Penny’s damp underwear stuck to her skin in an uncomfortable bunch, but it wasn’t a man’s skillful pair of callus-roughened hands or his dirty, talented mouth that had caused the problem. The blame lay entirely with the god-awful Honduran humidity.
It didn’t matter. No degree of sweaty undies or unfortunate chafing would slow her down. Nothing could make her turn back, because her family meant the world to her—and Rachel was the only one she had left.
A tingle at the base of her neck made Penny skid to a stop. Her gaze snapped left and right, heart trilling as shadows stretched into human-sized figures and melted away with the twinkle of a far-off light. Nothing looked amiss, but two tortuously slow seconds later, the sound of a boot scraping asphalt had her spinning around with fists raised.
Half-hidden in shadow, the man ducked her sweeping arm and pivoted much too fast for someone his size. In a blink, he reappeared over her shoulder. Months of training and practice brought her heel down onto his large, booted foot and she turned…straight into a hulking black-camo-clad figure.
Holy ever-lovin’ god of iron giants.
Behind his ski mask, the man’s piercing blue eyes raked down the length of her body. He towered over her by more than a foot, and given the width of his broad shoulders and massive chest, he outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds of solid muscle.
Penny swallowed the fear rising in her throat and did the first thing that popped into her head—she aimed a swift kick between his legs. And then she ran like hell.
Each painful inhale rattled in her lungs as she pumped her legs harder. Her hair whipped across her line of sight, temporarily obstructing her view. Seconds ticked by at an agonizing crawl. Fifty yards. Twenty. The closer her rental Jeep came into view, the louder the echoing pound of footsteps behind her became.
An inch away from the door, strong hands propelled her face-first into the grimy driver’s side window.
“Let go of me.” She twisted and squirmed, cursing as he yanked her arms sharply behind her back and pinned them into place with his two hundred–pound frame.
“Ya era tiempo,” her captor said, tossing a deep growl of Spanish to their left.
About damn time. Years of studying the language had Penny’s heart sinking to her stomach…because she knew he wasn’t talking to her.
One dark figure after another emerged from the shadows. Dressed head to toe in matching black fatigues and masks, the metallic glint of weapons flickered off the four bodies like a commando’s version of bling. The fact that not a single gun was pointed at her head became a small comfort when a dark van screeched to a halt in front of them.
“Oh hell.” She took a deep breath and choked on burnt rubber fumes.
She needed to think, and the hard erection nestled against her ass reminded her there wasn’t room for mistakes. If something happened to Penny, Rachel would be lost forever in the hands of a monster. She couldn’t let that happen. She wouldn’t let that happen.
As if sensing a forming plan, her assailant bent down, his mask brushing against her ear. “Play nice and you won’t get hurt, sweetheart. But if you don’t stop struggling, I can’t make that same promise.”
Penny fought against the ice-cold tingle his rough whisper zipped down her spine. Her joints screamed in protest, but she edged closer to the only area susceptible to attack. The second fabric brushed against her palm, she curled her fingers and squeezed with everything she had.
“Fucking hell!” Blue Eyes wrenched her grip free of his balls and tossed her over his shoulder as if she were nothing more than a rag doll.
“Damn it! Let me go!” She elbowed the back of his head, and when that didn’t get a reaction, she plowed a fist into his left flank—and the damn man kept walking, not once losing his stride. “Put me down! Entiendes?”
Behind her, someone bound her kicking legs while another did the same with her wrists. When a gag came next, she snapped her teeth, nearly catching the hand that tied it into place. A sack over the head later and her world plummeted into darkness before they shuffled her into the waiting van.
Between the musty, stale air and being bracketed between her assailant’s rock-hard thighs, it didn’t matter that she couldn’t see her snug confines. Walls closed in around her, making each breath feel as if it would be the last. She made one last-ditch effort to squirm from her captor’s hold.
Blue Eyes’ grip locked her into place, her back plastered against his chest.
“Little viper,” he murmured—in Spanish—into her ear. “It’s a damn good thing I wasn’t thinking about having children anytime soon.”
“I’m just glad she didn’t grab my balls.” Another voice chuckled. “Unlike you assholes, I’d like to expand my gene pool sometime down the line. But I am curious as to why she’s down here.”
“Me, too. And I’m sure as hell going to find out.” The familiar voice made Penny’s heartbeat stumble.
The tone was the same in Spanish as it was in English—abrupt and menacing even from its distance across the van. But why would Trey be in Honduras? And why the hell had he let his friend turn her into a pancake against the side of a Jeep?
If someone had told former Delta and current Alpha Security operative Rafael Ortega that he’d have someone tied up in the unit’s makeshift interrogation room, he’d have sworn it would’ve been the drug kingpin, Fuentes, or one of the cartel leader’s many henchmen.
Now, three hours after he and his team pulled the hood off the American woman in the privacy of their inner-city headquarters, Rafe still hadn’t entirely ruled out the redhead’s involvement. Something didn’t jibe, and when he couldn’t figure things out, it made him goddamned twitchy.
A body search he’d been a lucky enough bastard to perform revealed a single steel blade tucked into her boot and a burner cell phone that hadn’t sent or received any calls. No firearms. No identification. That was it, unless you counted breasts that would fit perfectly in the palms of his hands, and an ass that was made to be grabbed—or at the very least, ogled.
For the third time in as many hours, Rafe shifted himself in his pants and walked into the interrogation room. Instantly, he was bombarded with curses that would’ve had his fourth foster mother running to the nearest church.
“Ah. You missed me,” he goaded.
His comment earned him another round of expletives, each one more inventive than the last. He smiled, loving both the challenge and the murderous glint in her blazing green eyes.
Rafe met her glare for glare, not turning when the door opened to emit Trey Hanson, his best friend and former Delta brother. His own black mask still firmly in place, Trey took a position against the far back wall.
“Are you feeling any more talkative?” asked Rafe.
“Go. To. Hell.” The redhead tugged on her restraints with each word.
“I’ve been there. Too dry for my tastes.” Rafe let out a mental sigh. This was turning out to be more work than he’d anticipated. “Why are you in Honduras?”
She gave him an eat-shit-and-choke-on-it glare and he covered her hands with his, halting both the damage to her chafing wrists and assessing her sudden surge in heart rate. “I’m losing my patience, sweetheart. Let’s try this again. One. More. Time.”
Her gaze darted left, to where Trey stood like a six-foot wall ornament, flipping his KA-BAR knife in his hand like Rafe had seen him do countless times when bored. Something flashed in the redhead’s eyes, but when her gaze slid back to him, it hardened to green steel.
The slow, upward curl of her lips alerted him to the smart-mouthed remark about to be unleashed. “Maybe instead of asking me stupid questions you should put some ice on your boo-boo. Untreated swelling could cause permanent damage.”
He leaned to within an inch of her face. Fuck-and-him. Despite the layers of San Pedro Sula grime caked on her otherwise perfect porcelain skin, a vanilla scent clung to her body. It almost made him forget that her swift kick and good aim were the reason he actually did just get done icing his fucking balls.
“We have ways of making little girls talk,” he warned. “And trust me, it’s no day at the spa.”
Her gaze flickered over his shoulder. “I’ve never been a spa kind of woman. Ask your mute friend there in the back. After all, we were practically raised as brother and sister.”
Once Penny got over the fact that her surrogate big brother was lounging on the sofa across the room, it was easier to shift her focus—at least temporarily—to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Blue-Eyed.
Rafael Ortega looked like a walking sin stick, not a single ounce of softness anywhere on his body. His broad shoulders could perch a pair of economy-line sedans, and his snug shirt amplified a defined chest and quarter-bouncing set of abs. Everything about the man was rock hard and chiseled, but it was his biceps that had her close to drooling.
Nearly as big as her thighs, they bunched and flexed each time he staunchly folded his arms across his chest, the movement giving her a sneak peek of the tribal tattoo hiding beneath the hem of his sleeve. He was so not her type—too large, too intense, and way too brooding. But that didn’t stop the butterflies from forming in the pit of her stomach—and a bit lower.
Penny sat on the threadbare couch and forced a smile she hoped looked confident. “Nice place you have. A little compact for men of your size, but nice. Cozy.”
“Forget the sarcastic small talk, Penn,” Trey growled from across the room. “You owe me a few answers, so let’s get to why the hell you’re in Honduras.”
Fake it till you sell it. The words of her mentor at the bail enforcement agency had her lifting her gaze to Trey’s. “I don’t owe you a damn thing.”
“When you waltz your sweet ass into one of my missions, you most certainly do. You’re a goddamned social worker. You have no business walking the streets of San Pedro Sula as if you’re GI-fucking-Jane.”
“I can count the number of e-mails and phone calls I’ve gotten from you over the last few years on one hand, so don’t pretend to know my business. I’m not sixteen anymore. I don’t need your lectures, and I sure as hell don’t have to explain myself to you. The sooner that sinks into your head, the smoother this conversation will go.”
Rafe blocked Trey’s path in one step. In a low murmur, the two men exchanged words that pinched Trey’s lips into a tightened frown.
A few seconds later, Rafe turned, locking her in his sight. “I think we’ve gone about this the wrong way, Red.”
She matched his disarming half smile with one of her own and watched every line on his already chiseled face go still. “My name’s Penny. And you didn’t seem too concerned about stepping off on the wrong foot when you shoved a gag into my mouth, tossed a sack over my head, and hurled me into the back of a van.”
“Had to do something before you ended up injuring yourself.”
“Is that why you had me tied to a chair for hours, too? To protect me from bodily injury? You know what would’ve protected me even more? Not being manhandled at all.”
Penny, one point. Blue Eyes, zippo.
His eyes narrowed, taking her bait. “Then the next time you get the urge to take a stroll, do it during the day and not in a seedy part of a foreign city. The only people who trample through the San Pedro Sula warehouse district are either looking for trouble or they are the trouble. For all we knew, you could’ve been a human trafficker looking to make a sale. You were someplace you didn’t belong.”
“He knew who I was.” She tossed a blatant glare at Trey and got a stony look in return. “Isn’t that right?”
Trey’s continued silence turned Penny’s insides into a pinball machine. She shifted her eyes to the plans littering the coffee table—schematics, maps, photographs, and itineraries. Considering their dark-wing commando look, none of it was surprising, except for one photo tucked beneath all the others.
Her hand reflexively reached for it, a knot instantly forming in her stomach. Gleaming back at her from the black-and-white picture were a familiar pair of cold, dark eyes.
Someone called her name, but she couldn’t answer. Tunnel vision narrowed her focus, darkening the corners of her sight until the harsh stare of the man in the photo morphed into the concerned eyes of Rafael Ortega. Catching her chin between his fingers, Rafe gently forced her gaze upward.
“Talk to me, Red,” he demanded gently.
“He’s the reason I’m here.” She met Rafe’s gaze, lifting the picture up with a shaking hand. “Diego Fuentes has my niece, my best friend. And I’m not leaving Honduras without her.”