D followed Sofia into Liam’s hospital room, propping his shoulder against the doorframe as he watched her check the IV drip at his teammate’s side.
“You went to a lot of trouble for a bullet wound that’ll heal,” he said suspiciously.
Sofia spared him a dark look. “I told you— the bullet wasn’t the issue. He’s suffering from exhaustion and dehydration.” She scoffed under her breath. “What, you couldn’t be bothered to toss a canteen his way every couple hours? Not everyone is a robot like you are.”
A robot? He thought it over, and decided that probably was the best way to describe him. He was a cold bastard. Ruthless. Violent. He’d been that way since he was eight years old, and if he’d ever had the ability to feel compassion or tenderness, then it had been beaten out of him a long time ago.
But he’d never made apologies for who he was, and he wasn’t about to start now.
As Sofia tucked the thin blanket tighter around Liam’s waist, D caught a glimpse of leather and metal around the man’s wrists. “Did you restrain him?” he demanded.
Her eyes didn’t convey even an ounce of remorse. “Damn right I did. He struggled like crazy when I tried giving him the sedative. Kept insisting he didn’t need it and that he had to go find Sully.”
D’s stomach clenched.
Sofia sighed. “I take it you guys aren’t any closer to finding him?”
“You fucking think? He disappeared without a goddamn trace, Sofia.” D gritted his teeth. Even though his frustration was directed at himself rather than her, he didn’t apologize for snapping at her.
Fortunately, she was unfazed by his sharp tone. “Do you think someone took him?”
Her brow furrowed. “Why?”
Because of me.
He swallowed the confession, same way he’d been doing for months. Because what was the point in telling people about his suspicion? There was no concrete evidence to support it. Nothing except the offhand remark of an Irish bartender.
But D knew, deep in his bones, that he was responsible. That Sullivan had been abducted because of him.
Something must have gone down at the end of that Dublin job, but even four months later, D was no closer to finding out what. When Sean Reilly had gotten tangled up with some very dangerous Irish gangsters, the team had flown to Dublin to help him out. The job had gone smoother than most and Reilly had come out on top, but somewhere between the end of the mission and the morning the team was scheduled to leave, Sullivan had fallen off the face of the fucking earth.
Security footage showed Sully in the hotel bar at two in the morning, talking to a dark-haired man whose face had been shielded from the camera. A few minutes later, he left the bar, and that was the last anyone had seen or heard from him.
Foul play was definitely involved. The security footage in the lobby and outside the hotel had been wiped clean, which meant someone had gone to great lengths to cover up whatever had happened in front of those cameras.
The team had run the stranger’s profile— what little of it they had— through every facial recognition program out there, but there’d been no hits. And nobody, not a damn person on their extensive list of contacts, had been able to identify the man. The bartender’s account had been useless for the most part— he insisted that he hadn’t heard a word of Sully’s conversation with the stranger, that it’d looked friendly enough, and that Sully had been sober and calm when he’d walked out of the bar alone.
The only red flag? The bartender hadn’t referred to Sullivan as Sullivan— he’d called him Mr. Pratt.
As in Derek Pratt.
D didn’t know why his teammate would have been using his name, but it stood to reason that if the bartender had believed himself to be in the company of Derek Pratt, then so had the stranger.
The intended target that night hadn’t been Sullivan.
It had been D.
Sofia’s voice jerked him back to the present.
“I don’t know why he was taken,” D muttered in response. But I intend to find out.
His gaze drifted to the bed. Even injured and sedated, Liam Macgregor looked like a fucking movie star. Sometimes D found himself staring at the guy and wondering how Liam had ever worked for the DEA. A face like his was too damn memorable, which wasn’t a characteristic you wanted in an undercover agent. Deep-cover operatives were supposed to blend. Liam Macgregor didn’t blend— he stood out.
“He and Sullivan were close, huh?” Sofia asked.
Were. Her use of the past tense didn’t surprise him. He was starting to suspect that most of his teammates believed that Sullivan was dead. Not Liam, though. The man refused to stop searching for his best friend.
Christ, D should’ve told Morgan to sideline the guy months ago. He’d seen Liam spiraling, and he’d done nothing to try to stop it.
“Joined at the hip,” he told her.
She glanced at her patient, her expression softening. “Sullivan’s a great guy. I really hope you guys find him.”
“You don’t sound hopeful.”
“Are you? Because in your line of work, four months is a long time for someone to go off the map. Usually that means they’re no longer on the map.”
He couldn’t disagree. But fuck, he hoped they were wrong. Hoped like hell that Sully was alive and well out there, and not the unfortunate victim of a case of mistaken identity.
Sofia moved away from Liam’s bed and strode back to the door, gesturing for him to follow her. His gaze unwittingly rested on her ass, round and firm beneath her faded jeans. She didn’t dress like any doctor he’d ever met. No scrubs or white coat for her, but jeans, skimpy tops, and the occasional flannel shirt she threw on when it got cold.
The sight of her ass brought another ache to his groin, which only pissed him off again. Men like him weren’t allowed to feel sexual desire for women like Sofia. Men like him didn’t feel sexual desire, period. For D, sex was nothing more than pent-up need that required an outlet every once in a while and in no way involved bullshit like intimacy or lust. Tension and release, that’s all it was to him. To normal people, to women like Sofia, it was far more than that.
Usually, he avoided those women like the plague. But the awareness that hummed in his blood whenever he saw Sofia Amaro was impossible to control. She was so fucking spirited. And bossy. He’d always wondered what it would be like to fuck her.
But he wouldn’t allow himself to find out.
Times like these— and it fucking pained him to even think it— he missed Noelle. Morgan would rip D’s throat out with his bare hands if he knew D was thinking about his wife in a carnal way, but he couldn’t help it. His arrangement with Noelle had been exactly what he’d needed. Hard-core fucking and nothing more.
“You’re quiet tonight,” Sofia remarked. Then she laughed. “Quieter than usual, that is. I swear, you’re the most tight-lipped person I’ve ever met.”
Shrugging, he glanced over at her. Well, glanced over and then down, because at six one, he towered over her five-foot-two frame. And because of his height, he could also see right down her tank top, getting an eyeful of the creamy swells of her tits. She had great tits. He’d admired them on more than one occasion, and it pissed him off how often he found himself staring at this woman.
This was the first time she’d ever caught him, though, and she rolled her eyes when she noticed where his gaze had traveled. “And instead of answering, he stares at my boobs. Classy, Derek.”
He smirked at her. “On what planet could I ever be considered classy?”
“True.” She tilted her head. “But I’ve never seen you check anyone out before.”
Because normally he didn’t. Or, at least, he was usually more discreet. Sofia didn’t seem put off by his behavior, though. If anything, she looked . . . intrigued. Fucking hell. She really needed to wipe that interested look off her face. After this morning’s adrenaline rush, he was too damn primed for sex, and if she offered him an opening, he wasn’t sure he could stop himself from taking it.
As they walked toward the back of the small building, he gave her a wary look. “Where are we going?”
“Outside.” She frowned at him. “The last time you were here, you ignored my clear-cut instructions and took off while you had a concussion. I don’t trust you not to whisk Liam away if I turn my back, and I don’t trust you in the clinic.”
He didn’t bother trying to defend himself. Hell, part of him was still entertaining the idea of calling in their chopper and getting Liam out of here when Sofia wasn’t looking.
They stepped outside through the rear doors. She seemed unruffled by the cool breeze on her bare arms, continuing forward in a brisk pace.
He walked alongside her, cursing himself the whole time. He needed to get away from her, damn it, not stay glued to her side. Usually he kept to himself when he was at the clinic. Found a room to crash in or smoked out front. But he suspected that even if he’d wanted to do either of those things, Sofia wouldn’t let him.
They followed the dirt path behind the clinic until the terrain grew hilly. It was the dry season, but the mountain elevation allowed most of the plants to remain green. A carpet of purple bougainvillea stretched out on both sides of the path, blooming wildly across the landscape.
A few more yards, and a single-story house with a white exterior and sloped roof appeared in the distance. Sofia’s house.
D experienced a prick of discomfort. Sofia had never invited him or any of his male teammates to her home before. Abby Sinclair, the sole female operative on the team, was the only one Sofia had welcomed into her private space, and that was during a dangerous storm. Which was damn ironic, because Abby was a terrifying motherfucker and not someone most people wanted to be alone with. D used to worry she might slit Kane’s throat in his sleep, but since she’d given birth to their son, he considered the prospect less likely.
As they neared the house, a light flicked on over the rickety wooden porch. Motion sensor. He approved.
But then Sofia opened the front door without unlocking it, and his approval faded. Yes, she was isolated up here and hadn’t encountered any trouble from the cartels since she’d opened the clinic, but safety was nothing more than an illusion.
“Your door should be locked,” he said curtly.
“Wouldn’t make a difference. That door is so old, I could break it down just by tapping on it, even if it’s locked.”
He made a mental note to send in a contracting crew to rectify that. Sofia was a valuable asset to the team. Morgan wouldn’t like having to replace her if she died during a home-robbery attempt.
“Want a beer?” She glanced over her shoulder as she strode into the house.
D hesitated in the doorway. He didn’t do this kind of shit. Nope, “hanging out” with women was definitely not a regular experience for him. Well, except with the ones he’d been ordered to kill. During his agency days, he’d had no choice but to lay some groundwork with his female targets, and unfortunately, that had involved drinks and dinners and conversation he’d hated making.
“You can come in. I won’t bite.”
The mocking note in her voice made him sigh. Other than Noelle’s operatives, Sofia was the only woman he’d ever met who wasn’t afraid of him. Everyone else, men and women alike, shit their pants when he walked into a room. And that was the way he liked it.
He reluctantly stepped inside, watching as she wandered across the open-concept main room toward the kitchen. She grabbed two longneck bottles from an old refrigerator, which was humming so loudly, D suspected it sucked up way too much power.
“Here.” She walked over and handed him a bottle of cheap Mexican beer, then leaned against the work island separating the kitchen from the living area.
He knew from experience that this particular brand of beer tasted like piss and was weaker than water, but fuck, he had a few hours to kill, so he twisted the cap off and took a sip. Since it was hot inside the house, he set the bottle on the table next to the couch and stripped off his hoodie. That left him in a wife-beater, and he didn’t miss the way Sofia immediately zeroed in on his bare arms.
She eyed his tats, her gaze traveling up his forearms to his biceps, then to the snake coiled around his neck. She’d never asked him about his tattoos in all the time he’d known her, and luckily, she didn’t ask now.
As she sipped her beer, he stared at her long, graceful throat. Then their eyes locked, and his cock twitched again.
“I can’t figure you out,” she said thoughtfully.
He shrugged. “There’s nothing to figure out.”
“Your men say you’re a coldhearted bastard. And, honestly, I think they’re secretly terrified of you.” She slanted her head. “But I also think that’s exactly what you want. For them to be afraid.”
“If you brought me back here to psychoanalyze me, you’re wasting your time.” He took a menacing step forward, just because he was in the mood to see her flinch.
But she didn’t. Instead, she smiled. “See, you’re doing it right now. Trying to scare me.”
He took another step and, this time, received a response. A hitch in her breath, almost inaudible, and he heard it only because he’d been watching her throat and seen the slight dip to it.
She wanted him.
He might not be good with all that romance bullshit, but he knew sexual arousal when he saw it. The reddish tint to her cheeks. The interest flickering in her eyes. The fluttering of her pulse at the center of her throat.
Screw it. He felt his body take over, his mind forgetting all about professional courtesy and ordering him to take her already. She wanted him. All he had to do was lay down some ground rules first, make sure she knew what this was— and what it wasn’t.
“Don’t worry. I get it,” she said, her tone mocking him again. “If people fear you, then they won’t try to get close to you. Right, Derek?”
She was one of the few people who called him that. To everyone else, he was D. D, vague and unmemorable, just way he liked it.
As she offered a look of challenge, he stepped closer and bared his teeth in a hard smile. “As much as I’m enjoying this verbal foreplay,” he said abruptly, “what do you say we just skip to the part where you ride my dick?”