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Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour – each breath – to avenge his brother’s murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They’re all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past … and she’s the wild card he can’t control.
Roarke might still think she’s a kid, but Wren’s been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her – especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.
“The first in Erickson’s Wired & Dangerous romantic suspense series roars out of the gate and doesn’t let up. This is a highly enjoyable romantic thriller.” — Publishers Weekly
Roarke Brennan’s answer was a metallic crunch as he crushed the Diet Coke can with a clench of his tattooed fingers. He tossed it to the side in the dark alley and took a deep breath to prevent blowing this whole mission with a full-scale meltdown. He glared at his best friend.
Erick sighed heavily but didn’t back down. “Come on—”
“No.” The crisp word sliced like a knife through the cold night air. “End of discussion.”
Erick’s lips thinned. “You don’t get to decide when this discussion is over. You need to remember this mission isn’t personal for just you. All of us want revenge for Flynn.”
Roarke stuffed his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and tightened his jaw. Maybe when he’d made the person responsible for his brother’s death pay and this was all over, then he could hear his brother’s name without it feeling like a stab in the gut. He tried to keep his voice as even as possible. “We’re not involving your sister. This’ll all be over her head.”
Erick’s face darkened, a rare look for him. “You’re being a total asshole about this. You have no idea what she’s capable of. You haven’t seen her for over a decade.”
True, he hadn’t seen Wren since she graduated high school—when she’d been homecoming queen, prom queen, every other queen that signified she was beautiful and charming and full of life. She wasn’t a keyboard warrior like them, living on the fringe of society. To him, Wren would always be fresh-faced, eighteen, happy… and unattainable. Ten years later, he preferred to remember her that way.
“Okay, I’ll admit it,” he muttered, kicking aside some trash with the toe of his black combat boots. “I don’t know what she’s capable of, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t want her involved.” He looked up at Erick, blinking away the hair that had fallen into his eyes. “How come you’re not on my side about this? Aren’t you worried about her safety?”
Erick shot out a lanky arm and shoved Roarke’s shoulder. He bristled at the contact, but Erick was one of the lucky few who could touch Roarke without his permission, which was the only reason he didn’t sock him in the mouth.
Erick rolled his eyes. “Of course I do, dipshit. But I don’t control her life.” He paused and turned his head away to murmur something that Roarke couldn’t catch. “Look, she asked to be involved because she said she could help. Told her I had to run it by you.”
Oh. “And you did, and I said no. So that’s the end of it.”
Erick turned away with a heavy sigh and mumbled something again.
“What was that?”
Erick slowly met his gaze, and a familiar spark of humor flashed across his face. Roarke didn’t like that, because it usually meant bad things for him. Erick shrugged. “I said, you don’t always get what you want.”
Roarke put a hand up because he knew what was coming. “Don’t—”
“I said you can’t always get…” Erick threw back his head and proceeded to sing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones.
Roarke groaned and leaned his head back against the brick wall as Erick mimicked Mick Jagger complete with lip pout and a hip shimmy of his tall, wiry body. This was typical. They were in a dirty, trash-covered alley next to a dumpster. He could’ve sworn he’d seen a rat the size of a cat earlier. The only light was a yellow bulb hanging off the side of the building by a frayed wire. It was close to midnight, and they were about to head inside a seedy off-track betting place to convince a morally ambiguous man to join their team. And Erick was dancing and crooning and…oh great, he’d moved on to simulated sex with pelvic thrusts and tit squeezing.
Totally fucking typical.
The first time Roarke talked to Erick was behind a maintenance shed at their middle school in Erie, Pennsylvania. He’d skipped gym, because no way was he about to run a goddamn mile. Erick had a similar aversion to PE and had hid behind the same brick building. When Erick had pulled out a hand-held Game Boy from his pocket with a sly grin—he’d smuggled it in his gym shorts—Roarke had known this kid was special. They’d been tight ever since. And they both still hated to run.
Roarke rubbed his temples because he’d had enough of Erick’s crooning. He grabbed him, and they tussled until Roarke managed to get him into a headlock. Of course Erick wasn’t scared. He was laughing. “Fine, I tap out,” he wheezed.
Roarke shoved him away. “You should be frightened right now. I could snap your neck if I wanted.”
Erick stumbled back, laughing as he pushed his black hair out of his eyes. “Sure, whatever, buddy.” He grinned. “You’d never hurt my pretty face.”
“Ugh, you’re irritating.”
“My ability to irritate is why you keep me around.”
Roarke laughed at that. It was the fucking truth. Erick’s specialty as a hacker involved anything that was irritating as fuck. A virus. A prank. Basically, Erick was amazing at making people want to smack him in the face.
Most people didn’t though. A, because he managed to be charming at the same time. And B, because they often weren’t on the same continent when he pressed a couple of keys with glee. Freelance hacking jobs didn’t exactly bring them into contact with lots of people. At least not in person.
Roarke glanced down the alley at the door to the off-track betting facility. They’d driven from DC to Maryland to track down Dade Kelly. If he wasn’t inside like he was supposed to be, Roarke was going to punch something. Hopefully not Erick.
He gestured to the door with a jerk of his chin. “Ready?”
Erick rubbed his hands together with glee. “Yeah, man.”
Roarke’s boots crunched on broken glass as they made their way toward the door, each step closer to the man he hadn’t wanted to see again, and certainly not with a plea for help. He turned up the collar of his jacket to hide the distinctive tattoos that crept up his neck and took his ball cap out of his back pocket and placed it on his head. Pulling the brim low, he swung open the door. Erick walked in first, tugging up his hood to cover his black hair.
Dade would know both of them on sight. The element of surprise was important, because Dade was sketchy and skittish as fuck, as well as loyal to no one but himself. If Dade spotted them first, he’d ghost. Roarke would have sent someone else if he could have, but he didn’t trust anyone else to convince Dade to help them.
He hated the fucking games and hated Dade even more, but he needed the guy’s skills. Dade broke just about every hacker ethics code, but his intelligence was unparalleled. And if Roarke was being honest, the main reason he wanted him so badly was because of his loose morals. Flynn’s death had a way of rearranging his priorities and forcing him to swallow his pride.
So here Roarke was, breathing in stale cigarette smoke and body odor, leaning against a wall peeling with what was probably lead-based paint and about to scrape to a guy he didn’t even like.
He’d met Dade in Denmark, where they’d been hired, along with Flynn and Erick, for a freelance computer security job. One look at Dade’s sneer and he’d known it wasn’t going to end well. He should have followed his instincts. Because instead of turning over the programming information to their employer, Dade had stolen it. Probably sold it. The last time he’d seen Dade, they’d fought with words, then with fists, and walked away with matching bruises. Dade refused to say what he did with the information. So yeah, Roarke hated him. Sneering motherfucker.
Roarke pulled his cap lower and crossed his arms over his chest. Beside him, Erick rocked on his heels, glancing around like he planned to make himself at home.
“Your cheeriness is pissing me off,” Roarke grumbled.
Erick beamed even brighter and stuck a strip of gum in his mouth. “I know.”
Roarke sank farther back against the wall. “Jock ready?”
Erick glanced at his phone. “Yup. Waiting for my text.”
Roarke nodded, his mood lifting slightly. Plans running well was like sandpaper soothing his hard edges. He hoped this kept up. Every member of his team was unpredictable. But they were the best he knew, so their inability to be controlled was a side effect he had to put up with.
A man emerged from the bathroom, and Roarke tensed. Dade Kelly was a chameleon who could disguise himself to fit into every situation, but he had a presence about him that he couldn’t hide, a presence Roarke could recognize anywhere.
Today, Dade wore a pair of cargo pants, boots, and a flannel shirt. His hair was short now and light brown. Roarke wasn’t sure of the man’s natural hair color, but based on his pale skin, he guessed it was blond.
Dade took a seat at a table in the corner, which had a view of the door and the dozen TVs along the far wall that displayed various horse races. A group of men on stools along the bar hooted and hollered as they cheered on their bets.
Dade’s light eyes began to scan the bar, and a grin tugged at the corner of Roarke’s mouth. The last piece to complete his team and get revenge for Flynn was here. Actually here. Now all Roarke had to do was convince the bastard.
“Now,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. “Before he sees us.”
“On it.” Erick’s head was bent, typing on his phone. He turned it off and shoved it in his pocket. “Ten seconds.”
Roarke split his gaze between Dade and the TVs, counting down in his head. His stomach rolled, and he cracked his knuckles one by one, ready to run in case Dade took off.
“Five,” Erick whispered, the glee in his voice evident. “Four…three…two…”
“One,” Roarke finished.
The TVs went black. The inebriated men at the bar threw up their hands. An employee frowned and strode off to a back room, probably to check on the feed. He could try, but Jock Bosh was back at the warehouse, probably staring stone-faced at his monitor while he hacked into Paradise Valley Off-Track Betting’s feed.
Dade hadn’t moved. The men at the bar were still grumbling and pointing at the black TVs. Roarke had sworn Dade would bolt, but instead he looked at the screens casually.
White words rolled across the screens quickly. “Your mom says hi.”
The screens went black one more time before the feed restored to the races. That hack wasn’t that difficult, but it had Erick’s signature all over it. Roarke should have known that was what he’d do.
He kept one eye on Dade and sighed. “Your mom?”
“What?” Erick shrugged. “Your mom jokes are classic.”
Roarke smacked him in the back of the head. “Dade never knew his mom. He’s an orphan. Grew up in a Russian orphanage.”
Erick pursed his lips together. “Oh. Oops.”
Roarke pointed a finger at him. “Don’t expect me to step in if he beats your ass.”
With a smirk, Erick cracked his knuckles. “I don’t need you to defend me.”
True, Erick was a scrappy fighter, cunning and quick. Roarke was just all flailing punches and brute strength. Sure, they mostly hid behind computers, but the stuff they did behind computers could get them beat up. Hence the self-defense skills.
Dade hadn’t moved, his gaze still on the screens. Then slowly his head swiveled until he met Roarke’s gaze across the room. Roarke hadn’t seen Dade for more than five years, but Dade would recognize him. Roarke hadn’t changed much. Some more tattoos maybe.
He might have been imagining it, but he swore Dade’s lips twitched into something like a smile. Then he bolted, his body a blur as he darted back down a hallway.
“Motherfucker!” Erick shouted, but Roarke was already in pursuit, pumping his arms as he took off after Dade. That goddamn sneer on Dade’s face. He was going to do his very best to wipe it off when he caught up to him.
At the end of the hallway, a door closed with a harsh bang. Roarke swung it open and tumbled out into another alley, Erick on his heels.
A flash of something caught his eye in the dark, and he raced after it, boots splashing through unknown liquid. “I fucking hate running,” Erick panted behind him.
“I’m going to kill him,” Roarke promised through clenched teeth.
The metal clang of something solid echoed along the brick walls on either side of them. Roarke’s eyes finally adjusted in time to see a lean body scurrying up an iron fence. Unable to stop himself, he slammed into it and reached out in time to close his fingers around Dade’s ankle.
Dade grunted and pulled his knee up, trying to dislodge him, but Roarke held on. Dade brought his heel down, and Roarke swerved to avoid getting his eye socket crushed but the man still managed to crack down on his ear.
The pain only fueled Roarke, and as he saw Erick’s hand close around Dade’s other ankle, he knew they had him. “Pull!” he hollered.
The two of them yanked hard on his limbs and Dade’s body crashed down on top of them. Roarke landed on his back, a two-hundred-pound body of pissed-off hacker on top of him and a sharp object digging into his spine.
For about thirty seconds, there was only pain and limbs and punches and kicks. Grunts and curses. Roarke flailed, not knowing if he was punching Erick or Dade and not really caring because, at this point, he was reaching homicidal levels of rage.
A fist glanced off his cheekbone, and he saw red, either from fury or from the blood spilling from his split skin.
He managed to grab Dade—brown hair signaling he had the right guy—and slammed him chest first onto the concrete. He climbed on his back, got an arm around his throat, and squeezed. Dade clawed at his arm, gasping and choking, while Erick lay on his back in front of them, chest rising and falling, blood trickling from his nose. Dade bucked, trying to dislodge Roarke, but he gripped tighter with his thighs.
“I’ll let up,” Roarke gritted into his ear, “if you stop fucking struggling.”
“Fuck you, Brennan,” Dade spat.
Roarke squeezed harder. “There are two of us, and one of you. You’re a crafty shit, but you’re not that good.”
Dade’s nostrils flared, and he stopped struggling. Roarke kept his arm where it was but let up the pressure. While Dade sucked in oxygen, Roarke let his forehead fall forward as he sought to catch his breath. His cheek hurt like a motherfucker.
Finally, he rolled off, hoping Erick would pick up the slack if Dade bolted again. He fell onto his back and turned his head to see Dade rising slowly onto his knees, rubbing his neck. Roarke tensed as his hand reached into his back pocket. Dade met his eyes, his movements slow, before he pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Roarke relaxed while Dade stuck a cigarette in his mouth and leaned against the fence with a lighter in hand.
The flame illuminated his face in orange, revealing a five-o’clock shadow, a cut lip, and a bruised eye. Except the bruise didn’t look fresh. Christ, did Dade make it a point to get in fistfights on the regular? Truthfully, Roarke didn’t know much about Dade, and he doubted that was even his real name. He knew about the orphanage but wasn’t sure if the guy was actually Russian. Dade had an accent that sounded somewhere between Russell Crowe in Gladiator and Colin Farrell in Phone Booth. Roarke assumed he spoke that way on purpose, to hide who he really was.
Erick rose to his feet with a groan, wiping at his nose.
“You all right?” Roarke stood up, brushing off his jacket.
Dade exhaled a ring of smoke. “I’m just peachy, too, guys. Thanks for asking.”
Roarke ignored the snark and gestured to Dade’s eye. “What happened?”
Dade took a drag and exhaled slowly. His gaze drifted to Erick. “Your mom.”
Erick pulled back his hoodie and laughed nervously. “Uh, yeah, so…about that…”
Dade stood up and waved his hand, sending ashes scattering. “Forget it, Lee. Shitty jokes are your hallmark.”
Erick’s shoulders went back, and Roarke groaned. They did not need another fistfight in this filthy alley. He held out a hand, stopping Erick from advancing on Dade to defend his goddamn jokes. “All right, simmer down.”
“Wasn’t necessary anyway,” Dade said. “Saw you two the minute you walked in.”
“You weren’t even in the room when we walked in,” Erick said.
Dade cocked his head with a curl of his lip. “You sure about that?”
Cocky motherfucker. Damn, Roarke hated this guy.
Dade blew out another column of smoke. “So I let you do your thing in there, and now I’m allowing this fucking get-together out here, so I better get something good out of this, yeah?” He winked at Erick. “How’s your sister?”
This time, Roarke wasn’t holding back his friend because Roarke himself was going for the jugular. Erick was right there with him ready to strangle the guy. Of course Dade, being Dade, was like the smoke drifting from his cigarette, because he easily evaded both of them.
When Roarke’s angry haze cleared, he found himself staring at a fence, Erick breathing hard next to him. He whirled around to see Dade walking backward down the alley, hands up, laughing like a psycho. “Ah, now I know what buttons to push. So we’re even, huh?”
Dade’s gaze settled on them as he came to a stop about ten feet away. “Interesting you both have the same reaction to an innocent question about Wren, huh?”
“Can you shut your fucking mouth?” Roarke said.
Dade flicked his cigarette on the street and ground the butt with his boot. “How about you talk about why you tracked me down.”
Right, Flynn. Revenge. Destruction of Arden Saltner. Roarke took a deep breath and focused on what Dade could do. “Flynn’s dead.”
Dade’s body immediately stiffened. He stared at Roarke with thinned lips and a full minute passed before he spoke again, hoarsely. “What?”
Erick shifted next to them, his shoulders up around his ears. Flynn and Erick had been best friends. Inseparable. After Roarke, Erick had taken Flynn’s death the hardest. But they weren’t the only ones mourning. Flynn had been well liked by everyone who met him—he had been funny and good-looking and charming.
“He’s dead. Ruled suicide, but it wasn’t a fucking suicide. He was about to blow the whistle on his boss, but before he could, he was found with a bullet in his head.”
Dade took a step closer to them, his bruise more livid as he stepped into a small circle of light. “Is there a crew?”
Dade blew out a breath. That’d always been the problem with Dade. He didn’t like working with people. He didn’t trust anyone but himself, and he had his own agenda. Finally Dade pointed at Erick. “I don’t like you.” He shifted his gaze to Roarke. “And I actively hate you. But I liked Flynn, and you caught me on some downtime when I’m bored. So fine. I’m in.”
Wow, Roarke had thought it was going to be much harder than that to convince him. “Is there some catch? Why’re you agreeing so easily?”
Dade was quiet for a moment, and he took a step closer. Roarke could see there was also a fading bruise on his jaw. “If I do this? You owe me.”
Ah, there it was. Nothing in life was free. He clenched his teeth. “Owe you? Do I get to declare some boundaries on that?”
Dade shook his head. “If it’s within your abilities, I expect you to do it.”
Roarke swallowed. With Dade that could mean…fucking anything. The guy didn’t operate within the bounds of the law or hacker ethics or even decent morality.
But this was about Flynn, so he manned up. “Deal.”
Dade grinned. It was an evil grin, but at least Roarke was going to benefit from his brand of evil. He hoped. Dade stuck out his hand. Roarke shook it, and when he pulled his hand back, a business card was in his palm. When he looked up, Dade was walking away. He called over his shoulder. “Text me time and place.”
“I will,” he said.
“And get that cheekbone checked. Looks like you might need stitches,” Dade said right before he opened the door to the betting place and disappeared inside. The slam of the door closing made Roarke flinch.
“I really hate that guy,” he muttered.
Erick snatched the card out of his hand and flipped it over. “Just a number.”
“Probably a burner.”
“Dade Kelly is one shady motherfucker, man.”
Roarke took the card back. “I know, but I’m not sure we can do this without him.”
“I know, whatever. Fuck. I hate that we can’t do this ourselves. I’m so antsy to erase Saltner from the earth.”
Roarke swiped his hat off the ground and tugged it back on. He nudged Erick with his elbow to encourage him to walk down the alley. “Me too.”
Erick wrinkled his nose. “This place makes me want to shower.”
“Yeah, those designer jeans of yours probably have puke on them. Or syphilis. Whatever was on the ground of that alley.”
Erick shuddered. “Fuck you, don’t remind me.”
Roarke plucked at Erick’s racing jacket. “You got a hole in the arm here now.”
Erick craned his neck to look at the elbow of his sleeve. “Goddamn it! That bastard ruined my brand-new jacket.”
Roarke laughed, which only made Erick madder. “Hey,” Erick said. “Remember that you have a hole in your jacket, too. Also courtesy of Dade Fucking Kelly.”
“I got this jacket in Denmark. I’m not giving it up just because he was pissed and tried to burn me with a cigarette.”
Erick shook his head as they reached the end of the alley and entered the parking lot. “I hope this isn’t a mistake, asking for his help.”
That sobered Roarke quickly. His cheekbone hurt like hell, and he wiped his face with the back of his hand. When he checked it, the black-and-white skull tattooed there was now colored red. He and Erick both looked like delinquents, which meant they probably fit in in this part of town.
Roarke glanced up, trying to get his bearings so they could find the car and get the hell out of there. The small parking lot was deserted, and he thought they were the only two around until he heard footsteps. He went on high alert, scanning their surroundings for an escape route. There was a streetlamp in the far corner, and a figure slowly stepped into the light.
Roarke stopped walking. He blinked a couple of times because his eyes had to be playing tricks on him. Did Dade drug him and he didn’t notice? Because the woman standing in the parking lot had Wren’s face, for sure, but she couldn’t be Erick’s sister. Her hair—normally a straight, shiny black inherited from their South Korean parents—was dyed a silvery light lavender. She wore thick-soled black boots, fishnet stockings, and a short black skirt. Her leather jacket was pushed up to her elbows, revealing colorful tattoo sleeves and a dozen metal bracelets that jangled when she moved.
Last time he’d laid eyes on her, she’d been wearing a floral sundress and flip-flops, with a clean face and hair still damp from her shower. Over the years, he’d tracked her the only way he knew how—from behind a monitor. But what he couldn’t know, and hadn’t thought about, was how she’d changed. The innocent smile he’d vowed to protect was now replaced with a defiant smirk that turned him on.
Her makeup was heavy, her lips a bright red. And she was looking right at him with a glint in her eye that was completely foreign in her gorgeous face.
“Oh shit,” Erick muttered from beside him.
Roarke rubbed his eyes and opened them. Nope, she was still there.
Finally, Wren parted those sinful lips on a grin. “Hey brother dearest. Hey Roarke. Heard you’re starting a crew.”
That was when he found his voice. “No way in fucking hell.”
He was still a fine, fine man.
His chest had filled out some since Wren had last seen him, and his posture was more confident. Standing there in a ball cap, torn jeans, bloody shirt, and a scowl, Roarke Brennan was a dream.
Well, if a girl’s dream was a tattooed tech-head who was now glaring at her like he wanted her to disappear.
- "The suspense is edgy and the romance is hot... Erickson's start to her Wired & Dangerous series is an unusual and exciting work of romantic suspense."—Christie Ridgway, BookPage
- "The first in Erickson's Wired & Dangerous romantic suspense series roars out of the gate and doesn't let up. This is a highly enjoyable romantic thriller."—Publishers Weekly
- "Must-read romantic suspense. [A] fast-paced take on badass hackers."—USAToday.com
- "If you want action, dangerous heroes, brave heroines, sweet and steamy romance, and a very good ending, then get your hands on ZERO HOUR by Megan Erickson."—FreshFiction.com
- "The suspense and romance are well-balanced... Great sexual tension, as Roarke finally admits his true feelings for Wren. Oh Roarke, I love you so much! I can't get enough of him!"—Smexybooks.com
- "Megan Erickson starts off the Wired and Dangerous series with a bang. If you love a good mystery mixed up with your romance, Zero Hour is definitely the story for you."—Hypable.com
- "Take a wild ride into the dark underworld of the internet with a sexy romance series full of intrigue and tension. The high-stakes world of computer hacking has never looked so seductive and scorching!"—Rebecca Zanetti, New York Times bestselling author
- "Zero Hour was the Ocean's Eleven/Mr. Robot mashup I didn't know I needed in my life, and I WANT MORE! Adrenaline-fueled, sexy, and tender all at once, Zero Hour is the amazing start to a thrilling new series. "—Molly O'Keefe, USA Today bestselling author
- On Sale
- Jan 30, 2018
- Page Count
- 320 pages