Cara Dalton lives a normal, routine life until her first daring adventure lands her in imminent danger. Mistaken as a witness to a brutal crime, she becomes the target of a ruthless drug smuggler who is willing to stop at nothing to silence her. Now, she must place her safety in the hands of a wounded stranger. Undercover agent Gage McKenna knows all too well the dangers Cara is up against. Recovering from a life altering injury—inflicted by the same man who now hunts Cara—Gage faces an uncertain future of his own. As Gage and Cara team up to fight this highly motivated killer, they must learn to rely on each other or risk losing it all.
“Don’t ask me to do this.” Gage McKenna gripped the cell phone tight against his ear. “I’m in no shape to protect anyone.”
“I don’t believe that. Besides, you’ve been holed up on Cedar Island long enough.” Jonas Dalton’s voice came through clear.
“You don’t understand.”
“I do understand. I was in Columbia when it all went down, remember? You’d be dead if it weren’t for me.”
Gage cringed and dragged a hand down his whiskered face. “I can’t believe you’re playing that card.”
“Believe it, pal. This is personal. My sister’s life is in danger.”
“Why don’t you protect her yourself?”
“I’ve got to get back to Columbia before my cover’s blown. I need you to take her in ASAP.”
“I don’t trust anyone else.”
Gage stood, testing his strength. Searing pain shot up his left leg, and he fought to keep a moan from escaping his lips. He wasn’t ready to protect anyone, no matter what Jonas said. “I want to be left alone.”
“Why? So you can pity yourself to death? It’s time you come back to the land of the living.”
His friend might have a point, but he didn’t like it. “I’m not leaving Cedar Island.”
“I’m not asking you to.”
Gage tensed. “No way. She’s not coming here.” Not to his sanctuary. With only a handful of houses remaining on the Eastern Shore barrier reef island, he was virtually alone, and he liked it that way.
“Do you think I have other options?” Jonas’s tone took on a heightened sense of urgency. Normally calm and cool under pressure, that could only mean one thing—this situation must be serious.
“What about witness protection?”
“Not going to happen. She was in Columbia at the time, and she didn’t actually see anything. The only protection the government is willing to provide is to arrange for a Baltimore police cruiser to canvas her neighborhood.”
Gage ground his teeth as he looked out the window, searching for the solace he craved. With the tide rising, the Atlantic Ocean’s waves stretched across the beach. The protected island teemed with endangered species of birds and other wildlife, and numerous seashells covered miles of desolate sand. He’d known this house and all its outbuildings would become available long before the Coast Guard retired the place. He’d watched and waited for the opportunity, and his patience had eventually paid off.
Gage valued the view from his home, but he valued his privacy more. Even as these thoughts passed through his mind he knew he couldn’t deny Jonas. He owed the man his life.
“Tell me about her.”
Silence, and then an exhale sounded over the line. “I knew I could count on you. Cara works at the Cherry Hill Library in Baltimore—”
“I’m not asking what she does. Tell me who’s after her.”
Gage’s chest tightened, and his vision narrowed. “That’s all I need to know.”
Cara inspected her suitcase’s contents as anxiety knotted her stomach. Her tense muscles screamed for release, but she had no time for a jaunt on the treadmill or a trip to the gym—she had a brother breathing down her neck.
Jonas appeared in her bedroom’s doorway, a cell phone pressed against his ear. “I’ll call back with an ETA.” He disconnected and deposited the phone into a camouflaged satchel. “We need to go.”
“It took me weeks to prepare for my trip to Columbia. You can’t expect me to walk in the door and repack in five minutes.” She brushed past Jonas and yanked open her dresser. “It would help to know where I’m going. Do I need sweaters or short sleeves? The weather in May can be as unpredictable as you are.”
“You really don’t get it do you?” Jonas scooped up clothes and stuffed them into her suitcase. “This man we’re dealing with has no conscience, no moral code, and absolutely no tolerance for betrayal.”
“I still don’t understand why you think I’m in danger. I didn’t betray anyone, and I certainly didn’t witness anything.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Jonas grabbed her purse and searched its contents. He plucked out her cell phone and dropped it on the floor before smashing it with his boot heel.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Her mind spinning, Cara couldn’t comprehend this change in her brother. She’d never seen him like this before. Usually an easy going guy, he’d transformed into a ruthless machine.
Jonas slid her credit and debit cards from her wallet, and stashed them away in her nightstand. Intense green eyes met hers and held. “I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I’m keeping you alive. The phone can be traced and the cards monitored. Anything you need, you can buy with cash.” He stuffed a wad of twenty dollar bills into her purse, zipped it shut, and shoved it toward her.
“This is crazy. I need more time.” She hadn’t had the chance to wrap her brain around all that had happened in the past forty-eight hours, much less plan for a trip to who-knew-where.
“There is no more time.” Jonas withdrew a handgun from beneath his jacket, and peered into the living room.
“You’ve got to be kidding.” This was too much. “Do you really think this guy has followed us all the way to Baltimore?”
“Alejandro Mercado has money, power, and connections in every corner of the world. He will stop at nothing to protect his drug business.”
“I told you I didn’t see anything. It was too dark. The farming villages in Columbia are not very well lit, you know.”
“I’m well aware.” Jonas stepped down the narrow hallway.
Cara slung her purse over her shoulder, picked up her suitcase and followed.
He stopped at the garage door, pausing long enough to meet her eyes. “It doesn’t matter that you didn’t see Mercado commit murder. As long as he thinks you did, he’s going to come after you.” He drew his brows together. “I still can’t believe you followed me to South America.”
“I thought you were on a missionary trip providing food and medical care to needy children. I wanted to surprise you and lend a helping hand.”
“The only thing I told you was that I was going on a mission. I can’t help it if you filled in the blanks with that overactive imagination of yours.”
“I’m a librarian. I read books. Of course I have an imagination.” She poked a finger at his chest. “Besides, you really should’ve told me you were some kind of James Bond.”
“I’m not a spy.”
“Then what are you?” She narrowed her eyes. “I still don’t really know, do I?”
“I can’t discuss it.”
“Right. It’s top secret.” A strange sense of loss swept over her. She had thought she’d known her twin so well, and to discover she really didn’t know what Jonas spent his time doing had not only shocked her, but rattled her sense of security.
“It’s for your own protection. The less you know the better.”
“I wish you hadn’t said that.” As much as she’d like to deny it, she really was in deep trouble.
Compassion leaked through his gaze. “You’re going to be all right. I’m leaving you with a man I trust with my life.”
“You’re not going to stay with me?” Her legs weakened, and she leaned against the door frame.
“I can’t. I have to go back to Columbia and finish the job.”
“What if I don’t want to go live with some stranger?”
“Would you rather end up dead?”