Men and women who have sacrificed their personal identities to live in the shadows and uphold justice for all–no matter the cost.
Second in Network command, Captain Shannon McKee leads the organization with an unfeeling, iron fist, just as her father did before her. Yet, when the opportunity comes to take down the most notorious drug dealer in history, she goes after her heart’s desire–to utterly destroy the man who killed her younger brother.
But Mareno Ortega isn’t at all what Shannon expects him to be. He’s intelligent, attractive, charming, shy…and, unbelievably, a doting father to his two children. Shannon has more reason to hate this criminal than anyone else, yet she finds herself confused by his contradictions. Is he a man with no options, playing a game he desperately wants out of? Or is he an enigma, trying to seduce her in a cat and mouse chase she can’t win?
The only man alive who can stop this undercover angel from her suicide mission is the Navy SEAL she served with and nearly lost her heart to, Captain Ron Blair, currently Network Master Strategist. But can Ron save her…from herself?
GENRE: Romantic Action/Adventure Suspense ISBN: 978-1-925574-61-6 ASIN: B07VN8FV2M Word Count: 66, 861
Shannon McKee could never stand the silence. When the compound was filled, a mission in prep or play, the place buzzed with an intangible state of agitation. She’d grown addicted to it in the past three years she’d been overseeing daily operation of the Network. The white-clench of staying in control, remaining at the top, kept her fueled and gave her purpose. But the silence…
…makes me realize just how tired I am. Hell, beyond tired. I sleep eight hours a week. I’ve long since forgotten what existing on any normal level feels like.
There was no other way to rule the world. And her old man knew that.
Shannon shook her head. Her fatigue was making her empathize where she couldn’t allow any leeway.
Irritably, needing to focus on something else besides her restlessness, she reached for her phone to buzz Comm. Before she could push the button to demand the daily Ortega B&A’s, Justine Fielding’s voice filled her office overlooking the Comm and Systems Analysis department.
“Angelo wants to see you in the tower, #2,” Justine announced.
Simultaneously pressing the button to respond and rising to walk over to the panel of glass overlooking the section below, Shannon asked, “What does he want?”
Justine, head of Comm & Systems Analysis, had glanced up at her from her terminal below. Shannon didn’t need to see her up close to know she was close to dropping from fatigue herself.
“He just said he wanted to see you in the tower.”
Shannon nodded. “En route.”
“Get some shut-eye. I’ll see you at 0700.”
The surprised look on one of her youngest and most valuable operative’s face almost made Shannon laugh. But she didn’t. She no longer remembered how to.
“I’ve almost got the Ortega Cartel B&A–”
Each and every day, Shannon requested a breakdown and assessment of the suspected movements of the highest-level drug trafficker on a global scale. Justine had begun to provide it at the end of the day without her superior’s specific request.
“0800’s soon enough. Drop ’til morning. That’s an order.”
She punched the button on the console overlooking the window to sever the connection, then darkened the windows. In the privacy of the office she sometimes shared with her Head of Operations, Angelo Pluzetti, she stretched, feeling every single kink and ache as if they’d accumulated all day just for this moment.
She was tired. Realizing that fact almost never happened because there was no time in this place for anything but the situations at hand. Crime–evil–never slept. Nor could the Network. The organization had been in existence for the last half-century, formed by the President at that time and Shannon’s father, Captain Tom McKee–a career officer and a decorated war hero. The organization was funded by a major technology corporation–a front company that designed innovative equipment both for public use, and devices only the Network had access to. Expanding Technology Industries (ETI) functioned separately from the Network, providing the perfect cover for the underground bunker built deep in the earth beneath ETI’s skyscraper.
Sanctioned by the American government, only the highest officials in the White House knew about it, including the President and a select committee called Oversight. Three years ago, Shannon had headed the committee, after her father had been assassinated and she’d been asked to step into his role. Since the inceptions of their first missions, the Network had run at ninety-eight percent efficiency. Her father set that bar, and she’d been determined to bring it to a hundred percent. At best, she’d seen to it that the number hadn’t slipped a single point. She would never allow herself to believe her father could do anything better than she could. She wouldn’t let him win that way. Even after his death, she refused to give him the blessing of forgiveness.
Three years ago, the Head of Operations, Giles Jameson had defected and betrayed them, nearly shattering the organization from the inside out. After years in the role of #2, he’d known exactly where to strike. His attempt to assassinate her in the process had failed. Shannon had left her position in Washington to help Angelo bring the Network back into power and regain their stability. She’d expected to return to her post as soon as she once again felt confident of their strength.
Angelo…everyone here…had expected her to be gone long ago.
‘Preferred’ is a better word for it. I demand too much of them. But I demand nothing I don’t expect of myself first.
Angelo was more than competent to handle the day-to-day operations with little interference, yet she’d taken away some of his power with her presence. She’d done it deliberately, too.
Holding her back rigid, her head level, she left the roost and made her way upward to the skyscraper. All Level 1 and 2 employees were given a suite in the upper levels of the skyscraper, since they were on call twenty-four seven. The tower was the Head of Operation’s private living quarters. Shannon had given it to Angelo as soon as she arrived three years ago. She didn’t need more than a place to drop for an hour or two. Her suite on the fourth floor of the skyscraper was functional. She used it for nothing beyond sleep, and even that not often.
From the security elevator on the ground floor, she waited for her clearance to go through, wondering why Angelo wanted to see her. And in the tower yet. Power makes a man dangerous. Will my heavy hand with Angelo bite me in the butt today?
Shannon had been waiting for it to for the past eight months, when the tension between them had become almost unbearable, replacing the close friendship and loyalty they once shared. Once upon a time, she and Angelo had been allies who supported and trusted each other. She’d known him long before the two of them ended up in the Network–when she was a Navy SEAL, he a CIA man. She’d trusted Angelo because she couldn’t trust Jameson. And, once Jameson was no longer a threat, only Angelo could take his place. But, when she refused to go back to Oversight, Angelo had taken it as a personal insult. In his place, she would have, too. He’d earned the right to rule the Network without interference. Her interference–direct, deliberate and daily.
Watching him these past three years… She wasn’t ready to give him the level of power even she knew he deserved. How could she trust him not to tear down everything she’d worked so hard to rebuild? She didn’t, plain and simple. But Angelo was a dangerous man, maybe even more dangerous than Giles Jameson had proven to be. If Angelo turned against them, they were lost for good.
Tension crept into her gut as the elevator soared upwards, and, strangely, made her realize her raging hunger. She couldn’t remember what, if anything, she’d eaten today. She always got irritable when her stomach got this empty.
And I know for damn sure I’m not gonna like what Angelo has to say.
She took a deep breath as the elevator doors hissed open on the sixth floor and revealed the short hallway. At the end, the luxury suite’s double doors stood open. Beyond them, she saw Angelo at the bar near the windows, pouring a drink. Clenching her teeth together, she forced herself out of the elevator, remembering exactly why the tension existed between her and Angelo.
That pilot program of his. Why did I ever agree to it?
But she didn’t need to wonder about the answer to that question. Her heavy hand on Angelo these past few years had made her realize that he could single-handedly topple the Network. She’d thrown him a bone to keep him loyal, even if only temporarily, by agreeing to the resurrected and modified program they’d abandoned a decade ago.
She’d regretted it ever since. One way or another, she expected the time-bomb to blow up in her face.
Swallowing the bitter taste in her mouth, she strode down the hall and through the doors. Angelo glanced at her, silently offering her a drink. She shook her head. The last thing she needed right now was alcohol. When facing a worthy opponent, an operative should never dull the ability to think clearly. She’d need every one of her skills with this one.
“Fielding said you wanted to see me.”
Shannon didn’t need to ask why he’d chosen the tower for the tête-à-tête. Only here could they be safe from prying eyes and ears. She closed the double doors behind her. “What’s going on?”
“What’s the latest on the Manning mission?”
Her gaze narrowed as she closed in on him near the oversized, bulletproof windows that she knew best were sometimes the only view of the outside world the heads of the Network ever had.
“Well in hand. Let’s not dance around, Pluzetti. Why did you call me here?”
At six foot five, a man of pure muscle and extreme intelligence, Angelo should have intimidated her. But she’d spent her life in the military, and she’d long ago learned how to hold her own with hard-core warriors.
Angelo took another drink of the whiskey, his green eyes calm but watchful. Carefully, he set his glass on the bar and faced her. Then he said the very words she dreaded, “We have a situation.”