Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I'm borrowing her characters and giving them some guns (again).

Unbeta'd, unedited.


Less than twenty-four hours after taking out Ștefan Petrescu and nearly freezing my ass off, I whip around the last winding curve and turn off the Parkway onto an unmarked dirt drive.

To anyone passing by, the thing just looks like an old, abandoned farm road. Deep ruts cut through the red, iron-rich soil. Flanking each side sit ancient, crumbling rock fences and dormant fields of tawny hay. Further in, walls of hundred-year-old oaks climb the sky. In the spring, their leaves arch over the road in dense, umbrella-like canopies.

It's all very pastoral.

No one ever sees the spider web of military-grade cameras.

Or the motion sensors and heat-trip alarms.

Or the occasional pair of steely-eyed recruits logging their daily miles in full combat gear.

At the end, dead in the center of roughly eight hundred and fifty acres of prime Appalachian highlands, I park my bike next to a brand new, sun-fire yellow Porsche. The thing looks ridiculous sitting here in the middle of nowhere, and I roll my eyes at the utter absurdity of it. Because, seriously, there's no way she can keep that car from bottoming out on that shitty-ass road. I give it two weeks, max, before I get a call begging for my truck keys and tow strap.

Either way, I need a shower.

And I really need a fucking nap.

Instead of going straight into the house – a far more modern, glass-and-more-glass affair than the surroundings would suggest – I spear my helmet onto a nearby fencepost and head over to the massive, freshly-painted gabled barn across the yard.

About the time I step through the open doors into the concrete alley, I catch the telltale fleshy thwack of someone having a very bad day.

"What's wrong with her face?" I ask. No sense bothering with bullshit pleasantries.

"She wasn't fast enough."

Standing off to the side, watching a pair of sweaty, late twenty-somethings trying their damnedest to beat the shit out of each other, a tall, statuesque blonde with the features of a model just shrugs. Frowning when the one with puffy eyes and purple-black cheekbones falters and falls back, she yells, "Were you, Mallory?"

Eyes boggled half-way out of her head, the recruit ducks another swing. In a quick, lithe move that proves how she got this far to start with, Mallory fakes left and then slams a right hook into the other woman's ribcage. "No, ma'am!"

"But we're working on that, aren't we?"

"Yes, ma'am!"

Rosalie cuts me a sideways grin.


Rosalie Hale, 32

Height / Weight: 6'0" / 150

Hair / Eyes: Blonde / Blue

Education Experience:

8 years; Staff Sergeant, USMC Marine Raider Regiment

4 years; Private Security Contractor, Wolf Corp

2 years-Present; Co-founder Private Security Contractor, Eclipse LTD


"You were fast," she says to me, making a show of checking her wrist.

Now, it's my turn to shrug. I mean, she's not wrong. "There was snow," I answer, wrinkling my nose because fucking snow. "You know I hate cold weather."

When I yawn and stretch, Rosalie cocks one of those perfectly sculpted brows of hers. I should probably tell her that they make her look like a perpetual bitch. She'd probably appreciate the compliment.

"Still, I thought you'd be gone at least 'til Tuesday."

"Meh, good timing." Peeling off my leather jacket, I chuck it across one of the empty stall walls. "Whitlock somehow managed to get Zurich to pry open his accounts. Spooked him and made him careless."

Rosalie barks out an unexpected laugh, which for some reason, makes both recruits blanche cadaver white. I don't think I want to know. Hand to hand is her domain, and I'm not the only scary woman on this farm.

"Cheater."

I shoot her my meanest glare. "Fuck you, Hale."

Of course, she just flashes me one of those megawatt smiles of hers before abruptly turning as serious as death itself. "I need you to fire McCarty."

"Again?" I snort because this isn't a new topic for her. "What'd he do this time?"

Leaning back against the adjacent stall, she rolls her baby-blue eyes. "He asked me out."

I laugh hard at that. "What'd you say?"

"Fuck, no."

Not surprising. Rosalie Hale isn't exactly the dating type.

"Come on," I say as I watch the other recruit – a blond ex-Navy diver named Stanley – flip Mallory across her hip and pin her to the ground. "That can't be it."

"Fine." Rosalie huffs. "When I told him no, he asked if I just wanted to fuck."

It takes a lot of effort to school my expression as I wait for her to continue, but, no, Rosalie doesn't say a word and instead just glares daggers at the women grappling on the floor. After a few seconds of silence, only broken by the sounds of bodies smacking, my lips finally twitch. "Well, was he any good?"

That hateful scowl turns on me. "Yes, and that's the fucking problem, Bella. And that dumbass gave me flowers." Her knuckles crack. "What the hell am I supposed to do with flowers?"

Yeah, no way am I jumping into that shitshow, so I roll my shoulders and turn toward my office in the back section of the barn. Right before stepping through the door, I lean around the frame and call out, "I don't know. Smell them?"

She flips me off like usual. "Fuck you, Swan."

My office is nothing spectacular. Hell, it's in a fucking barn. But it does the job, I like it, and when I plop down into the stupidly expensive leather chair McCarty ordered on my behalf, I kick my boots up onto the matching walnut desk and lean back.

Because I'm me, I don't really do relaxing well, so after about thirty seconds, I pull my cell out and hit send.

Whitlock answers before the first ring. "Took you long enough."


Jasper Whitlock, 33

Height / Weight: 5'10" / 175

Hair / Eyes: Light Brown / Hazel

Education Experience:

M.S. Computer Engineering Information Systems, UT-Austin

2 years; Middle East Analyst, Central Intelligence Agency

6 years; Intelligence Analyst, National Security Agency/Central Security Service

1.5 years-Present; Information Systems Director, Eclipse LTD


I swear that asshole is psychic.

"Did you hear back from London on Petrescu?"

In the background, I hear keys clacking at breakneck speed. "Deposited this morning," he says. "Legoland sends their regards and thanks."

Nodding, I swap the call over to speaker and pull a slim laptop out of the bottom side drawer. It's brand spanking new and yet another McCarty special. "So, what'd I miss?"

"Three requests came in since you flew out last Friday. Two didn't meet the criteria, so I declined them." The clacking stops. "The third warrants a discussion."

No joke, my brows climb past my hairline because this is highly, highly unusual. Whitlock doesn't need to discuss jack shit. He knows what we do, why we do it, and he's played gatekeeper since the day I lured him away from the Fort Meade spy lords. "Who's the hit?"

"Mikhail Aronov."

"Who?"

"One of the new Russian oligarchs, but he spends most of his time abroad these days," he answers, dryly ticking off details like he's reading me his grocery list. "He's powerful. Well-connected. Has ties at the FSB and the GRU. Billionaire several times over, but he's come up quick." Whitlock pauses for half a second. "Looks like his net worth has tripled in the last two years."

Leaning back in my chair, I blow out a loud breath and dry wash my face. "What's he do?"

"His public face is VolTerra Mining. Lithium, gold, copper, all the usuals, but they also have uranium and plutonium assets. Operates in all the usual garden spots."

I tap out the target's name to do a quick image search, just to get a feel of who we're talking about. Hundreds and hundreds of images instantly pop up in an even split between corporate headshots, high-dollar social events, and interviews with the media.

Like most at that level of the stratosphere, Aronov has a distinctly monied look about him, the kind of aristocratic features and bearing that would stick out even if you removed all the fancy clothes and trappings. Tall, dark, and generally handsome, I'd peg him somewhere around fifty. His eyes are a dead giveaway, though. They're sharp and cold. This guy is an apex predator.

I should know.

I'm one, too.

"Non-public face?" I ask, clicking through a few more images before closing the browser.

"Drugs, weapons, chemicals. Trafficking. You name it, he has his fingers in it."

Great, he sounds wonderful. But nothing Whitlock has said is that surprising, so I have to ask. "I mean, that's all completely shittastic, but what's setting this guy apart from the usual nightmares?"

The phone goes silent for a long moment, and when Whitlock comes back, his voice is lower and carries hints of something I've never heard from him, not even when we sent Rosalie to take out that Taliban elder who'd had his own mother stoned.

"Bella, a few months ago, he firebombed an entire village in the DRC."

It takes me a minute. "The fuck did you say?"

"Firebombed a whole goddamned village. At least four hundred people wiped out, and the remains were just bulldozed into a mass grave on the outskirts."

My stomach lurches, and any hint of tiredness vanishes. "Why? What was he after?"

"VolTerra has a large mining operation in the area, and there were signs of some minor protests from the locals, but motive is unclear." His keys start clacking again. "Reports are showing women and girls were taken, too. Several have already showed up on the circuits... This guy is bad news."

"No shit." Whitlock is right. This guy is bad news, but he's not exactly quiet about it. "But if he's gone that far and been that overt about it, no one would bat an eye if he was taken out through official channels."

"They've tried," he says. "CIA took two runs at him. Six of their top tier operatives were delivered back to Virginia in body bags. No heads."

Jesus Christ.

My lips mash because I already know the answer to this one. "Who sent the request?"

"Platt," he says, and despite the horror of our conversation, a tiny smile creeps into his voice. "She called me directly from her gigantic new office at Langley."

"Shit. I owe her, and she knows it." Sighing, I swipe a hand through my mess of hair. There goes my fucking nap. "Send me the file and let me take a look."

"Already done."

Of course, it is.

.

.

.


Notes:


Glossary:

Legoland: intelligence community's nickname for MI6, UK's equivalent to the CIA

Fort Meade: Army installation located in Maryland and the headquarters of National Security Agency (NSA)

FSB: principal security agency of Russia and successor agency to the Soviet Union's KGB

GRU: foreign military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation

DRC: Democratic Republic of the Congo, an African nation with vast natural resources plagued by near-constant war and political instability