her residency at a Houston hospital. They were lovers, though it seemed to be more of a thing of convenience than true love. After she started going to Africa on a regular basis, they got together when she was home. She’s the one who got him into the lifestyle, though he seemed to take to it more fully than she did.”

“How so?” From what he could tell, Faith was fairly into the lifestyle. She had a few months off every year and she spent them practicing D/s with her chosen Dom.

“Faith seems to use D/s almost as a relaxation tool.” Once again it annoyed Ten that Hutch seemed to know more about her than he did. Hutch continued. “The way she describes it in her e-mails to friends is that she has to make so many decisions in her work, she prefers to leave it to someone else when she’s home. But her ex took it further. He now has a twenty-four seven slave who lives with him and is dependent on him for her every decision. Faith wouldn’t have been able to live like that.”

Ten was used to Big Tag’s version of D/s, which was really nothing more than a side dish while the relationship was the entrée. While Big Tag’s wife submitted to him sexually, she would likely shoot his ass if he really ordered her around.

His life would be easier if he could have more control over Faith. She wanted him to make the decisions about things like where they would eat and what they would do, but he wanted to ensure she obeyed him when the bullets started flying.

“Forward me everything you have on her including her e-mails, and watch her accounts. Now that she’s out of Liberia, I want her watched constantly. If she’s got any contact with her father, I want to know about it.” Faith was the key. She was the one who would get him on the inside. Ten stood up. “We’ve got a couple of weeks. We’ll watch her and continue to try to get some kind of line on McDonald. He seems to like the ladies. Let’s see if we can find a pro who wouldn’t mind planting a couple of bugs for us.”

Case nodded. “I’ll call some people I know in DC. That could work.”

“Good. I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.” He took his papers and stepped out.

McKay-Taggart made him nervous. The minute he stepped out of any room there was always someone waiting to wave at him. This time it was Grace, a lovely redhead who was married to Tag’s younger brother, Sean. She was the receptionist and general office manager at McKay-Taggart. She held the keys to the kingdom. No client got through without being vetted by Grace Taggart.

“Hey, Ten. How are you today?”

“Good.” He always kept his answers short and sweet with her. It was funny because he used to flirt with every woman at Langley, but the women of McKay-Taggart were different. If he showed any weakness at all to them, he would find himself at some family dinner or set up on a horrifying blind date because these were women who took an interest in a single man, and Ten wasn’t talking about his penis. These women wanted every damn man alive to be some sort of family member, and he didn’t play that way.

“Any chance you can join us at Top tomorrow night? Sean wants to experiment with lamb lollipops.”

Actually that sounded delicious, but he knew if he went there wouldn’t just be food. There would be bonding and family stuff. “Thanks but I have a lot of work to do, Grace.”

“I’ll work on him.” His sister, Phoebe Murdoch, threaded an arm around his waist.

He couldn’t hold back with her. Phoebe was the one person on earth who sort of belonged to him. Not really, because she was married now, but she was the only one who remembered Jamie the way he was when they were young—when it was just him and Jamie and Phoebe. God, he missed his brother.

His grief felt as sharp today as it had the day he’d found Jamie’s body.

“How’s accounting, sis?” He didn’t need to bring Phoebe into his misery. She’d finally moved on. She was happy with Jesse and they were talking about babies. She teased him about being Uncle Ten.

He couldn’t tell her that he would be long gone by then. If this mission didn’t kill him, then he would disappear. He didn’t belong in anyone’s white picket fence happily ever after.

“It’s good. I enjoy it, though I have been keeping up with your endeavor. You know I think I should be in on this.”

No way. He’d already had a brother-to-husband talk with Jesse about this very thing. “You know you’re no longer a field agent.”

She walked with him toward his office, her easy affection one of the few comforts he could accept. “I know that. The crazy thing is I don’t really miss it. I actually am perfectly happy with accounting and payroll. But that doesn’t mean I’m not watching out for you. I want you to be careful.”

“I always am.” He was careful to get the job done. He wasn’t always so careful with his life. The job was more important.

He started down the hall that led to the tiny thing Big Tag called an office. It was insulting, but then he wasn’t here for long.

“I’m serious,” Phoebe insisted. “McDonald is dangerous. Look, I get that everything is perfectly safe as long as you’re at Sanctum, but once you hit the islands, you’re on his terms. I would feel better if I went in with you instead of Erin.”

“No.” He didn’t feel the need for any more explanation than that. “No” so perfectly summed up how he felt.

They stopped outside his office door. Phoebe gave him a frown that could freeze the balls off a man. “No? I think some form of debate is called for.”

Fine. He could give it to her. “Are you and Jesse going to stop having unprotected sex any time soon?”

She sighed. “If it means making sure you’re safe, then yes, Ten.”

He stopped. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

She turned and faced him. His sister never backed down, and he should have remembered that. “I don’t care what you like the sound of. You need to understand that I know what you’re doing and I won’t have it.”

“What am I doing?”

“You’re planning on doing anything you have to do to avenge Jamie, and I’m worried that if that includes sacrificing yourself, you’ll do it. I can’t let that happen. I owe to it our dad and to Jamie to make sure you’re safe.”

This was the last thing he wanted to talk about, but he couldn’t fight Phoebe. He could ignore everyone in the whole damn world with the singular exception of her. The petite woman in front of him was his lone remaining link to the world. Sometimes—and he wasn’t exactly proud of this fact—but sometimes he resented her for keeping him here. “I’ll be careful, Phoebe. I promise. I’m going to be okay. Once I deal with McDonald, I’ll handle my own situation. I’ll find a way to make it right.”

Meaning he would find a way to make it safe for him to live his life again. He was sure Phoebe thought after he handled this that there would be some way for him to come back and live in a world of backyard barbecues and football watching parties. A world where he was Uncle Ten and he went into some semi-safe job every day and got old and fat and happy.

Phoebe went up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “See that you do. I’ll be back to pick at you until you agree to come to dinner.”

She turned on her kitten heels and strode away. She’d made it halfway down the hall when a door came open and a muscular arm shot out, dragging her in. Ten could hear Jesse Murdoch’s low laugh and knew that his sister was about to be taken care of.

The door to the conference room next to him opened. One of the daycare workers smiled as she walked out, a baby on her hip.

Yeah that never happened at the Agency either.

He ran into his office and closed the door behind him. He wasn’t about to get attached to any of those kids no matter how cute they were. He wasn’t getting involved with them any more than he wanted to get cozy with the women.

He wouldn’t be here in a few months. It was best he left as little of himself behind here as possible. He’d learned early on to keep his suitcase packed because he never knew when he was going to be leaving. This time he did, and he wasn’t going to hurt anyone when he went.

He sat down at his desk and the photo of Faith McDonald slipped from his grip and onto the tabletop.

Well, maybe one person. He’d hurt her, but there wasn’t any help for it.

With a long sigh, he turned on his laptop and started writing an introductory letter to his first—and only—submissive.

Copyright 2015 Lexi Blake