Lexi Blake Lost and Found.jpg

Lost and Found

The Forgotten Book 2, Masters and Mercenaries Book 18

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About the book

Owen Shaw and his “brothers” lost everything, their entire existence erased. Science had robbed he and all the Lost Boys of their memories and their past, but not their future. Hunted by every intelligence agency in the world, they are focused on two goals: find a cure for what was done to them and ensure that the technology that ruined their lives doesn’t get out into the world. Rebecca Walsh might be the key to achieving both. Owen has been studying her closely, living in her building, and he cannot resolve how such a beautiful, giving woman could have helped design the evil process that destroyed his past.

Dr. Rebecca Walsh has dedicated her life to researching the secrets of the mind. Her atmospheric rise in her field was fueled by the horror of watching her mother’s agonizing journey into madness at the hands of a disease with no cure. She vowed to never rest until she finds it. But obsession takes a heavy toll, and when Owen moves into her building she realizes how much of her life she has missed out on. Owen opens her eyes to a whole new world, filled with joy, laughter, and possibly love.

Owen and Rebecca grow closer, unraveling more about each other and the mysteries surrounding her connection to Hope McDonald. As the sinister forces working against the Lost Boys descend on Toronto, secrets long buried are uncovered that could shatter the bonds holding the Lost Boys together and cost Rebecca her life.


Lexi Blake’s Masters & Mercenaries: The Forgotten series is like literary crack, and this second installment, Lost and Found, really pushes all of my buttons. This book is fast-paced, sexy and edgy. It covers two of my favorite tropes—amnesia and revenge—to a degree. Like I said: literary crack.
Frolic.media
An exciting read, this book makes the reader even more impatient for the next installment in the saga of the lost boys.
— **Purest Delight**, Shadow, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
Lexi Blake has woven a story that has me completely engaged and intrigued. I’m all in with this series and these characters. I’m anxious about finding out who the mole is and what is coming next for the lost Boys and the rest of the team. I’m enamored with the friendships and romantic relationships throughout this book and the rest of the series. Bring on Munich! 5 Stars!
The World Was Hers For Reading
Lexi Blake brings readers another amazing story with the newest book in The Forgotten series. This book rang all my bells and checked all my boxes. I look forward to reading more in this series and from this author.
Shy, Nerdy, Dirty and Flirty
Lexi Blake definitely knows how to create romantic suspense, which makes sense since that’s been one of her go-to romance genres since I’ve been reading her stories. But what I love most about Blake’s books is the fact that within her numerous series, no two tales are alike…each one is crafted in its own originality, and while the overarching conflict is dispersed amidst the pages of the entire collection of books, their separate storylines and complex characters offer readers everything they want and need from Blake’s thrilling and scorching reads.
Fairest of All Book Reviews
LOST AND FOUND is a story of betrayal, secrets and lies; family, friendship, hope and loss. The premise is intriguing and energetic; the characters are charismatic, strong, broken and hopeful; the romance is seductive and intense.
The Reading Cafe
Owen and Becca had amazing chemistry! Their story pulled me in and kept me hooked from page one to the very end. I don’t know how Lexi Blake continues to write such amazing stories full of intrigue, romance, and heart. No two stories are the same and in some ways they build off each other while still being stand alone books. I really cannot get enough of these books and fans of her writing as well as new readers should definitely pick up this book! Now to anxiously await the next book in this series.
Romance Reviews and More
I really enjoyed these characters. Rebecca has an adventurous spirit that you don’t see coming and she brings out all of Owen’s protective instincts. The story manages to combine suspense, heat and intrigue all together into a perfect package.
Kari's Book Reviews and Revelations

Excerpt

Chapter One

“When I look at him, all I see is unharvested organs,” a sarcastic voice said.

“Could you be serious for two minutes?” another voice asked.

“Oh, oh, oh, I know the answer to that question. I totally know this one.” His brother, Tucker, was likely holding his hand up and waving it, but Owen kept his eyes on the screen.

Same shit. Different day. Now Tucker would say no, Big Tag couldn’t be serious. Sasha would start snoring because he’d been up far too late drinking. Dante would keep quiet as a mouse until he absolutely had to say something. Jax would be texting his wife and completely out of the current loop. He wouldn’t look up from his phone until he heard something that involved him. Ezra and Big Tag would bicker like an old married couple for a few moments and then Robert would try to get them all back on task.

This was the way the last several months of his life had gone. They’d been ready to start the op months before but key elements had fallen through, only coming together in the last few days. They’d scattered around the country, each working a different angle to set this op up, but it was now go time. He wished he could be more excited about it. 

“No,” Tucker said and Owen was certain there was a triumphant smile on his face. “Big Tag can’t be serious at all.”

“I assure you I’m entirely serious about carving up Levi Green for parts,” Big Tag replied. “Think about it. All that skin. He’s wasting it and there are lots of people out there who need some. Burn victims totally deserve that skin more than he does, and I bet his liver could go into like three different people.”

“It depends on how big the liver is,” Tucker mused. “But honestly, you can do living liver donations. Of course, it might be way more fun to take the whole thing. I hate that man.”

“And we could do a test to see if Tucker here really was a surgeon,” Tag mused. “This is a win-win.”

Owen let the conversation fade into the background as Sasha started to snore lightly.

Sometimes he was absolutely certain that he’d had no life at all before this one. His days started with some form of slide presentation complete with his boss’s never-ending snark, at some point he sat in front of a computer gathering data, or sat in a car taking pictures, and that was really more like gathering data than it sounded, spent an hour in the gym because the aforementioned boss said he would get pudgy if he didn’t, and then he microwaved something terrible, listened to Tucker bemoan his fate, and finally drank enough whiskey to pass out.

Yet he knew he’d had another life. There was evidence of it, pictures of him smiling with two women he obviously loved—his mum and sister. There were videos of him laughing and talking with them at Christmas. He’d seen photos of himself with Nikolai Markovic, read the emails and joking texts between himself and his one-time partner.

He’d been that partner. Owen Shaw had been in those messages. The man in those texts to Nick had been funny, seemingly loyal, and yet that same man had also betrayed a nice couple, had been willing to send another person into hell to save his own family.

His mother and sister were gone. They were nothing but photographs now, smiling ghosts who tripped through his brain like wispy butterflies he couldn’t quite catch.

“I’m only saying we could do some good in the world,” Big Tag argued. “I’ll scoop his eyeballs out myself. I’ve been practicing. Corneas are in short supply.”

A long-suffering sigh came from Ezra. “Shouldn’t you go back to Dallas? Doesn’t your plane leave soon? You should head to the airport.”

“I’m flying private, man,” Tag shot back. “Billionaire sister-in-law, remember? Who would have guessed Case would end up being the smartest one of us all? I’ve got plenty of time.”

A collective groan went through the room.

Owen sat back and closed his eyes as Robert started talking about the actual op and what they still needed to do. Make contact with the target. Make friends with the target. Bug the target’s mobile. Bug the target’s condo.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Turned out Toronto wasn’t so different from Dallas. He’d only been here a few days, but he’d spent his time looking through records and prepping the documents they would need to begin the mission. Robert’s job was logistics, and Owen was his partner for this op.

In the beginning he’d been the lead. Ezra had put him in charge when they’d been worried that the target might recognize them. There was still a risk, and they had less data on a couple of members of the team, but they were almost certain there was no way Walsh had met any of them. When they had been sure they would go through with it, Big Tag had handed the op over to Robert, shoving Owen to the sidelines.

Turned out he was mostly muscle. Until the bullets started flying, there wasn’t much for him to do.

He hadn’t always been muscle. At one point in time, he’d been a bloody good operative. He’d been SAS for years. Or so the files told him. Of course, back then he’d had his memory and a body that hadn’t been ravaged by an experimental drug.

Sometimes he wondered why he was here at all. Guilt, perhaps. They dragged him along because he had nowhere else to go.

He felt a hand nudging him from his right side and he looked up, realizing all eyes were on him.

Big Tag stared at him, his body relaxed, but there was tension in those icy eyes of his. “Sorry, you don’t snore like Sasha there. I couldn’t tell if you were awake or asleep. I asked if you had anything to add since until a few days ago you’ve been the one following Green.”

Yes, he’d been the one sitting in a car outside of numerous bars because the fucker liked to party. “If the bugger works at all, I can’t tell. He spent a total of ten hours at his office in Langley. Not that I could get all that close to it. They tend to not like you spying on the spies.”

Another set of blue eyes was on him. Ezra Fain’s always seemed warmer than Big Tag’s. Tag’s could have come from the arctic, the kind of blue lit by ice. Fain’s were more like a Caribbean sea, the kind that was so clear he could see his feet even when the water hit his chest.

“I have my own people on the inside,” Ezra explained. “He met with groups over the course of a couple of days. My person thinks he met with a senator and a general as well, but we don’t have proof of it. He’s getting all his ducks in line to make his big play. I believe he’s going to use the intelligence he intercepted from us at The Ranch to move up in the organization.”

“Is your person Kimberly Soloman?” He had to ask the question because he had something else to tell his boss, and Fain wasn’t going to like what he’d found.

At the sound of his ex-wife’s name, the former CIA operative paled. Owen could see it even in the dim light. Fain’s smile faded. “No. I haven’t heard from Solo since the day Jax walked into the woods.”

He waited for a moment. No one was watching him now. They were all set on the boss. Well, except Sasha, who was still sleeping. Even Jax had looked up from his phone.

Robert shook his head. “You’re seriously not even going to ask? The last time anyone saw her she’d been shot.”

“She was dying the last time I saw her,” Jax said. Of course he would know. Jax had been dying, too.

Luckily the drug that had taken his memory hadn’t taken his skills. Owen had been the one to fly the helicopter that day. He’d helped the doctor to load Jax in and gotten him to a hospital. It had been one of the brief times he could remember that he’d felt like he meant something.

Ezra’s stare had gone stubborn. “There’s nothing to ask. I assume she’s alive. You can’t kill her. She’s like a cockroach.”

He took exception to that since Kimberly Soloman seemed like a nice lady to him. She’d given them valuable intel, and according to Jax she’d been at the site in the woods in Colorado to help them. But then what did he know? “It’s all in my report. Now can we move on to Dr. Walsh? I signed the lease on the condo yesterday. I’ve got movers for tomorrow.”

At least they’d trusted him enough to let him call the movers in.

“Seriously, you don’t care if she even lived?” Tucker ignored him, preferring to gift Fain with a judgmental stare.

“I told you. I know she lived. You don’t take out Solo with a single gut shot. Though I noticed he didn’t go for her heart. She would have been much safer if he had since she doesn’t exactly have one.” He’d been wrong about Ezra’s eyes. They could go incredibly cold when he wanted them to.

Big Tag slapped Ezra on the back. “Good one, man. That’s some serious denial right there. And she totally lived. I’ve already read the report and talked to her on the phone. She had a rough couple of weeks, but she’s on the mend.”

Here was the bad part, the part Big Tag hadn’t read. Owen opened the folder in front of him and slid the photo on top Ezra’s way. “She’s back at work from what I can tell. She met with him for roughly ten minutes at a café outside Langley before she went to her office. I wasn’t close enough to get audio.”

Ezra’s smile held not an ounce of amusement as he stared down at the photo of his ex-wife sitting across from the man who’d burned him and tried to kill him. “I don’t need audio. She’s plotting with her boyfriend.”

Intel on Dr. McDonald’s experiments and the other doctors she’d worked with hadn’t been the only thing they’d learned from their time in Bliss, Colorado. They’d also learned far too much about the boss’s marriage. From what they’d pieced together, Ezra had been married to Kim Soloman, also known as Solo. She’d been responsible for the mission Ezra’s half-brother had died during. He’d blamed her and they’d divorced. She’d had something brief with Levi that had given the bugger crazy-stalker vibes about her, and Ezra wasn’t even close to being over her.

He hadn’t needed audio either. “She was angry with him. There was a lot of tension on both sides, but she was the truly angry one. I know she had security keep him out of her hospital room. She was alone in there the whole time. Not a single visitor.”

He’d thought about sneaking in to see her but decided not to try his luck. He was already the group fuck-up. It would be worse if he also became the one who got his arse hauled to jail.

He’d learned a bit about his boss’s ex-wife. She was alone in the world. She was an heiress who’d chosen to turn her back on the life of privilege that could have been hers.

The door opened and he watched two figures moving through the shadows toward the conference table. He would bet a lot those two were women, and that Robert was about to lose his shit.

“I don’t want to talk about Solo. Now that we’re here in Canada, someone else will take over the surveillance of Levi Green. I want to know where that asshole is at all times. He’s the one who sent us here, and I’m sure at some point he’ll show up.” Ezra slid the photo back to him and clicked the remote, changing the image on the wall of their borrowed office. “Now that our subject matter experts are here, we can get down to real business. Ladies, welcome.”

Ariel Adisa walked in wearing a perfectly tailored suit that managed to be both modest and ridiculously sexy since the woman wearing it couldn’t be anything but sexy. Her dark hair was in gorgeous curls that seemed to form a halo around her. The stark white of her suit showed off how beautifully dark her skin was. She was an utterly fascinating woman, but he’d always known she had a thing for Robert. The second woman he’d met only briefly. She was a new hire to the McKay-Taggart and Knight team in London.

“Ariel?” Robert stood up and despite his obvious shock, moved to pull her chair out.

She nodded cooly his way. “Robert, it’s good to see you again.”

“It’s surprising to see you,” Robert said, stepping back. “You’re supposed to be in London.”

“You weren’t kidding, were you?” Nina Blunt sank into the chair beside Ariel with a shake of her head.

Ariel sighed. “I mentioned to Nina that you wouldn’t be happy to see me.”

“It’s not that I’m not happy. It’s that it’s dangerous,” Robert replied.

Ariel waved that off. “It’s Canada. Nothing bad ever happens in Canada. Now that Bliss place, I steered clear of. Do you know what the per capita murder rate is? You’re lucky any of you came out of there alive at all. Hello, Tag. Thanks for flying me over. It was lovely.”

Big Tag grinned. “That was my personal plane, of course. Only the best for my London team.”

Tucker groaned. “He just admitted he steals his sister-in-law’s planes. Case’s brother-in-law is a billionaire, and he must really love his sister to put up with Big Tag.”

Tag shrugged. “That’s fair. Now how about we shelve the romantic drama for now, though I fully expect to get regular updates from one of you.”

Robert frowned the boss’s way. “There’s no drama. Let’s move on to Dr. Walsh. I’m sure that’s why Dr. Adisa is here.”

The picture changed from that asshole Green to a woman in a white jacket, her brown and gold hair in a slightly messy bun. She wore a pair of tortoise shell glasses and a plain black dress. She smiled at the camera, the restrained expression of a professional.

Thirty. Rebecca Walsh was thirty years old and running her own department at one of the world’s most elite research facilities.

Had Rebecca Walsh been the one to help Hope McDonald erase his mind? Was he looking at the woman who’d helped rid him of his past?

“She’s pretty,” Tucker murmured.

She was, but in an oddly bland way. There was nothing that stood out about her. Her skin was blemish free, her face nicely symmetrical. He couldn’t tell a thing about her body. The only thing that stood out to him was the look in her eyes. Those eyes were big and brown and soulful.

This was the woman he would live close to for the next however many weeks or months it would take for them to do what they needed to do. Robert would be the one to befriend her. Jax and River were already living on the same floor, keeping an eye on things. Nina was her brand-new daily barista.

He and Robert were the last pieces to slide into place. They were going in as a couple. A newly married couple. He was not looking forward to it. If Owen had his way they would be the least affectionate newlyweds in history.

“Dr. Adisa has been studying our target.” Fain was all business again. “And Ms. Blunt has been setting herself up to be a part of the target’s daily life.”

Tag leaned in. “For those of you who haven’t met her, Nina Blunt joined the London team a few months ago. She used to work for Interpol. She’s an expert analyst, and we’ve brought her in to help us deal with Dr. Walsh. You’ve all met Ariel.”

Ariel knew him well. She’d been his therapist while he’d lived in The Garden. She’d helped them all.

Nina was a pretty woman with auburn hair. She was exactly the type of woman he would usually hit on, but since he’d seen Jax lying there on the floor of the underground research facility known only as The Ranch, he’d drawn in on himself.

This was serious. Jax had almost died. This wasn’t about a good time or finding as much pleasure as he could. He could die and he had zero idea who he was. He could die before he’d ever lived.

Before he’d had a chance to be more than the man in that file, the one who’d betrayed his friends. The one he was almost certain none of them truly trusted. It was precisely why he took the background jobs. He was with them, but not. Never quite one of the lads.

“I’ve written a report on her with the aid of Nina,” Ariel explained. “I’ve sent it to your emails for your perusal. Most of my observations are based on research. I haven’t met Dr. Walsh, but she’s been written about quite a bit. I relied on Nina for more personal observations. She’s an odd one. Quite complex and intriguing.”

Nina leaned forward. “I’ve been here for a couple of weeks. I’m working at the coffee shop at the bottom of the building Dr. Walsh lives in. One of the things that stands out about our target is her devotion to schedule. I would say she’s got a mild form of OCD because that happens often with genius-level intelligence. But it also might be a simple habit she’s gotten into because she’s quite busy. It should make her easy to monitor. I’ve included that schedule in the report. The third week of every month is a bit different because that’s when she works on her second job.”

From what he understood she was involved in some kind of volunteer effort to teach kids science. He was certain she was a good teacher, but how did a woman who hadn’t had a childhood, from what he could tell, truly connect to kids?

“I agree with Nina,” Ariel said. “Dr. Walsh has gotten into a routine, but I also think she craves something to take her out of it from time to time. Her volunteer work proves she’s got a sense of humor and fun.”

He wasn’t sure how much fun the kids had listening to lectures on science. She didn’t look like the kind who would teach kids how to blow up soda bottles. She would likely read from a prepared report and then wonder why the kids had fallen asleep.

“Which is precisely why I think finding a new friend could be the perfect way to get close to her,” Nina admitted. “In her previous jobs, she usually had a close group of friends, but most doctors her age are finishing up internships or finding fellowships. What I basically mean is they move around a lot. Because of her youth, she struggled to find close friends, but she’s certainly had a healthy social life up until recently. Do you want to go over the salient facts before we get into specifics?”

He opened the attachment and glanced through it as Ariel spoke.

“Dr. Walsh began showing signs of genius when she read at the age of three. By the time she was five years old she was working complex math and her father brought in a tutor.”

“Her father is Leland Walsh?” Tucker whistled.

“You say that like it means something.” Owen flipped back, trying to figure out who the bloke was.

“Leland Walsh invented a surgical technique that revolutionized the way we deal with brain tumors.” Tucker always sounded different when he talked about medicine. More competent. And then more scared because they were all almost certain he’d worked with Dr. Hope McDonald, evil mistress of the mind. Dead but not forgotten. Except by him, since she’d died after she’d dosed him but before he’d woken up.

“So she comes from a family of doctors?” Robert asked.

“Her father, grandfather, and two uncles were renowned surgeons,” Ariel explained. “Not that her mother’s side of the family wasn’t full of brainiacs. Her mother was a professor. She taught psychology and ran a women’s shelter. Rebecca chose to go into research, specifically into researching the brain and memory and how degenerative neurological diseases affect memory.”

His eyes lit on a specific fact. It was listed in the middle of the bio Nina had prepared, but it stuck out to him. “Her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

Nina nodded, but her eyes held a certain sympathy. “Yes, when Rebecca was nine, but from her accounts, she wasn’t told about the diagnosis until later, roughly nine months before her mother died. She spoke about it at a conference. It was a quite moving speech. She and her future stepmother cared for her mother at home until she passed.”

“Her future stepmother?” Robert asked.

“So her family life is rough, I take it.” He couldn’t imagine how the girl had taken that. Mum dies and dad marries her nurse?

“She’s quite close to her family,” Nina corrected. “She was the maid of honor at their wedding three years after her mom died. She’s close to her young sister, and from all accounts enjoys spending time with her father.”

“Must not have been close to her mum.” Owen didn’t get it. Not at all.

Ariel was frowning his way. “She was a teenaged girl who put aside her needs to keep her mother out of a nursing home. I would say she proved her love for her mother. As for being close to her stepmother, well, funny things happen to survivors. Sometimes they cling together. Until you’ve lost someone, you can’t judge how others react. Honestly, even when you have, you know damn well you shouldn’t. Grief is different for everyone.”

Tucker leaned over. “I think you should be quiet now. She looks pissed.”

She looked annoyed, but then he could do that to a woman.

He’d lost two someones, but he didn’t understand grief. How did he cry and ache for two people he couldn’t remember? “I’m sorry. I was surprised. Of course I don’t know anything at all. Please continue.”

“She doesn’t seem to have a large social circle here in Toronto. I’m surprised she has many friends at all since when she would normally have been forming her social identity, she was thrown in with much older students. She was much younger than the average student at the schools she attended. She would have been an outsider at best, a target at worst,” Ariel said.

“A target?” Robert asked. “What do you mean? I understand she’s our target, but why would her school friends want to investigate her?”

Ariel’s lips tugged up slightly. “It’s always odd to be reminded of how your memories break. You know so much about the world, so many facts, but often normal experiences are gone and with them the street-like knowledge that’s second nature to the rest of us.”

“That’s shrink talk for you’re a shiny new baby,” Big Tag explained.

“What she’s saying is Rebecca Walsh was so young she couldn’t relate to the other students,” Ezra explained. “Even though she was certainly smart enough to be in a class with them, emotionally she wasn’t ready to run in their circles.”

Sometimes he still felt like that. “You’re saying that even though she’s bridged that gap now, she still isn’t comfortable in social situations? Has trouble making friends?”

Ariel nodded. “She might be awkward at times. You’re going to have to be patient with her.”

“I don’t know about that,” Nina mused. “I’ve talked to her and I was surprised at how nice she seems. She ordered a vanilla latte instead of her normal plain latte. I mentioned it and she told me she’s on a quest to expand her horizons. She seemed enthusiastic about it. I know it’s only a shot of vanilla, but it’s outside her routine. I think she might welcome some new friends.”

“She loves animals,” Ariel pointed out. “She doesn’t have a pet right now, but I think that’s because of her long hours. She spends her breaks at a dog park, though she doesn’t own one.”

Jax gave her a thumbs-up. “Buster to the rescue. No one can resist his manly smell. No, seriously, River’s at the groomer’s right now. We’re getting rid of his stink. He thought a skunk would be a good playmate. It was really terrible.”

“Preach, brother,” Tag said. “Bud is not smart about the fuckers. They get him every time. I swear there’s a family of them living on our property and they’ve got a bet on how many times they can spray my dog. They only got Kala once. We had to go to family therapy after that.”

“What’s her financial situation like?” Fain asked, clearly ready to get the meeting back on track.

“The family is wealthy, but it was earned through white-collar jobs, not generational money,” Nina replied. “She received scholarships to pay for her schooling. Her education was unconventional, to say the least. She graduated from high school at the age of twelve. College by the time she was fifteen. She went to medical school from there.”

He glanced back at the photo. How hard had it been to always be the youngest person in class? To stand out in such a way? “What about her relationships with men? The basic info says she was married at some point.”

“Yes, but it didn’t last three years. He was a doctor, too,” Nina explained.

Dante uncharacteristically showed some interest. He was staring down at his folder like he gave a damn for once. “Why did they divorce?”

“I believe he left because he couldn’t handle her success,” Ariel explained. “She won her first Wolf Foundation Prize and when she accepted a prestigious position with the Huisman Foundation, they divorced. Her research is funded by the Huisman Foundation primarily and various pharmaceutical companies who have an interest. The Huismans are an old, venerable family here in Canada. From what I can tell, they fund everything she asks them to. She works closely with the son, Paul. He’s a neurologist as well.”

“She worked with McDonald before she joined the foundation?” Owen asked.

Big Tag nodded. “Dr. Walsh worked closely with McDonald at Kronberg Pharmaceuticals. She was brought in to assist with a project. The nature of their true relationship is unclear. It’s something I’m interested in learning more about. But I’m also interested in Walsh’s other job. How the hell does that fit into her profile?”

Ariel grinned. “Like I said, it proves she’s got a sense of humor.”

Fain hit a key on his computer and the picture of Walsh changed from a sedate doctor to…a woman in spandex and a cape. Gone were the glasses and professional bun. In its place was a superhero costume that clung to her every curve. Yep, the white jacket had hidden a nice set of breasts, and that smile on her face, so controlled before, was now wide and warm and inviting.

“Meet Captain Neuro,” Nina said with a chuckle. “She goes into elementary schools and teaches kids about brain health. She’s been doing it for about a year now, and every school in Toronto wants her to come in. There’s talk of her doing a local kid’s show about science.”

He’d sat up in his chair because he hadn’t expected that. He’d only read about her many accolades, all her intellectual awards. Somehow on paper she’d seemed cold, probably aloof, but this woman had a glint in her eyes. This woman practically glowed with something he didn’t understand.

She was beautiful. Which woman was she in real life?

Big Tag sighed. “Don’t tell my girls we’re going after a female superhero. They’re all about Wonder Woman right now. Do we think her side project offers us a way into her work world?”

Ariel flipped it back to the first picture, and Owen was surprised at how disappointed he was. “No, I just thought it was fun. And we should remember that she’s the kind of woman who spends her time helping kids. She’s not merely ambitious. She’s kind, too.”

“Or it’s good cover.” He couldn’t help himself. It didn’t make sense, that smile of hers. She’d lost so much, grown up far too fast. The smile had to be the cover. The smile hid the real woman underneath.

“Cynical,” Tag said with a nod. “I like it. Keep that healthy suspicion up, Shaw, and you’ll do fine. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know how she spends her time. Does she have a foundation she works through, or is her volunteer work done through Huisman?”

Nina glanced down at her notes. “She set up one in her mother’s name. The Sonja Project. Her father helped her but she runs it.”

Fain nodded Taggart’s way. “Jax will start looking into the financials. His cover is he’s working for an investment firm anyway. Hopefully we can get her talking if everything goes our way. I don’t know how much Dr. Walsh knew about what McDonald was really working on. That’s something I’m hoping Tucker can uncover. He’s interning with the foundation. He won’t be working directly with Dr. Walsh, but I’m hoping he can get close enough to some of the employees that he’s a part of the rumor mill.”

“I’ve already met a nice doctor lady,” Tucker assured them all.

“And by met her, he means he slept with her,” Jax added helpfully.

“I’m not cleaning that up,” Dante huffed as he sat back. “Next time you will all be janitors. I hate this job. Sasha is not good at it at all. He will get us fired.”

Tucker’s eyes widened and he held up his hands as though surrendering as he looked Big Tag’s way. “I double wrapped. I promise.”

“See that you continue to do so,” Big Tag said sagely. “Condoms for everyone. Well, except Robert and Owen. Unless you’re planning on experimenting. Or really getting into your role as a couple.” He leaned forward. “I know you can’t get pregnant, you two, but I still advise wearing condoms until you’re absolutely certain you’re willing to commit to each other.”

Robert sighed and rolled his eyes. “Sure, boss. We’ll do that.”

Big Tag frowned. “You’re no fun.”

He’d learned how to handle Taggart. He gave the boss a smile he didn’t truly feel. “Robert wishes he could get into all this. And might I add, as husbands go, Robert makes a handsome one.”

Robert’s lips quirked up slightly. “Thank you, Owen. I agree. I think we’ll be a lovely couple.”

Big Tag’s laughter boomed as he stood up. “Well played, gentlemen. Don’t ever tell Adam though. Guy’s known me most of his life and still can’t resist taking the bait. I’m going to get home. I feel the sudden need to prank his ass. I’ll figure out something. You’re dismissed. I need to talk to Fain before I leave. Ariel, if you’ll join us in the office, I would appreciate it. Don’t fuck up, boys.”

The words weren’t for him. They were meant for Robert and the rest of them. He couldn’t fuck up. His only job was to back up the better operatives. As long as he stayed awake when he was supposed to, he could do his part.

How long before he could open the bottle of whiskey he had back in his motel room? Five o’clock? Would four be too soon? He’d gotten good at looking perfectly sober even when he damn well wasn’t.

He knew he should stop, but he didn’t dream when he drank himself to sleep.

How had he known about the blue of the Caribbean? It struck him suddenly that he hadn’t read about it. When he’d thought about Ezra’s eyes, he’d seen that blue in his head, had known he could see his feet, practically felt the heat of the sun and heard the surf.

He’d been to England, Dallas, Colorado, DC, and now Toronto. None of those places had a warm beach. The closest he’d gotten to a beach was his screensaver.

“You okay?” Robert was standing in front of him. The rest of the group was starting to shuffle out with the exception of Sasha, who was still sleeping.

He shook his head. It must have been from a dream. Sometimes he dreamed he’d gone places he hadn’t. Typically the dreams ended with some form of brutality, some terrible death that turned out to be his fault. “I’m fine. I’ve got the movers ready for tomorrow. Nina helped decorate. She picked stuff out of a catalog. Turns out I’m crap at it.”

Nina shrugged. “You’ve got a guy’s guy taste, meaning none whatsoever. He was way more interested in a big telly than anything else. And he was planning on skipping the couch and buying two loungers.”

Robert stared at her. “And that’s bad, why? I don’t get the point of decorative pillows.”

“No one is ever going to buy that you’re a couple if the place looks like a frat house,” she pointed out. “And I know perfectly well that gay couples can have bad taste, too, but it’s rare that both men in a couple are clueless. Trust me. I’ve done right by you both. I don’t suspect Becca will care about your furnishings, but she is very observant when she wants to be. Don’t forget that.”

“You’ve spent time with her?” He couldn’t help but look back at the wall. Her picture was still there. He wasn’t sure why, but he couldn’t not look at her. Perhaps it was mere curiosity. Her life was so different from what he knew of his own.

Or maybe it was the fact that there was something in her eyes, something that threatened to pull him in.

He was glad now that they’d changed the picture. He could handle this Rebecca Walsh better than he had the glowy, smiling one.

“I’ve talked to her, but it’s busy in the mornings,” Nina said with a thoughtful look on her face. “I’m working the later shift a few times this week. She stops in after work and usually picks up dinner at eight p.m. She calls it in at seven thirty and walks over before she heads up to her place. That’s when you’ll have your best shot at running into her. I’ve got to warn you though, from Ariel’s profile she’s standoffish with men. I think it’s a smart idea to go the friendly route.”

Because the other route would have been the romantic one. “If she’s not friendly, I’m not sure how Robert’s supposed to work his way in.”

“I didn’t say she wasn’t friendly. She’s quite nice.” Nina gestured to the tablet on the table. “Read Ariel’s report. She’s got some ideas about how to get close to the target. I think she’s obsessed with her research, but she’s not cold. She seems worried about something to me.”

“Do you think she’s capable of working with Dr. McDonald?” Tucker leaned against the desk.

“He means work with her knowing what she was doing.” Jax had slid his phone into his pocket. “Do you think Dr. Walsh would have helped McDonald torture us?”

Nina seemed to think about it for a moment. “Dr. Walsh is consumed with her work, and Ariel and I believe she’s motivated by losing her mother as a young woman. From what we’ve dug up, it’s obvious to both of us that she’s trying to find a cure because she watched her mother die. I don’t think she would actively harm someone, but if the damage had been done, she would likely use the research. She would justify it by thinking the pain and suffering could bring about something good.”

“The ends justify the means,” he murmured. Unfortunately, in this case, he’d been the means. His life, his health, his past—those had been the currency that bought the research.

Except when he thought about it, they hadn’t. How terrible was it to know that his pain had been about revenge? At least the others had a reason to have gone through what they did. He’d been a loose end she’d needed to clean up.

He looked back at the woman on the screen. Who was she? Villain or innocent player in a game she couldn’t imagine?

It wasn’t his place to find out.

He sat back as Robert began talking about the mission. It was time to fade into the background.

Copyright 2019 Lexi Blake