Black Hawk pilot Captain Barbara Lynn Perry is running scared. Witness to an event too horrible to think about and too dangerous to talk of, she finds herself alienated from a world she has always had faith in.
With her Special Forces brother missing, she has only one other person to turn to. When her friend Flynn Swann isn’t available, Barbara is left with no choice but to trust the man Flynn sends to save her.
Psychiatrist Dominic Salter’s information from her superior officer’s file is that Barbara has gone rogue. Despite the damning evidence, every instinct tells him he’s dealing with an honorable woman, one who single-handedly saved Flynn from torture and a sure death. Dominic’s challenge is to delve his way beneath her tough, defensive attitude and coax the truth from a woman who’s too frightened to reveal her dark secret.
In his brand new facility containing a state of the art Dreampsych Transcender he’s experimenting with, a machine far beyond a simulator, Dominic has to gain the trust and confidence of Barbara while he resists the hard pull of attraction to this kick-ass woman.
Betrayed by a member of his staff, events take a sinister turn, and the pressure is on in a fight against time for Dominic to persuade Barbara to put her trust in him and reveal the truth before matters are taken out of his hands.
She raised a shaky hand to rub her fingertips over taut lips and tried to swallow, but her tongue was too thick to allow it, her mouth too dry to comply. She held the same hand horizontally in front of her face and watched the vague tremble. The tremor that threatened her sharp shot. The shake that no longer allowed her to pick up a glass of whiskey without being a dead giveaway.
She needed help.
Flynn could help.
She’d saved his life, goddammit. Of course he would help.
So she waited in the silent twilight for Flynn to come.
Pitch black descended and still no sign of the man. So dark she could no longer see the trembling hand in front of her face, but the sweat still formed in the creases along her palm, making her hand slip as she tightened her grip on the gun. She swapped it over from right to left while she rubbed the damp onto the leg of her black yoga pants. It made no difference, she could shoot as well with one hand as the other. Not that she could see to shoot, but she hadn’t imagined for one moment Flynn would have kept her waiting this long and dark would close in before he arrived.
She’d hunkered down in the comfort of the straw, her mind filled with visions of blood and gunshots while night descended faster than she’d realized.
She’d kept Flynn waiting three nights previously. God only knew how long he’d waited for her, but she’d listened to her sixth sense, believed someone else was there at the meeting point, and she’d hightailed it out of there, leaving Flynn to his own devices. He was still a tough cookie. No point in her hanging around to save him. She’d already saved his sorry ass once before.
The dim light of the stables flickered on and filled the place with a dull buzzing sound. Cautious, she straightened and moved toward her target. The cowboy seemed to be the right height, but it looked like Flynn had gone to seed since leaving the Special Forces three years earlier. She’d heard rumors he hadn’t coped well with civilian life. Probably more to do with having half his face carved up. She twitched her nose in distaste. The voices of the men who had tortured him filled her head, the vicious sound of their hyena cackles as they cut Flynn with glee. It hadn’t been the prettiest of sights, but she’d seen worse. She’d even killed men herself, but never for fun. Only out of necessity, duty, and a desperate desire to live.
It was the pleasure they’d taken out of torturing a man that had turned her stomach. Not that anyone knew. She’d die before she allowed anyone to see her weakness. It looked like she may have to, after recent events. She’d thought she’d never witness anything worse than Flynn’s torture. But she had.
She closed her eyes and took a moment to control her pulse rate before she stepped forward.
The cowboy turned, staggered slightly in the dead giveaway of a drunken sidestep, and smiled broad and sloppy as his unfocused gaze met hers. Drawing in a deep, slow breath, she realized her mistake. It wasn’t Flynn.
With no other option, Barbara tucked her gun into the back of her pants. It was a mistake she would never have made a month ago. One that under any other circumstances would have cost her life. Lucky for her, it was only some piss head in her way.
“Hey.” Loose-limbed, she stepped forward, a deliberate wide smile in place. “I’m looking for Flynn. Is he here?”
Confusion flitted across the man’s face, his brows pulled down in an exaggerated drunken frown.
“He’s a dipshit.”
Surprise at his viciousness stopped her advance as the man swayed, took two clumsy steps to his left before he gained his balance, and stood swaying before her. His thin lips twisted, bitter and angry.
“You’re not his girl. His girl’s a fuckin’ little bitch. Lost me my job and had me arrested.”
With barely a twitch of her eyebrow, Barbara skimmed her gaze over him. Nasty little fucker. Reminded her of her mother’s boyfriend. Several of her mother’s boyfriends. But one in particular had been a mean son of a bitch. He’d slapped her around plenty, until her mother had caught him and almost pulled his hair out by the roots. Her mother may have had scores of men come and go after Barbara’s father’s death, but she never let a single one mess with her daughter.
Barbara narrowed her eyes at him, never flinched as the horse behind her snorted and stamped impatiently in its stall. All her concentration centered on the drunk. She’d learned long ago with hard lessons not to take her gaze off the threat. This guy was definitely a threat.
“No, I’m not his girl. Have you seen him?”
He rubbed his hand over his lips, sly gaze darting sideways. “I heard he left with the slut.”
Muscles tense, Barbara felt the sick slide of dread. “Where’d he go?”
“New Zealand. They were talking about it in the jailhouse.”
“The fucking sheriff and his fucking deputies.”
“What were you doing there?” She wasn’t interested, but she could see him lowering his guard as they chatted. She never lowered hers. That’s what got you killed.
The guy turned his head and spat into the hay and then sneered at her. “Mistaken identity.” He held up a hand with fingers swathed in bandages.
“Flynn’s bitch said I went after her. It was her who attacked me and broke my fucking little finger.”
She repressed the desire to smile. She hadn’t much to smile about, but it seemed as though Flynn could have met his match after all.
“Stupid fuckers let my wife bail me out.”
Barbara couldn’t stop the blink of surprise. He had a wife? Poor woman.
“She’s my ex-wife.” His mean eyes flickered down. “She just wants rid of me.”
She could imagine why.
Barbara watched as he skimmed his bloodshot gaze over her, recognized the lascivious leer, and knew instinctively she wasn’t simply going to walk away from their encounter. “So, what are your plans?”
“Fuckers took my gun, but I had another one they didn’t know about at my stupid fucking wife’s house. She didn’t even know it was there. I’m going to take me a horse and ride out of here, and no one is going to stop me.”
She stepped back and spread her arms wide for him to carry on. “I wouldn’t want to try.”
He took a small, stumbling step forward and then lurched at her. Little shit, she never quite saw him coming. She’d somehow thought he would have a little more finesse. His body slammed into hers, and she realized what she’d thought was fat was one hell of a lot of solid muscle bound tightly in that fat.
As he took her down, she allowed her body to go loose. She anticipated the fast whoosh of air that expelled from her lungs, but his weight was a little harder and heavier than she had expected. Winded, she lay still for a long moment. By the time she recovered, he had her breast in his hand, squeezing it tightly. Pain and indignation radiated through her, but as she tried to move, he slung his leg over both of hers to pin her to the ground. The metal buckle on his belt dug hard into the flesh of her belly, and as she wriggled in the straw, the slide of it cut in deeper. The solid press of her own gun into her spine had her stilling.
The guy was an idiot; sometimes they just made it too easy by underestimating her. She may only be five feet four inches, but she was a trained soldier, goddammit.
With a weary sigh, she gave her head a disgusted shake and tightened her lips as she slipped his gun from his hip holster and held it against his temple before he could take another drunken grunt. She pulled back the hammer and met the surprise in his rheumy eyes. There was barely a tremor in her grip as her finger softened against the trigger. No need to terminate him, provided he was reasonable.
The quiet snick of metal stopped her mid thought.
“Take the gun away from Buddy’s head.” Mellow Irish tones reasoned with her from behind her head.
She held it firm, never so much as twitched.
The silver glint of a gun slid into her peripheral vision and kicked up her pulse.
“I’ve got him covered, Barbara, you can remove your gun.” Her name from the unfamiliar Irish voice had her hesitating.
The sour smell of whiskey puffed over her skin, and the bloated face of the drunk still lying on top of her gave her a moment’s pause. She could have simply immobilized him and left him writhing in agony on the floor by twisting his already broken finger, or she could blow his brains out, the stupid fuck.
It wouldn’t have bothered her.
Sweat slicked on the handle of the gun to make a liar of her. Who was she trying to kid? It was never a choice she’d make to deliberately take a life. He may be stupid, but he was no longer a threat.
“Barbara. Are you listening to me?” She had no option. The soft voice had a lovely lilt, even as the owner of it nudged the muzzle of his gun once more into her vision as if she were a child who needed to be reminded of his presence.
She relaxed her finger, released the hammer with a click, and drew in a purifying breath.
A hot gush of wet spread across her lower regions and soaked through her pants at the same time as the acrid scent of urine filled her nostrils. She curled her lip with revulsion and stared into the puffy eyes of the man above her as terror paralyzed his bladder and he pissed all over her.
“You cowardly bastard.”
In a lightning move, she dropped her weapon and flipped the man over onto his back in the hay. His bulging eyes widened, fear flashing through them. The Irishman’s gun never wavered from its target, but Buddy’s muscles bunched, as though he was about to make a move, and she was having none of it.
“I have you covered, Barbara. You can let him go. Flynn sent me. You’re safe now.”
With one vicious twist of Buddy’s little finger, she pushed herself free of the drunken cowboy and left him screaming like the pathetic coward she recognized him to be.