By April Hunt
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With every book I write, it only becomes clearer that I can't do this alone. The support my family gives me on a daily basis makes it possible for me to live my dream of putting happily-ever-afters into the hands of the readers.
Sarah E. Younger, agent extraordinaire…I've called you many things in these acknowledgments through the years: my cheerleader, my sounding-board, my therapist, and my wing-woman to name just a few. Every single one of them still holds true today, and there isn't a day I'm not thankful for having you on my side. #AgentJackpotLottery
Madeleine Colavita, editor elite…there's no one I'd rather write books with than you. I can't put into words how thankful I am for you sharing all your wisdom with me through seven books. And to Estelle, Monisha, and everyone on the Forever team…Thank you! I'm so lucky to have amazing people helping me each and every day.
Tif Marcelo, best friend and critique partner aficionado…I really did hit the jackpot during that three a.m. frozen dinner (wink). Fatal Deception never would've happened if it weren't for you nudging me along the way.
And to my readers—I'm so appreciative of each and every one of you. I'm able to do what I love because of you.
Focused on the petri dish in front of her, Dr. Isabel Santiago steadied her hand and applied a drop of the FC-5 virus to the latest batch of microscope slides. The task was easier said than done, and it had nothing to do with her bulky biohazard suit and rubber gloves and everything to do with the noise filtering into the lab through the speakers.
"I think I diagnosed the source of those headaches you've been having. It's your…music." Isabel shifted her gaze to the wall of windows, the protective glass that separated the basement Tru Tech lab—affectionately called the Legion—from the clean room.
Maddy Calhoun, a doctoral student and her best friend, sat in the other room, fingers tapping as she performed the role of Isa's safety spotter. "Don't be hating my playlist. The Psychotic Zombies are all the rage right now—something you'd know if you went out with me more than once in a blue moon."
"If they're the kind of education I get on girls' nights out, I'm kind of glad that I stay in as often as I do," Isa joked.
Maddy leaned into the two-way mic. "Isabel Santiago, you owe me. Do you have any idea what I could be doing on a Saturday night? Or who?"
Beneath her headgear, Isa chuckled. "That neighbor who lives on the floor above you? What's his name? Clint? Carson?"
"Cody." Maddy wrinkled her nose. "And, no. Been there and not doing that again. Don't get me wrong. He was drop-dead gorgeous, and the things he could do with his tongue? Have mercy. But afterward? There was nothing. I shit you not, Is, we were looking up at the stars and I commented on the Milky Way, and he thought I wanted to drive to the nearest 7-Eleven for a candy bar."
Isa swallowed a laugh as she safely tucked the FC-5 samples back into their spots in the biohazard fridge. "It couldn't have been that bad."
"It so, so was. But stop trying to change the subject. I expect payment in full for Saturday."
"I let you play your music."
"Not cutting it. I had a big night planned for the two of us. I'm talking slinky dresses, drinks—and did I mention that the place was owned by brothers? Brothers, Isabel. Hot gods all derived from the same gene pool." Maddy fanned herself with a stack of papers. "I need an ice bath just thinking about them."
"Sorry to kill your plans of debauchery, but I really need to assess this latest batch of samples and start new ones with Tony's recommendations. He had an interesting thought about changing the class of antivirals."
"My interesting and your and Tony's interesting are way different from one another. And just so you know, mine is the one that's spot-on and, if luck's on our side, the one that could potentially lead to multiple orgasms. Sharing hobbies with a man who's triple your age isn't exactly a cause for bragging."
Isa chuckled at the image of a ninety-some-year-old Anthony Winter, but her one-time mentor, now an epidemiologist with the Global Health Organization, wasn't a day over sixty-four and traveled to far-off places most twenty-year-olds wouldn't venture.
"I'm ready to step into decontamination now," Isa announced. "Maybe we can forgo the slinky dresses and hot gods and grab a quick drink on the way home."
Maddy pouted. "Not the same thing."
As sad as it may be to someone with Maddy's active social life, it was viruses that took up most of Isabel's waking hours. Ebola. Smallpox. She worked on all of them and a lot more in the name of the United States government. Most researchers waited their entire careers to be given the opportunity Tru Tech Industries had given her—her own basement lab equipped with all the latest cutting-edge tech. But all that responsibility came at a price.
Her personal life.
Isa stepped into decon, and the second the airtight door locked her inside, a mixture of foaming germicides blasted from the wall-mounted nozzles. She lifted her arms and let the liquid run over every inch of her suit, while Maddy, watching from the corner video monitor, directed her on which areas needed an extra dose.
Fifteen minutes and a change of clothes later, Isa stepped into the clean room. She had just opened her mouth to give in to her friend's need for hot god brothers when the light above the lab's private elevator came on, alerting them they were about to get a visitor.
Only a select few personnel had the clearance to visit the Legion, so when Frank, the Legion's soon-to-be-retired security guard, stepped out, Isa wasn't surprised.
"Perfect timing." Isa smiled, always loving the time of the night that the older man made his rounds. "Tell us how the retirement party plans are coming."
Frank's wide, panicked eyes shot her way. "Doc! Ru—"
Someone pushed him from behind. As the older man crashed into the table against the wall and hit the ground, four additional figures stepped off the elevator.
Isabel's brain didn't register the intrusion until the one nearest her aimed his gun at the center of her chest.
"Going somewhere, Dr. Santiago?" His clear blue eyes locked on her through the slits of his black ski mask.
The intruders fanned out. The one nearest Frank grabbed him by the uniform and dragged him along the floor to the other side of the room while his friend did the same to Maddy.
Isa's gaze instantly snapped to the panic button a good twelve feet away.
"Don't do anything you'll regret, Doc. And trust me, if you touch that alarm, you will regret it." Blue Eyes shifted his stance—and his gun—closer. "Turn around."
Isa's nerves froze her feet to the ground. She trained for spills, exposures, and the occasional equipment breakdown. Armed men in her lab wasn't part of Tru Tech's annual continuing education.
"I don't know what you're doing here, or how you got inside, but this is a secure building," Isa's warning fell flat even to her own ears.
"Yet my friends and I managed to get in just fine. And I should think what we're doing here would be pretty obvious…or maybe you're not as smart as I've heard. Now fucking move."
He dug the muzzle of his weapon into her back and nudged her across the room.
Maddy sobbed into Frank's shoulder as they both sat huddled on the floor, a trickle of blood dripping down the older man's forehead. His small taser—if he still had it—couldn't compete with assault weapons.
Blue Eyes yanked Isabel to a stop in front of the lab's sealed door. "Let me inside."
"No." She lifted her chin in staunch defiance and ignored the tremor in her voice. "You have no idea what's in there."
"Actually, I do. Last warning." He aimed his gun at the center of her chest. "Let me inside the lab. Now."
No way in hell was Isa giving them access.
Maddy released a loud wail, the sound temporarily pulling Blue Eyes' attention away from the door. Isa leapt for the panic alarm. She flipped open the cover, fingers brushing over the button at the exact time a hand fisted in her hair.
"I don't fucking think so." Her assailant swung her face-first into the wall.
Pain exploded behind her eyes, dimming her vision. She barely registered Frank lurching to his feet, rushing the man. A shot rang out, echoing in the basement like an exploding bomb.
Isa watched in horror as Frank jerked backward, his white uniform shirt blossoming red before he dropped to the ground. "No! Frank!"
Blood seeped through the security guard's fingers at an alarming rate, pooling on the floor beneath him. "I'm…fine."
In a few minutes, he'd be anything but fine.
For a split second Isa was transported back to her med school emergency medicine rotation. In the aftermath of a mass shooting, casualties rolled in, one immediately after another. People shouted for her help—or for her to help their friend. Hospital staff ran from one patient to the next, quickly triaging and assessing, and like the others, Isa had kept pace next to her attending…until suddenly she couldn't anymore.
People had looked to her for help in their scariest, darkest time, and she'd failed them.
"No. No. No." Isa dragged her focus back to the lab.
She hadn't been able to save some of those people at Virginia Hospital Center, but she sure as hell wouldn't lose Frank.
Isabel whipped off her lab coat and dropped to her friend's side in an attempt to stanch the flow of blood.
"You can go to hell," she threw at the man holding the gun, "because I'm not opening that door. Those viruses are locked up for a reason."
Blue Eyes aimed his gun at her head. "You have to the count of three to open the lab door, or your blood will mix right along with your friend's. One. Two. Thr—"
"I'll do it!" Maddy struggled with her captor as she attempted to step forward. "I'll do it! Just don't hurt anyone else. Please."
"Maddy," Isabel warned, shaking her head. "No."
They didn't handle simple strains of influenza. A single small mishap could jumpstart the worst pandemic the world had ever seen—and it would've happened on her watch.
Tears poured down her friend's face. "I'm sorry, Isa. I—I have to. Frank's already…I'm not letting something happen to you, too."
Maddy's brute walked her to the control panel, and after an eye scan and entering her personalized code, the airlocked door slid open with a whoosh.
Blue Eyes nodded to the two men standing off to the side. "Get what we came for and make it quick."
"I don't know how you think you're getting out of here. There's one way into the Legion and one way out." Isa glared.
"You let me worry about that, sweetheart."
Isabel's throat dried. He didn't seem worried about anything, and that made her worry. The men ransacked her lab, purposefully toppling empty beakers and tipping wheeled carts as they made their way toward the back of the lab. One of them stopped in front of the cryo unit where she kept her samples of FC-5…and pulled out what looked to be his own travel case.
Her heart leapt to her throat. "No!"
Isa lurched to her feet. She'd made it two steps when Blue Eyes shoved her face-first against the glass wall.
His masked mouth brushed against her ear, making her cringe. "You really must have a death wish."
Isa squirmed against his grip, and it tightened. "Please don't do this. You have no idea the people that virus could hurt."
"Sweetheart, I don't care who it can hurt. I care about who it can help—me."
His men stepped out of the lab, the one with the case announcing, "Got what we need." He nodded toward Isa and Maddy. "What do we do about them?"
"Leave them. For now." Blue Eyes' mouth brushed against her ear as he leaned closer. "Until next time, doctor."
He released his hold on her, and the men backtracked the way they came, guns trained on the women as they retreated to the elevator. Isa wasn't telling them the fault in their plan.
The elevator only had two stops.
Upstairs security wouldn't let them strut across the lobby and breach the exit.
Isa dropped to Frank's side as they disappeared into the elevator. "Maddy! Hit the panic button, and then call security. We need an ambulance. Now."
Frank released a wet cough that ended on a wheeze. "I'm okay, Doc. Just a little flesh wound. I've gotten worse scrapes yanking the weeds in the garden."
Isa smiled wanly and applied more pressure to the wound. All too quickly, her coat soaked up the older man's blood. "I'm sure you have, Frank."
The day she'd left bedside medicine, she'd vowed never to put herself in the position where she'd have to lie to a patient again.
And yet here she was.
"You're going to be fine, Frank." Isa lost her fight against brewing tears. One drop fell down her cheek, quickly followed by another. "Stay focused on the hammock waiting for you when you get to your Caribbean bungalow. But you should know that I wasn't kidding about going with you. I may stow away in your luggage."
"The more the merrier." Frank sucked in a sharp breath, the effort making a shrill whistling sound. "We'll all be just…fine…Doc. Just…fine."
Isa knew better. Anyone willing to break into a government-sponsored lab wouldn't give two thoughts about the kind of destruction their actions could cause. If those men released FC-5 into the general public, no one be would fine.
Visiting Tru Tech Industries wasn't on the list of things Roman Steele wanted to do today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or at any point in time in the near—or far—future. Yet there his dumb ass stood at the police checkpoint for the last twenty minutes with no sign of being let through any time soon.
Roman slid his two younger brothers a sharp glare. "You assholes hauled my ass out of bed for this?"
Liam, the baby of their four-man band, smirked. "Come on. It's not like you had anything happening."
"Sleep. I had sleep happening. And how the hell do you know that I didn't have plans?"
"Because the day ends in a y, big brother."
Next to him, Ryder laughed.
Liam wasn't wrong. His big plans had consisted of whaling on the heavy bag until his left leg either locked up or gave out. Not the healthiest exercise regime for an amputee, but it'd worked for him for the last few years. He wasn't about to change it now.
Keeping in shape and running Steele Ops with his brothers and the ever-growing collection of military elite they employed took up most of his time.
They'd officially opened their doors last year, converting the historic Keaton Jailhouse in downtown Alexandria to house both of their business ventures. Iron Bars Distillery & Beer Garden took up the first three floors and had quickly gained a reputation within the community. But beneath the feet of their vanilla-vodka-loving customers, Steele Ops ran like a well-oiled machine.
Anti-terrorism. Covert extractions. They got shit done the government couldn't do thanks to bureaucratic red tape or lack of manpower. Only a select few knew of their existence, one of them former Army chief of staff Hogan Wilcox.
His teammate's Cade's father, Wilcox was the one who'd raised tonight's alarm, which meant that whatever happened here at Tru Tech wasn't insignificant. As much as he didn't want to be here, it was probably a good thing they were.
Ryder cleared his throat as they took another step to the front of the security line. "I have one request. Just a little thing really. I wouldn't even call it a request…more like a suggestion."
"You two are just full of demands today," Roman muttered.
"Let me do the talking. We both know when you open your mouth, chances are high you'll piss someone off."
True. Of his brothers, Liam and Ryder were definitely the most personable, with Knox, the eldest, a close second. Roman had never been much of a people-pleaser, and after his years in black ops and working at the kind of CIA installations that don't exist, he saw even less need for roundabout politeness. Manners only got in the way of progress.
"I'll keep my people skills on the down-low," Roman agreed. "At least until someone says something that's too stupid to ignore."
From deep inside the security perimeter, one of the plainclothes cops ended her conversation with what looked to be a lab employee and headed their way. Natasha James eyed each of the brothers warily as she motioned for the perimeter guard to let them pass through.
"I should've known when Roger Carmichael said he'd hired outside help who it would've been. Why is it that wherever there's trouble there's usually a Steele?"
Liam grinned. "Come on, Nat. Admit it. If we all hadn't come back home, you would've been bored sitting in that squad car."
Nat dropped her gaze to the detective badge on her hip. "Actually, I've graduated from beat cop—which means that this clusterfuck is all mine. Please tell me you won't make it any worse."
"It's definitely not on our agenda." Ryder nodded toward the building behind them. "Can you tell us what happened?"
"Long story made longer? At nine last night, four masked men stepped off a private elevator and right into the basement lab. They threatened the workers, shot the security guard when he tried intervening on the doctor's behalf, stole a nasty virus, and then, believe it or not, hopped back on the elevator as if nothing happened."
"And no one thought to stop them from leaving the building?" Roman asked.
"Yeah well, that's just it. They didn't leave the building…and yet they're not here." She guided them to Tru Tech's front entrance.
"How the hell does that work?"
Nat shrugged and led the way through the police chaos and into the building. "Wish I knew. There's only one way to get down to the basement lab where the virus was stolen and there's no video footage of anyone stepping onto the elevator. Just off of it when they reached the lab."
Liam grunted and said exactly what Roman was thinking. "Then someone's messing around with the surveillance images."
"If they are, we sure as hell can't tell."
"I'll be able to tell."
Liam wasn't boasting. It was the honest truth. There wasn't much the former Navy intelligence officer couldn't do when a computer was put in front of him. If someone tampered with the security feed, Liam would know. If no one did, and these assholes really did disappear into thin air, then they did it while carting around brass-plated balls and fucking magic wands.
"You said something about a doctor?" Roman asked. "People were in the lab at the time of the theft?"
"Three of my best employees." Dressed in a suit that probably cost more than Roman currently had in his bank account, an older man crossed the lobby, headed their way. "Roger Carmichael. Tru Tech CEO."
"Your three employees?"
"Dr. Isabel Santiago, her assistant Maddy Calhoun, and the Legion's core evening security personnel, Frank Hutchins."
"Core?" Roman asked.
"Not every staff member is permitted into the Legion, for obvious safety reasons. Those who are undergo rigorous security clearances and specialized training in the event of—"
"Something like this happening?"
Ryder cleared his throat and muttered under his breath. "Down-low."
Carmichael frowned, obviously unhappy with Roman's retort. "Actually, no. I can't say we've ever trained for this eventuality, because it shouldn't be possible." His eyes narrowed on each of them before falling on Roman. "I can't stress the importance of finding my missing virus enough. As it stands, I'm sure the government will use this as another reason to gift our deserved funds to another undeserving cracker-jack box lab."
Carmichael's tone rubbed Roman the wrong way. "That's why you want us to track down your virus? Because you won't get your bonus check in the mail?"
Ryder cleared his throat, playing referee. "We'll find your virus, Mr. Carmichael. Where are the employees who were present at the time of the break-in?"
"In quarantine until their bloodwork comes back clean, which will hopefully be sometime tomorrow."
Roman cocked an eyebrow. "Was there an actual exposure?"
"It doesn't appear so. According to Dr. Santiago, despite the fact that the thieves stole the virus, they did so with great care. The quarantine is a standard precaution. I'm guessing you want to talk to them?"
"You guessed right."
Nat nodded. "That's a good idea. Maybe repeating the story will jog something in their memories. I'll get in touch with you later to compare notes."
Liam nodded and shook her hand. "Thanks, Nat. Congrats on the promotion. We'll try not to step on your toes too much."
"We both know that promise will fall a few miles short. Just don't do anything I'll have to arrest you for." Nat reached for the phone on her hip and walked away with a small wave.
Carmichael took them the roundabout route, dropping Liam off at security before taking Ryder and Roman up to the third-floor quarantine level. He stopped in front of two sets of doors. "Miss Calhoun is in the room to the right, and Dr. Santiago the left."
"They weren't placed together?" Ryder asked.
"It's to minimize risk in case one was exposed and the other was not."
Ryder glanced nervously at the door. "And we're okay strutting in there?"
Roman smirked. "Nervous, little brother?"
"Of contracting a highly lethal disease and watching my dick rot off? Hell yeah, I'm nervous."
Carmichael waved off the concern. "Miss Calhoun and Dr. Santiago are in separate air-pressurized rooms within those doors. You'll simply be stepping into an observation suite a lot like medical universities use for surgical teaching purposes. There's no chance of contact or contamination."
On his hip, Carmichael's walkie screeched to life and he blew out a frustrated breath. "If you'll excuse me, I have more fires to put out. When you're done, Eddie will see you to the lobby." He nodded toward the lone guard standing at the edge of the hall.
When Carmichael disappeared from view, a familiar shit-eating grin slid onto Ryder's face as he reached for the doctor's door. "Guess I'll take the doc—"
Roman knocked his brother's hand from the knob. "Yeah, I don't think so."
"Why the hell not?"
Roman studied Ryder's face before finding his answer in the dark gleam of his eyes. "Because of that horn-dog look you got on your face. You googled her before you even picked my ass up, didn't you?"
Ryder's mouth twitched. "It was research…but yeah. And I gotta say, if my doctor looked like her, I'd actually get my annual physicals."
"Yeah, this is a job, not a dating service, and it's been far too long since you've gotten any. I'll take the doc."
"Says our resident monk."
The truth in Ryder's snarky comment pissed Roman off. Thanks to their Steele genes, he and his brothers had never struggled to find female companionship when they wanted it…even as knobby-kneed teens. The problem was that he didn't want it.
Not really. Sex didn't relieve stress any better than working out in the gym, and anything more than a quick romp with the fairer sex was off the table. Relationships required trust, and the only people he counted on to mean what they say were his family and his team.
Ryder's smirk widened. "Fine. Take the doctor, and I'll question the assistant."
Fuck. He gave in way too easy, which meant both women were no doubt gorgeous as hell. "You're an asshole."
Ryder shrugged. "I've been called worse. Just remember that the point of going in there is to see if we can coax information out of them they may not realize they know."
- "Hunt's talent is clear."—Publishers Weekly
- "Fast-paced and action-packed, this swoon-worthy nail-biter is sure to keep readers hooked."—Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Lethal Redemption
- "Hunt's pace and tension are spot-on. High-stakes, sizzling romantic suspense."—Kirkus Reviews on Lethal Redemption
- "Fans of military and private security series with brave and vulnerable men and women will enjoy this gritty romantic suspense."—Library Journal on Lethal Redemption
- "Sizzling heat, heart, and humor---April Hunt's romantic suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat with every turn of the page."—New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster
- "Once again, April Hunt nails it! Expect masterful storytelling interwoven with sizzling tension and high-stakes suspense."—Cristin Harber, New York Times bestselling author, on Deadly Obsession
- "Deadly Obsession is a page turner full of sizzling passion, gritty action, and thrilling danger!"—Rebecca Zanetti, New York Times bestselling author
- "With a spunky heroine, a hero to die for, and thrilling action, Deadly Obsession is a keeper!"—New York Times bestselling author Paige Tyler
- "Hunt gives readers plenty of zippy action and sizzling chemistry."—Publishers Weekly on Deadly Obsession
- "4 stars! Entertaining and satisfying."—RT Book Reviews on Hard Justice
- "Hard Justice was all kinds of romantic suspense goodness with a side of sexy alpha male."—Herding Cats & Burning Soup
- "Intriguing, passionate, sexy, suspenseful, and at times angst-ridden and funny, Hard Justice is April Hunt at her best. A wonderful, well-written, and addictive romantic suspense read that pulls you in and doesn't let you go. Excellent characters, entertaining plot, stellar romance."—Okie Dreams
- "4 stars! The suspense is ever-present...and the heat between the hero and heroine is intense."—RT Book Reviews on Holding Fire
- "Smartly balances slow-burning passion and explosive high-stakes danger. This book kicks off an adventure-packed romance series, and readers will eagerly anticipate the next installment."—Publishers Weekly on Heated Pursuit
- "4 stars! Fast paced and intriguing."—RT Book Reviews on Heated Pursuit
- "Sassy and sexy! Heated Pursuit will leave you breathless with each action-packed page."—Cristin Harber, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
- "A fantastic, fast paced, and well developed debut! A hot alpha saving a feisty woman...what's not to love?"—Sidney Halston, USA Today bestselling author, on Heated Pursuit
- "Heat, humor, and heart-pounding action! I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!"—Annie Rains, USA Today bestselling author, on Heated Pursuit
- On Sale
- Nov 10, 2020
- Page Count
- 368 pages