Recovering Ivy - Red Team Book 4
Special Forces-Operation Alpha Crossover
Zane Lewis walked into his office and, not for the first time that day, rubbed his aching chest. The ever-present throbbing had only intensified over the hours; burying one of his own was never easy. But Eric Wheeler was especially hard. He’d recruited him from the CIA, not that it took Zane much to convince Eric to leave the agency after a disastrous mission in Russia nearly three years ago. But instead of retiring like Eric had planned, Zane convinced him to come work for him.
“Fuck,” Zane muttered to an empty room.
Taking the neatly-folded flag Wolf had presented him over to his desk, he opened the top drawer and rummaged through the brass bullet cartridges he collected until he found the one he was looking for. He pulled out a .308 bullet with the inscription Wheeler engraved along the length and tucked it into the fold of the flag before walking to the built-in bookshelves behind him. He proudly propped Eric’s flag on the shelf - it would serve as a reminder to Zane of his shortcomings. He’d allowed another man under his command to die, yet another hash mark on his already condemned soul.
It had been late when Zane had left Eric’s celebration of life at Jaxon and Violet’s house and later still now that he’d driven around for the past hour before stopping at his office; dreading going home to an empty apartment. Not that he wanted company in his current state of mind. If he had, there was a steady stream of women that were all too eager to hit his bed for the night. Zane had come a long way from the single-wide trailer him and his brother Lincoln had grown up in. His three-thousand-square-foot penthouse was a testament to his success. But some days he missed the small trailer and the closeness it had provided; he and Linc cramped into a bedroom arguing over who was going to clean up the clutter that inevitably accumulated in the small space. He bought his penthouse so he’d never be cramped again, never having to worry about clutter. But now, the space seemed barren and lonely. Lonely wasn’t something Zane was used to feeling. He was a man that appreciated the solace of his own company.
Zane grabbed a bottle of his favorite whiskey and moved to the large bank of windows overlooking downtown Annapolis and unscrewed the top off the Knob Creek and took a swig straight from the bottle. The liquid burned his throat, warming his insides as it went down.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” he repeated, his carefully controlled temper was starting to slip. Eric’s death was weighing heavy and he’d been unable to lock it in one of the many fucked-up boxes that made up his life. He couldn’t, not yet. Eric deserved to be mourned.
Zane rested his forehead on the cool glass and for the first time since he was a child he felt wetness leak from the corner of his eye. Before he could dwell any further, his phone vibrated in his pocket. It had been after midnight when he’d come to the office; in his line of work a call this late never meant good things.
He pulled his phone out and checked the caller ID; the President’s personal number flashed on the screen. He hoped to God the call was not work-related. His team needed some downtime after losing Eric. Or did they? Maybe going back out in the field was exactly what they needed to burn through the pent-up anger and hurt they all felt. Zane knew he’d feel a whole lot better if he could dispatch a bunch of douchebag fuckwits to hell.
“Tom,” Zane greeted.
“How you holding up?” The President cut straight to the chase.
“Five by five,” he clipped.
“Right. So you’re not at the office drowning your sorrows in a bottle?” Tom returned.
It never ceased to amaze Zane that the President had an uncanny ability to presume others’ actions. It was what had made him a good UDT and now a great President.
“It’s goddamned late, did you need something?”
Zane’s response was met with a chuckle before Tom sobered. “Tomorrow morning when you wake up from your bender I want you to remember something, son. In our business, there are no guarantees; not that we’ll come home, not that we’ll be in one piece if we do, and for the men that led great men in combat there is the unrelenting responsibility of consequence. You are not responsible for Eric’s death. He died because he was a damn hero. You don’t take that away from him and put it on your shoulders. The honor is his. Another thing for you to remember, and I know you’ve heard this before, we don’t just train them, we mourn them. You know the risk, every person on your team does. They follow you into battle because you’re the goddamn best; do not waiver, do not wallow, your team needs you strong and ready. They’ll be looking to you for strength. When you feel the weight bearing down, you call me. Not as the President, not as a brother in arms, but as a friend. I’ll help you carry the load.”
“Preciate it,” Zane said past the lump in his throat.
“I know you do. You get tonight to drain the cheap shit you call whiskey. Tomorrow, you stand tall and ready. I’ll be in touch.”
Tom disconnected the call and Zane tossed his phone on the small table that sat next to the couch in his office. He plopped his ass down on the soft leather and contemplated Tom’s words. When half the bottle was gone, Zane decided it was time to lock Eric down deep. A good man was dead, and no amount of tears or whiskey would bring him back. His eyes scanned the room until they found what he was looking for. That night with alcohol numbing the pain, Zane fell asleep on the couch in his office staring at a flag he wished he didn’t have.
“Swear to Christ, if the two of you don’t shut the hell up you’re both fired.” I looked between my brother and sister-in-law. “And why the fuck are you in my office?”
Jasmin and Linc continued to bicker as if their boss hadn’t threatened to fire them. I leaned back in my chair and further observed the couple. I was happy for them, but their domestic disputes were getting on my last nerve. When had my company turned into a daytime soap opera with wives and girlfriends traipsing in and out all day? Olivia and Violet both seemed to skate by my extensive security protocols with ease. They came and went from the office just as much as the team did. I’d lost all fucking control.
“Yo!” I tried again. “Get the fuck out of my office.”
“What?” Jasmin turned her attention to me.
“You heard me, leave.”
“But I have a case and your brother is being unreasonable and won’t let me leave the building,” she complained.
“You’re fucking pregnant. You are not getting in your car and following a scumbag around all day,” Linc argued.
Yes, I’d lost control.
“Linc, she has a job to do,” I told my brother but when Jasmin smirked I quickly added, “and you’re on light duty. That means you follow and do not approach.”
“Desk duty,” Linc shot back.
“Brother, she’s gonna have your balls if you don’t lighten up. Believe it or not, she’s not the first woman in history to have a baby.”
“Babies,” Linc said as if he was proud of himself for giving Jasmin twins. Since she’d announced her pregnancy, all the office had heard about was Linc’s super sperm. I gagged every time my brother mentioned his semen. Not a thought I wanted to dwell on. “And we all know my wife has trouble following orders. If she sees Forester approach any girls, she’ll be out of her car confronting him before backup can arrive.”
In the last four months since Eric’s death, the team had been busy stateside. Colin and Declan had gone OCONUS once, to Dubai to escort a Senator while he visited a US Navy base there. Not that anyone was complaining about their current workload. The only person that seemed to have an issue was Linc. Leo and Olivia were living in marital bliss. Leo, the crazy bastard, had finally knocked Olivia up and he, too, was more than happy to spread the baby cheer.
“I really don’t know why I bother paying the two of you a salary. Between your lack of work and the amount of money you’re costing me to put a goddamned daycare in the building, you should be paying me. Jasmin, go get to work. I want a full report of every move Forester makes. If you so much as get out of your car you won’t have to worry about Linc; I’m not fucking around. You’re six months pregnant.”
“Aye aye, LT,” Jasmin said and made a dash for the door before Linc could stop her.
“What did you find on Forester?” I asked Linc, trying to bring the meeting around to actual work.
“You know she’s not gonna listen,” Linc grouched and sat in one of the two chairs in front of my desk.
“She will. She loves those babies. It’s you that’s lost your fucking mind. She’s fine. Your babies are fine. I’m not kidding, she’s gonna kick your ass out and not let you back in until after she has those kids if you don’t chill the hell out.”
“Fuck, Z! It’s just… if something happened to any of them I don’t know what I’d do. She goes and goes; it can’t be good for her. I want her to rest, prop her feet up, or some shit. I don’t know. But the thought of her putting herself in danger guts me.”
I stared at my brother; the poor guy looked miserable. The more I studied Linc I realized it wasn’t misery, it was adoration mixed with fear. Love for his wife and unborn children and fear he wouldn’t live through the loss of them. I tried hard to summon what it might feel like to love a woman that much, but I couldn’t, and not only that, I knew I’d never know what those feelings felt like. I’d long ago made the decision that I would never burden a woman with my demons.
“Did you think it was ever gonna be any other way with that woman? Relax, you’re gonna give yourself high blood pressure. What’d you find?” I repeated.
“Dude’s a scumbag. The CEO was right to be worried, Forester is absolutely a plant. Before going to Techwatch he worked for Lemans, a subsidiary of Smart Technologies. His employment records indicate he was laid off due to corporate restructuring. However, there were no other layoffs around that time period,” Linc explained.
“What is Forester after? The software for the watch?”
“Nope. Both companies, Techwatch and Smart Technologies, have the exact same product, a smartwatch for kids. Unlike the adult smartwatches, the kids’ version doesn’t need data or wifi, the games and apps are built in. Smart Technologies planted Forester at Techwatch to steal their pricing structure and launch plan.”
“Smart Technologies wants to bury Techwatch. The old Walmart trick, sell deep and cheap and run your competition out of business,” I surmised. Shady, but not a bad plan. What Forester and Smart Technologies were doing was illegal but, in my book, it didn’t exactly make Forester any more of a scumbag than any other overpaid executive trying to run other corporations out of business. “What else did Jasmin find?”
“He likes prostitutes and he likes them young, we’re talking barely legal. Also, a year ago the police were called to his residence when a young girl he rented a room to was found dead in his house. Officially, it was ruled an overdose. The PD suspected foul play but couldn’t prove it. The girl, Joanna Long, nineteen at the time of death, had bruising on her inner thighs. There was evidence of intercourse, but no DNA present. Forester said he didn’t know if the girl had a boyfriend or what she did outside of his house. They did find strands of his hair on her clothing, but, again, she lived there. The investigators chalked it up to household transfer. With what Jasmin found while tailing him, I’d say he had something to do with Joanna’s death. But there is no evidence to support the theory. Just my gut telling me, Forester is behind the murder.”
“Fuck me running. Does Jasmin have everything she needs to wrap up the case and turn everything over to the CEO?” I wasn’t sure how much further down the rabbit hole I wanted to go.
“She does. But there’s a loose end. Forester’s PA, Susan Black, doesn’t exist. Name is fake, resume is fake, ID and SSN, both fake. But she’s not part of the scope of work so I haven’t put much time into her. We have everything we need to slam him without the PA, so I haven’t dug much. Jasmin also has the images and times logged when he visits the prostitutes. What should we do with those?”
I hated loose ends, almost as much as he hated going into a situation blind. Years of experience taught me to never leave a stone unturned.
“Find out what you can on Susan Black. Send Declan in if you need. Women tend to fall all over him. I’d like this shit closed by the end of the week. Tell him to lean on her if he has to,” I ordered then remembered my brother had asked a question. “We’ll hand over the images to the DA. Maybe he can use them as leverage to get Forester to flip.”
“Sounds good,” Linc said and stood. “You coming over for dinner tonight? Violet and Jax are coming.”
Fuck no, I wasn’t going to my brother’s house for dinner. The last time I did, I had to sit through hours of baby talk and watch as Leo couldn’t keep his hands off Olivia. No, that was not my idea of a good time.
“Got shit to do,” I answered.
Linc continued to stare before he shook his head and made his way to the door. When Linc stopped in the doorway and turned, my gut twisted at the look on my brother’s face. It was a look that told me I wasn’t going to be happy with Linc’s next statement.
“You ever think about finding a woman?”
I thought about flipping Linc the bird and telling him to mind his own fucking business, but I knew it would only lead to more conversation, something I tried to avoid at all costs. I didn’t want to discuss my personal life with anyone.
“No,” I answered.
One word. Short and to the point. No, I had not put any thought into finding a woman I’d want to keep. Not only did I not want one, there wasn’t one out there that could handle the fucked-up mess I was.
I was tired. Tired of living a lie. Tired of men. Tired of life in general.
“Another?” the bartender asked, nodding toward the gin and tonic in front of me.
“Please,” I answered, then added, “The Botanist,” reminding the overworked man of the type of gin I preferred.
“How could I forget?” The bartender winked.
I fought back the urge to roll my eyes at the man. He’d tried his hardest all evening to flirt and use whatever cheesy pickup line he could to hit on me, but he was shit out of luck. I was over men. They were liars. I’d yet to meet a man that knew the truth if it smacked him in the face, starting with my father and up until and including my current boss.
Today he’d driven me to drink. Normally I’d go home to my shitty one-bedroom loft apartment, order in, and plot my revenge. I was almost there, too. All of the information I needed was falling into place. Another few months… I’d be golden, and he’d finally be behind bars.
A man slid onto the stool next to me at the same time the bartender reappeared, placing my fresh drink on the bar.
“A Botanist and tonic for the beautiful lady.” This time I didn’t stop my eyes from rolling. “What can I get you?” I noted the flirtatious tone had left the bartender’s voice when he asked the person next to me for their order.
“Actually, I’ll have what she’s having.” The man’s voice was thick like honey and the sound sent chills racing up my spine, leaving certain parts tingling. “A woman who knows her gin.”
A full body shiver took the place of the goose bumps, and for a moment I thought about dusting the cobwebs off my girly parts. I’d yet to turn in the man’s direction and when I did, it was too late to stop the dirty thoughts from further taking hold. If I thought his voice was sexy, it had nothing on the man himself. Holy smokes! He was hot; movie star good-looking. Jet black hair and heart-stopping blue eyes. If the smirk on his face was anything to go by, my reaction to him was commonplace.
The longer I stared at the man, the more uncomfortable I became. The look had gone well beyond a cursory glance straight to gawking.
“I’m Zane,” he said and offered his hand.
Not wanting to be rude, I placed my hand in his and the moment they touched an electrical current zapped my hand and I quickly pulled away.
“Sorry.” Zane chuckled. “I didn’t mean to shock you. It’s windy out there,” he told me by way of explanation. I wasn’t sure if it was static electricity or if it was some sexy-man-current that naturally ran through his body.
“That’s okay.” I turned back to my drink and took a large unladylike gulp, suddenly wanting to finish my drink and settle my tab. There was something extremely unnerving about Zane and his sapphire eyes. When he looked at me I felt naked, like he could see through my carefully built fortress. Which was crazy, he was just being polite introducing himself.
The bartender set Zane’s drink down and placed a bowl of mixed nuts between us. Zane dipped his hand in and took out a handful before tossing a few into his mouth.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” I said.
“Did what?” he asked after he’d swallowed.
“Ate nuts out of the bowl. Do you know how many germs are in that bowl? It’s like a science experiment. Most people don’t wash their hands after they use the bathroom, then they come out and touch the bowl. You just ate piss nuts.”
“Piss nuts?” He snickered.
“Yes. And that’s better than calling them yeast nuts, which I totally could. You never know what germs people have on their hands.”
I watched as Zane threw his head back and roared with laughter, transforming an already gorgeous man to downright captivating.
“Fuck, you’re funny.” He smiled, complete with dimples. Sweet Christ, the man was lethal. He took a sip of his drink and continued, “Damn, I always forget how much I like The Botanist—infused with juniper and heather.”
“I’ve never met anyone who drinks it. I only discovered it a few years ago when I visited the distillery where it’s made,” I told him.
“You’ve been to Islay?”
“I have. I think it’s you who knows their gin.”
“Actually, I know my whisky. Discovering the gin was a byproduct of a visit to Bruichladdich where it’s distilled.”
“Me, too. I’ve been there.” I eyed him with skepticism. “You sure you’ve been there? This isn’t just some pickup attempt, is it?”
Islay, Scotland was a small island. It was not known as a tourist destination unless you liked whisky or wanted to experience a slower pace of life. The only thing the island had to offer were distilleries, peat marshes, and beautiful rolling hills covered in wild heather. There were also some of the oldest religious relics and ruins on the island, but Zane didn’t strike me as the type of man that would travel across the Atlantic to visit an old hand-carved stone cross or Viking relics.
“Is that what you think I’m doing? Trying to pick you up?”
My cheeks heated at my presumption. I hadn’t thought my statement through before I blurted out my question; only that I thought he was lying.
“No.” I shook my head, wanting to flee even more now that I’d embarrassed myself. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Yes, I’ve really been to Islay. Several times actually when I needed the silence and solitude only the island can offer.” Zane looked a million miles away as he thought about the little Scottish island before he quickly masked his features and brought his hand to my face, his thumb rubbing the apple of my cheek. The soft touch short-circuited common sense and instead of batting his audacious hand away I leaned into it. “And for the record. When I’m hitting on a woman, she doesn’t need to ask if I’m doing it.” Holy shit. Warning alarms were blaring in my head and butterflies were in my belly. The mix of fear and excitement blended together, and I wasn’t sure if I was hoping he’d take me home for the night or if he’d pull his hand away and ignore me while I finished my drink. “Why don’t we start with your name and we’ll go from there?”
“Why do you want to know my name?” I asked.
“Normally, I like to know the name of the woman I’m taking to bed.”
“Does it really matter?”
“Normally, no. But with you, it does.” His hand hadn’t left my face. As a matter of fact, his grip had tightened. It was possessive, not painful, and tiny sparks of high-voltage sparks were shooting through my body.
“Ivy,” I answered.
“Ivy,” he repeated. I never much cared for my name but found I liked it a whole hell of a lot when it rolled off his tongue.
I was choosing to ignore his comment about him taking me to bed. As enticing as his words were, they weren’t actually an offer, and if they were, I wasn’t sure what my answer would be. Which was crazy because I didn’t do one-night stands. I didn’t pick men up in bars and go home with them. But if the thought was so absurd, then why was I hoping he was serious? And why was I thinking about him ripping my clothes off and squelching the ache that had started between my legs?
“What was that thought?” He leaned closer, and for a second, I thought he was getting ready to kiss me but he stopped just shy.
“Umm. I don’t know,” I sputtered, not willing to admit I’d been imagining him taking me and making me forget about my shitty day. It had been years since I’d had a man. What would one night in the bed of a stranger hurt? Zane was the sexiest man I’d ever laid eyes on. I made the decision that if he was offering, I was accepting. I wanted one night to forget, to be carefree and not think about the mountain of grief and anger that weighed on my shoulders.
I deserved it.
I tried not to squirm on the stool as he continued to study me; his hand had moved from my face and was now squeezing the back of my neck. “I think you know exactly what you were thinking but you’re too embarrassed to tell me.”
“Why’s that?” I squeaked, afraid he knew exactly what I’d been visualizing.
“Your pretty eyes darkened as your pupils dilated. You shifted in your seat and clenched your thighs together. And right now, you’re thinking about what it would feel like to be under me.”
“You’re wrong,” I whispered.
“I don’t think I am.”
“I wasn’t thinking what it would feel like to be under you. I was thinking about what it would feel like to have you push me against the wall and take me.” I knew I was behaving like a brazen hussy but I was beyond caring. My mind had been made up; I wanted Zane.
“I stand corrected. Are you done with your drink?” His voice had deepened and by the way he was now shifting on his stool, I figured he was just as turned on as I was. Not wanting to waste time, I picked up my gin and tonic and swallowed the rest down.
“I am now,” I said, placing the drained glass down in front of me before I pulled my shaking hand back and placed it in my lap.
Zane pulled out his wallet and threw a hundred-dollar bill on the bar top, not bothering to finish his drink. He stood and offered me his hand.
“Aren’t you going to finish your drink?” I asked. Now that the moment of truth had arrived, I was stalling.
“Hell, no. I have something far better in mind.”
“Do you need change? A hundred is too much.”
Zane didn’t answer. Instead, he pulled me off the stool and now, standing next to him, I noticed how tall he was. The top of my head barely came to his shoulder. He lifted my chin, making me look up while he looked down; once again our eyes locked. “Are you having second thoughts?”
“Thank fuck.” He leaned down and closed the distance, brushing his lips over mine, leaving me breathless and wanting more. “Let’s get out of here.”
We walked out of the bar hand in hand, Zane checking both ways before he tucked me close and crossed the street. He opened the door to an apartment building and motioned for me to enter first. There was no conversation on the way to the bank of elevators, the silence was exhilarating. For some reason it had ratcheted up my excitement. It felt naughty and illicit to be following a stranger back to his apartment with the singular purpose to have sex. The danger and stupidity of the situation also added to the fantasy. The elevator opened and once again he allowed me to enter first. The doors closed, and Zane pushed the top button indicating the penthouse and slid a plastic keycard into the slot. The elevator started to ascend and my heart started beating triple time. This was it, I was going home with a man and I didn’t even know his last name. I hadn’t even spoken more than a handful of words to him.
“Ivy?” I hadn’t noticed he’d moved and was now standing in front of me.
I’d been so lost in my head I hadn’t realized the elevator had stopped moving and the metal doors had slid open. Zane unlocked his door and pushed it open. We stepped over the threshold and there had been no time to take in my surroundings before I was pushed up against the wall. The chills I’d felt when I first heard his voice were back and had multiplied, the area between my legs flooded. I’d never been manhandled and caged in, nor had I ever been this excited without even being touched. My purse fell from my hand and landed with a loud thud on the hardwood floor.
“If at any time you want this to stop, you say so.” Zane’s face was intense and only inches from mine, his erection pushed against my belly and my pussy clenched. “If you’re uncomfortable, you say so.” I nodded my acknowledgement, unable to formulate words. “I’m gonna fuck you against the wall quick and dirty before I take you to bed.”
“Oh, god.” Those two words were all I could say before Zane’s mouth was on mine and his hands had gone to work unbuttoning my blouse.
I was still in my stuffy work clothes and had never been more thankful I wore skirts to the office. With my shirt unbuttoned, Zane broke the kiss and pulled back to look at my bra-covered breasts. Large deft fingers popped the front clasp of my bra open, giving him a clear view of my puckered nipples. His thumb brushed over one and it hardened even more.
“So sexy,” Zane said before he latched on and sucked my nipple into his mouth.
I needed more, something, anything, friction. I’d yet to really feel his body and realized my hands had lamely fallen to my sides. I’d been too intoxicated by his kiss. Once his lips had touched mine and our tongues had tangled all thoughts had vanished. I needed to see him, touch him, taste him, too. I clumsily pulled at his t-shirt hoping he’d understand my intentions and luckily, he did; unfortunately, that meant he had to disengage his mouth from licking around my nipple.
“Impatient,” he muttered.
“Yes.” The answer came without embarrassment. I was too far gone to worry about how that made me sound. If he didn’t hurry and fuck me, I might die.
He pulled his wallet from his back pocket, fished a condom from it, then tossed the billfold to the floor. His pants were undone and pushed down, the sound of the foil packet ripping echoed in the room, and once he was sheathed, he yanked my skirt around my waist. My panties were the only obstacle left. Not to be deterred, he moved them to the side and pushed a finger inside me.
“Holy shit,” I moaned. His finger felt so good, but it was gone all too soon.
“So fucking wet. I can’t wait.” His hands moved to my ass and he lifted me as if I weighed nothing. Trapping me between the cold wall and his large warm body, he removed one hand and used it to guide himself to where I wanted him. The tip of his cock lingered at my opening and he waited for me to look at him before he started to push inside. “Ah, fuck,” he cursed, causing another gush of excitement to coat the head of his dick. “So fucking tight.” I watched the hardness of his features soften as the haze of sex started to pull him under. I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one affected; he seemed to be just as lost in the moment as I was.
He dipped his hips to get a better angle and with a hard thrust he was balls deep. I let out a strangled cry and my head fell back, hitting the wall with a crack. My nails dug into his shoulders and I held on, trying to adjust to the intrusion. It had been a long time since I’d had a man inside me, and never one as large as Zane. He didn’t give me long before he drew back and shoved back in with such force a moan tore from my throat.
“Hang on, sweetheart, I’m gonna fuck you until you see stars.”
And he did. He fucked me with precision and determination. Two words I’d never thought to associate with sex, but there it was; that was exactly what he’d done. His strokes were hard and precise, each push and pull hitting the perfect place inside me. He was determined to fuck me so hard I would feel him for days. I couldn’t hold back, my hips rocked with his, and when his thumb brushed over my clit, the mountain he’d been building turned into a volcano. I was damn near erupting; I could feel the heat bubbling to the surface.
“I’m almost…” I panted.
“Jesus Christ, you feel so fucking good. Let go, sweetheart.”
“Come for me, Ivy. I want to feel your tight pussy come around my cock.”
That did it.
His filthy words were the match I needed to ignite my release. My orgasm broke loose, and I screamed my pleasure.
“That’s it. So goddamn sweet.” And if it was possible, he fucked me harder until something new was building, threatening to rip me apart. My vision had blurred, my breasts swelled, and I broke out in a sweat. “Again.” Zane’s voice had turned rough and hard. “You’re there. Take it, Ivy. Come with me.”
He grunted and continued to thrust until my body convulsed, and I indeed saw stars. Sometime during my out-of-body experience, he planted deep and came.
“Christ. You’ll be the death of me,” he whispered into my neck.
Sex against the wall? Best thing ever.