"Heroes Inc., Book 5"
Harlequin Intrigue® #808
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Harlequin Books
Pub. Date: November 2004
The mission sucked.
Usually Logan Kincaid, the Shey group's boss, had merely to name an objective and the team clamored for mission assignments. Not this time. No one had volunteered. So a computer program had spit out Web Garfield's number, and he'd drawn the short straw.
As an ex-CIA Agent and hand-to-hand martial arts specialist, Web was prepared emotionally, mentally and physically to take on dangerous missions. He didn't mind risking his life. He didn't mind breaking the law. He didn't mind working in Alabama. But targeting a woman didn't sit right with himespecially a bride on her wedding day.
Taking his gaze off the Gulf of Mexico coastline, Web scowled at Donovan, then ignored the smirk on the other man's face. Although the pilot hadn't taunted him outright, Web didn't have to hear him say the words to know what the other man was thinking. The mission sucked. But after abducting the bride, the pilot could go home to his very pregnant wife, while Web had to baby-sit his abducteenot exactly a manly challenge. Web barely refrained from gnashing his teeth.
However, Web's self-disgust wouldn't prevent him from completing his mission or from doing it to the best of his ability. Since the boss didn't take on a mission without checking the particulars, and Web's trust in Kincaid was absolute, Web accepted that Kincaid believed the job was necessary, vital and for the common good.
Still, although success might be critical to the future of the United States economy, Web didn't merely dislike his orders, he detested them. Preying on an innocent woman wasn't his thing. He liked his women soft, cuddly and willing, and he always treated the other sex with respector he had . . . until now.
With a sigh of frustration, Web resigned himself to carrying out his objective and moving on. Speaking through a head set, Web Garfield didn't have to raise his voice for the chopper pilot to hear him over the beat of the rotors, the roar of the engine or the whistle of the wind. "What's our ETA?"
"Five minutes." Jack Donovan didn't bother to check his watch. Not only was he the Shey Group's best pilot, the man had a clock inside his head that always ticked on schedule. "Relax. I'll drop you in on time."
The aircraft's engine purred like a well-fed cat, but between the updraft from the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico and the August storm front approaching, air pockets made the chopper pitch, sway and dip. Donovan rode his seat with the ease of a jockey on a galloping racehorse. Jack might have been the best damn pilot in the entire Air Force, but to him a smooth flight and landing meant that no one died.
Resigned, Web slouched in his seat and swallowed hard. He wasn't uncomfortable in the air, but he preferred to keep his feet on terra firma where a man relied on his brain and musclesnot a tin can wrapped around a motor to keep him alive.
Automatically, Web gave Donovan a hard time, but his heart wasn't in it. "Yeah, well I'd like to set down with my lunch still inside my stomach."
"Hey, don't blame me for a little air turbulence." Donovan checked his instruments. "We don't have time to fly around the storm." Web couldn't help noting the glee in Donovan's voice. The man was born to fly. The storm was simply a challenge he enjoyed as much as Web did a good karate match in the dojo or a demanding mission.
Web shrugged the tension out of his shoulders and peered through the windshield into the storm. Waiting, the time before the action was always the hard part, the time where doubts crept in and could bite a man if he wasn't careful. Once they landed, he'd click into fighting mode and the mental preparation would kick in. He'd no longer question the mission, but simply focus on getting the job done in the minimum amount of time with the least hassle.
Lightning flashed, zigzagging in a spectacular display of nature's fury. Dark clouds closed down on the Earth like a hulking army, and the slashing rain lowered visibility to less than five feet. As the lightning bolts electrified the air around them, beside Web, Donovan didn't flinch and relied on his instruments. Web remained as stoic and tried not to think about his target as a womanimpossible, of course.
She would be furiousno doubt. What woman wouldn't be angry, scared and upset over being abducted by strangers less than an hour before her I dos? What women would believe a stranger was kidnapping her to protect her? Web expected a flood of tears, heart-wrenching sobs, begging. And he damned the program that had spit out his name. However, the thought of refusing hadn't crossed his mind but for a second. It wasn't simply that the Shey Group paid him so well, or that Web had more respect for Logan Kincaid than almost anyone else he knew. Men like Web didn't complain when they drew point. They didn't complain when the risk of success approached absolute zero. The Shey Group didn't complain period. Complaining was for wimps.
Although the mission had been planned only last night, to avoid eye witnesses, the timing with the local law enforcement, who had no idea why the Shey Group had requested the interstate be shut down for ten minutes, had to go off like clockwork. A temporary roadblock would isolate the bride's limousine. Kincaid had expertly inserted one of the Shey Group into the limo as a replacement driver, so the extraction could take place without witnesses.
The target would be alone. Vulnerable. Scared.
If Web had been in charge of planning, he would have knocked on her door, made an explanation, asked her to cooperatebut Kincaid said they simply couldn't take the risk that she wouldn't be alone or that she might refuse to help them. After all, her loyalty would belong to the man she was about to marry. The man waiting at the altar for his bridea bride that Web had to ensure wouldn't show for her nuptials.
About to spoil what she likely expected to be the happiest day of her life, Web cracked his knuckles, glaring as wind knocked the aircraft into a sideways slide. Landing would be like threading a needle while riding a bucking bronco, yet he had confidence in Donovan. Last year the man had successfully landed in the middle of a blizzard in the Rockies. If anyone could get them in and out fast, he could. Web had no doubts about his partner's skill or his own to do what must be done. But he didn't have to like it.
"Locked on target." Donovan pointed to the sleek white limousine, already pulled onto the highway's shoulder, right next to a large patch of grass. "Perfect. No phone wires. No trees. No eyewitnesses."
Just one helluva storm. Web kept the thought to himself. Right about now, the driver would be pretending to call for a tow truck and assuring the lovely bride that despite the engine trouble, she'd still make it to her wedding on time.
She wouldn't. Web's job was to make sure she wouldn't.
Before Jack set down, Web had unfastened his seatbelt, removed the headset and opened his door. He jumped out, letting his knees absorb the shock of the landing, then sprinted straight for the limousine.
The downpour drenched him within two footsteps. The soggy turf sucked at his boots. But a little rain and mud wouldn't slow Web's determined strides.
He reached the limo's door, and the woman inside peered through the rain at him. A vision in white, her green eyes narrowed in suspicion, her perfectly made up face contrasted with white skin pale from shock as she stared at him in confusion.
She must have seen something on Web's face that she didn't like. Slamming her palm down on the lock in one decisive move, she shouted to the driver. Thunder boomed and reverberated and Web couldn't hear her words, but when from up front, the driver unlocked the doors, her slicing look of anger and hurt and bewilderment stabbed him.
Yet his finer feelings didn't stop him from yanking open the door. He steeled himself for her tears. When a shoe slammed into his face, the spiky heel coming close to poking out his eye, but sliding past his temple instead and leaving a painful, bloody furrow, her bold attitude took him by surprise. Ignoring his injury, leaning inside, he grabbed for her waist, and barely dropped his chin in time to avoid a well-placed kick to his throat.
"Lady, I don't want to hurt you."
As if she hadn't heard him, she scratched and swore words no southern belle should know, never mind utter, and scooted backward, her legs kicking, her dress riding up to reveal toned calves and trim ankles. He grabbed a handful of white satin and hauled her toward the open door. Needing to grab her, not the damn dress, he felt past the voluminous material and his hand grazed a slender hip before she squirmed out of reach.
"My fiancÚ works for the FBI," she yelled at him. "And if you know what's good for you," finally, his fingers grasped her tiny waist and he hauled her out of the car, into the fierce rain, "you'll let me go."
She whacked him across the nose with her purse, followed up with a fist to his ear. "Bastard. Get your hands off me."
Web didn't release her, but swore under his breath. "Lady, I don't want to hit you, but if you don't stop fighting, you'll give me no choice."
She didn't waste her breath screaming. Redoubling her efforts, she paid no attention to his plea to be reasonable, or the rain soaking her and causing her makeup to run until her eyes resembled a raccoon's. Even if she cooperated, which didn't seem likely, no way could she walk across the muddy ground in those spiky shoes. Already the rain weighed down her dress, hampering her movements but that didn't prevent her from twisting and snarling like a wild cat.
Despite his threat otherwise, unwilling to deck her and mar her delicate skin or worse risk breaking her jaw, Web picked her up, tossed her over his shoulder. He ran through the rain back to the chopper, ignoring her fists pounding his back, her knees kicking his ribs, but very aware of his hand on her pleasantly curved bottom.
Web climbed into the chopper, holding the wet and squirming woman. "Go, Jack."
"We're out of here."
"Stop," she shouted over the roar of the engine. "I'll give you money."
The time for explanation had arrived. Web let her slide down his chest, keeping her too close to wind up for a punch or a kick, trying and failing not to notice her sexy curves. "Kendall, we're not interested in money."