Killer Instincts, Book 3
She wears a thousand deadly identities.
A master of disguise, Isabel Roma spends her life pretending to be other women. Normally, her emotions are reined in tight—but sexy mercenary Trevor Callaghan has a knack for getting under her skin. The elite operative’s quiet strength and raw magnetism affect her in ways she’s never felt before, a distraction that can quickly turn deadly in their dangerous line of work.
After putting his tragic past behind him, Trevor is ready to focus on his future—and he damn well intends for Isabel to be in it. When their entire operation is thrown into chaos, Trevor enlists Isabel’s talent for deception. And as they attempt to save their team in a world where the stakes are high and the danger is grave, Trevor must convince Isabel that the woman beneath all the disguises is the one worth having…
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“He called again last night.”
Isabel Roma froze. Only for a split second, but a second was all it took to tip off her boss, whose smirk widened. Crap. Noelle was a predator— how her any sign of weakness and the queen of assassins would eat you alive.
“What’d you tell him?” Isabel asked carefully.
“Same thing I’ve been telling him for the past five months. You’re deep cover and can’t be reached.” Noelle paused, an honest-to-God grin gracing her bloodred lips.
Considering that the woman only smiled right before she killed you, Isabel grew a tad worried. Gulping, she crossed her arms over her chest and said, “Spit it out, Noelle.”
“He wanted me to pass along a message.” That shit-eating grin got bigger. “He said he never took you for a coward.”
A coward? The insult prickled her skin, even though she knew the accusation had been Trevor Callaghan’s way of provoking a reaction from her. He of all people knew that she was the furthest thing from a coward.
Bristling, she drifted toward the wet bar on the other side of the lavish living room. She was staying at Noelle’s Paris penthouse until she found a place of her own, but although she was technically homeless, she had zero complaints about her current digs. The gorgeous two-story apartment was located on the Right Bank, an area known for its spacious avenues, ornate nineteenth-century buildings, and wealthy foreign residents. The enormous floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the breathtaking cityscape, even more beautiful at night with all the lights twinkling like diamonds. Outside, the silver frost clinging to the streetlamps and the layer of white covering the sidewalks created a magical ambience that Isabel would’ve taken more time to admire if she hadn’t been so rattled at the moment.
With a sigh, she poured herself a glass of Maker’s Mark and took a long swig. The alcohol scorched a path down her throat but did nothing to quell the uneasiness that had been rippling in her stomach ever since she’d landed at the private airstrip this morning, where Noelle had been waiting in a silver Mercedes. In that nonchalant, I-don’t-particularly-give-a-fuck tone, Noelle had revealed that Trevor Callaghan had been hounding her for information ever since he and Isabel had said good-bye in New York.
Said good-bye? echoed the mocking voice in her head.
Fine. So maybe they hadn’t exchanged any good-byes. Maybe she’d just left.
Gritting her teeth, Isabel tried to silence the exasperating voice by taking another gulp of whiskey, but it didn’t work. Guilt continued to trickle into her, along with a pang of shame that made her chest hurt.
Damn it. Maybe Trevor was right. Maybe she was a coward. How else could you explain why she’d abandoned him like that?
Five months ago, she’d done some undercover work for mercenary extraordinaire Jim Morgan, which had yet again paired her with Trevor. The first time she’d worked with the former Special Forces soldier, he’d been a ravaged, grieving mess— man with a death wish, a man she shouldn’t have been attracted to but was. The second time around, that attraction had intensified, and Trevor had been a changed man. A healed man.
They’d connected during that second job, really connected. They’d kissed, for Pete’s sake. And what had she done? She’d deserted him. Left him waiting at her SoHo apartment, hopped a plane, and fled the country.
How long had he waited?
Another rush of guilt flooded her belly as the question she’d been wondering these past five months floated into her head. A part of her hoped that Trevor had figured out the score after an hour or two, but deep down she knew he wouldn’t have given up that fast. He would’ve waited for hours, days even, and when she still didn’t return . . . that’s when the worry would have set in. The anger. The bitterness.
But again, she knew Trevor—no matter how angry he was, he would need to make sure she was all right, which meant he would move heaven and earth to track her down.
According to Noelle, he’d been doing just that.
“Holy shit, Holden’s wife is hot.” Ethan Hayes spoke in a low murmur, his hazel eyes glimmering with appreciation.
Trevor Callaghan shifted his attention from the pool table to the raven-haired woman taking up residence on the other side of the game room. This was the first time any of the team had met Holden McCall’s wife, and Trevor had no idea why Holden had hid the woman from them for so long. With her wavy black hair and dark eyes, Beth McCall was drop-dead gorgeous. She was also shy, soft-spoken, and completely oblivious to the sex appeal radiating from her tall, curvaceous frame.
“She’s really nice too,” Ethan added. “She offered to give me some cooking lessons.”
Trevor furrowed his brow. “Why would she do that?”
“Because she’s a chef, dumb-ass.”
Somehow it didn’t surprise Trevor that Beth had so easily opened up to Ethan when she’d barely uttered ten words to anyone else at the compound since she and Holden had arrived earlier this morning. With his preppy good looks and unassuming demeanor, Ethan came off as the least threatening man on the planet. But the rookie was far deadlier than he let on, a marine with razor-sharp instincts and honed skills that made him a real asset to the team.
Make that teams. As of three months ago, Jim Morgan had expanded his operation. Apparently soldiers for hire were in greater demand these days, and since Trevor’s boss was as business-savvy as he was lethal, he’d recruited a second team of operatives. Headed by a fellow mercenary named Castle, B-Team—as Trevor and some of the others mockingly referred to it—was currently in the field working an extraction, while the self-proclaimed A-Team indulged in some R&R at Morgan’s compound near Tijuana.
Trevor still found it disorienting to wake up, peer out the window, and not see the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance. He’d lived in Colorado his whole life, calling it home even when his stint in the army had taken him far away and for long periods of time. But even though he got homesick every now and then, longing for the crisp mountain air and the four distinct seasons that Mexico seemed to lack, he knew that relocating to the compound had been a smart decision. He’d needed to leave that empty Aspen condo. He and Gina had purchased it together. They’d turned it into a home. Their home.
But Gina was gone, dead for more than two years now. It had been time for him to move on, which was why he’d sold the condo to Luke Dubois. The former SEAL was currently off rotation while he got settled in the new place.
It brought a bittersweet pang to Trevor’s gut, knowing that Luke and his girlfriend, Olivia, were building a life together in Aspen. The life that had been stolen from him and Gina.
He was happy for his teammate, though. And living on the compound wasn’t bad. He was surrounded by friends, he had a top-notch training facility at his fingertips, the weather was nice year-round, and their housekeeper, Lloyd, was actually a damn good cook.
Oh, and whenever irritating thoughts of Isabel Roma crept into his head, he could easily vanquish them by challenging one of the boys to a Mexican-rum-drinking contest.
Fuck. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t think about Isabel today.
The woman was definitely messing with his head. Big-time.
“You taking your shot or what?” Kane Woodland inquired in a dry voice.
Trevor looked at the sandy-haired man on the other side of the pool table, then at the three lone balls sitting on the green felt. “Eight ball, corner pocket,” he said absently.
“Good fucking luck. No way you’re sinking that.” Kane held up his palm to the redhead by his side. “High-five me, sweetheart. He’s about to scratch on the eight ball.”
Abby Sinclair narrowed her honey-colored eyes, assessed the table, and shook her head. “He’ll sink it. Won’t you, Callaghan?”
He met the redhead’s astute gaze. “Wouldn’t have called it if I thought otherwise.”
And then he bent forward, lined up his cue, and snapped the eight right into its designated pocket—without scratching.
Kane cursed under his breath. “Damn it. Double or nothing.”
“No way,” Abby interjected. “You’re already out five hundred bucks and two nut shots.”
“Nut shots?” Beth McCall’s curious voice sounded from behind the group. The black-haired beauty approached the table.
Her husband was rolling his eyes as he came up beside her. “Instead of money, they bet each other a kick in the nuts,” Holden explained.
“Or a punch,” Ethan said helpfully. “It’s the loser’s choice.”
“And my loser husband will be getting kicked or punched in the balls today. Twice,” Abby muttered.
Ethan snickered. “You’re just mad because you won’t be the one doing it.”
Trevor wasn’t used to hearing the word “husband” come out of the redhead’s mouth. A few days ago, Abby and Kane had stunned everyone by nonchalantly letting it slip that they’d secretly tied the knot last week. No wedding, no reception, not even a heads-up—the couple had simply driven to the justice of peace in town and gotten hitched without telling a single soul.
The covert ceremony didn’t exactly come as a surprise, though, since Abby Sinclair loathed being the center of attention. The woman avoided fuss and fanfare like the plague.
Also not surprising was how she began to edge away from the pool table the second Beth McCall got close. Abby had been living on the compound for more than a year now, but the former contract killer still didn’t seem comfortable being part of the group. Or being around other women. The only females Trevor had seen her drop her guard around were her ex-boss, Noelle, and her fellow chameleon, Isabel.
Grinding his teeth, he pushed aside the latest thought of Isabel and handed his pool cue to Ethan.
“I’ll collect my reward later,” he told Kane. “First I need a word with your wife.”
“Hands off, Trev.” Kane’s green eyes twinkled playfully, but the note of menace in his voice didn’t go unnoticed.
Yeah, right. Trevor had no intention of putting the moves on Abby Sinclair. She was beautiful, sure, but he didn’t have a thing for ruthless redheads.
Only cowardly blondes, apparently.
A sigh lodged in his throat. No, that wasn’t true. Isabel Roma was the strongest woman he’d ever met. He’d dropped that nasty C-word during his last phone call with Noelle only because he’d hoped that being accused of cowardice would spur Isabel into finally returning his calls. Hadn’t worked, though. She was still “deep cover” and couldn’t be reached.
Bull fucking shit.
“What do you need, Callaghan?” Abby asked as she followed him out of the game room.
“What do you think I need, Sinclair?”
They stepped into the spacious hallway and headed toward the set of tall oak doors that opened into the great room. The huge chalet-style space was Trevor’s favorite room in the house, probably because it reminded him of the ski lodges his family had vacationed at when he was a kid. Crisscrossed wooden beams made up the massively high ceiling and the floor beneath their feet was a shiny, dark-stained parquet. L-shaped leather couches took up half the room, while the other side offered a stone fireplace, endless bookcases, and cozy leather armchairs.
Trevor walked over to the large bay window and stared at the reddish-brown dirt that made up the front courtyard. Outside, the sun was setting, the sky a fiery shade of burnished copper, nearly the same color as Abby’s hair.
“Well?” he prompted when she didn’t say a word.
She joined him at the window. “Izzy is in Paris,” she admitted.
His heart did an involuntary leap of joy, but the joy faded to anger once the implication settled in. Isabel had wrapped up her job. Which meant she’d undoubtedly received every single one of his messages—and decided to ignore them.
“Are you sure?” he said gruffly.
Abby nodded. “She got in this morning.”
He was slightly appeased. All right. She’d gotten in only this morning. She probably had other shit to deal with at the moment. Unpacking, briefing her boss, finding a new place to live . . .
The memory of Isabel’s old place, the Manhattan walkup she’d abandoned him in, brought a bitter taste to his mouth. He’d waited all day and night. Sat around like a chump while Isabel went out to help a friend, and as the hours ticked by and her cell phone kept bumping over to voice mail, he’d made excuses for her. She’d lost track of time. Her cell was dead. She was on her way home.
Until finally he’d been forced to face the cold, hard truth—Isabel wasn’t coming back.
Of course, his misplaced faith in humankind had led him to think she was in trouble, a pathetic assumption that initiated a frantic, weeklong search that nearly sent him spiraling back into the black hole of depression that Gina’s death had banished him to.
Eventually, he’d reached Isabel’s boss, who put an end to his needless panic by uttering four very short, very destructive sentences.
Isabel’s on assignment. She bailed on you. Deal with it. Stop calling me.
He’d responded with only one sentence of his own: “I won’t stop until I find her.”
Noelle waited until Isabel was gone, then headed for the walk-in closet. She hadn’t had a chance to change since she’d arrived at the ranch, having been ushered into the living room by Isabel as if the damn sky was falling.
She unzipped her knee-length leather boots, extracting two knives and a small derringer pistol from the custom sheaths sewn into the footwear. Her fitted black jacket was next, a garment that was nearly as dangerous as she was; it, too, housed a multitude of weapons.
Her tight pants and tank top, she kept on, but she didn’t bother removing the various surprises underneath.
It was always prudent to be prepared around the man she was about to see.
She moved soundlessly. She’d been trained by the best, after all. Trained to be invisible, trained to be deadly, trained to protect herself at all costs. As the memories rose to the surface, they brought forth a surge of fury. These days she didn’t get hung up on the sorrow or the grief associated with her loss.
Just the rage.
The hallway was bathed in shadows. No light spilled beneath any of the closed doors. Callaghan and Jim’s other man, the rookie, had crashed for the night. Isabel was in the room next to the den and wouldn’t hear much from all the way over there. Not that it mattered. If Noelle didn’t want anyone to hear her, then they wouldn’t.
She slid into his bedroom without making a solitary noise.
And yet his eyes snapped open the moment she closed the door.
Signet Eclipse (August 6, 2013)