Excerpt: Baby One Last Time – 4

From Chapter 16 of Baby One Last Time

Cynthia Kessler, Mai Li, and Jason Jensen have gone rogue, crossed paths with some very bad guys, and now need to extract Mai from a dangerous situation. They need reinforcements, and who better to have at your back than Derek Wilder?

* * *


I was swearing up a blue streak as I pulled up behind the HEAT van on the deserted street. I’d listened to Cynthia’s story in the first three minutes of my drive, sworn for the next five, and made it to their location in eight. In addition to impressing the team with my new and inventive ways of using ‘fuck,’ my vulgar diatribe had vented enough of my fury to allow me to focus and prepare for the rescue. It had had the side benefit of keeping Jensen and Cynthia quiet, which was best for all of us right now.

I turned off the lights of the Mercedes I’d borrowed from our rented fleet and climbed out of the car, blending into the night in my black mission outfit. Cynthia knew I was coming to her side of the van. She opened the door as I reached it. She was holding her breath, staring at me.

I knew that look.

She was turned on. Adrenaline is very focusing, and given how desperately we’d wanted each other since the minute we’d stepped back into each other’s lives, it was now focusing us both on the one thing we could not have. Not yet.

Jensen leaned over and handed me a comms unit. “I’m working on a more secure channel. It’ll take a few minutes to get us all on it.”

“Thanks.” I slipped the comms into my ear. “We’ll suit up.” I held out my hand to Cynthia. Not a gentlemanly invitation. Not a chivalrous offer to help her out of the van.

A command.

Her pursed lips proved she understood and was rankled by it. Wisely, she didn’t argue the point. She gripped my hand and stepped down into the scrub grass along the side of the road. I didn’t release my grip on her as I led her along the side of the van to the spot where I’d dropped a duffel bag. Fighting against the recurring image of spanking her and all the tingly things the thought did to me, I dropped her hand and turned to face her.

She stared up at me, defiance and lust raw on her face. Like I was drawn by a magnet, I closed the gap between us, grabbed her face in both my hands, and kissed her. Not to greet her. Not even to seduce her. To stake my claim. Deep and passionate and long. Heat and lust flashed through me, energizing every cell. Her body surged against me, responding in kind.

When I pulled away from her, she breathlessly grabbed for me, bunching her fingers in my long-sleeved tee shirt to steady herself. With a growl, I slipped my arms around her waist and pulled her against me. She was warm and soft and yielding. She molded herself to my body and we groaned in unison, both of us jacked up on the same heady concoction of brain chemicals.

“Getting some mixed signals here, Wilder,” she breathed against the base of my throat.

“When this is over, we do need to have a long talk,” I whispered in her ear. Holding her body tight to mine made it damn near impossible to focus on the task at hand. But I didn’t have a choice. Lives were at stake. “Starting with why you lied about me being able to trust you.”

“You know, in a weird way, I think that was true. Not about where I was going—”

“Spare me the bullshit.” I scraped together some righteous indignation, enough to allow me to pull away from her.

“Roger that,” she mumbled.

I bent over the duffle bag and channeled all my raging lust into the task at hand. I pulled out climbing ropes and grappling hooks and handed a set to Cynthia.

“We’ll get in position on top of the wall and get a visual first,” I said. “Assuming Jensen can block the electrical feed to the security sensor.”

She took the harness I offered her and glanced toward the front of the van. “He’s working on that? When did he say that?”

I snapped on my harness. “He didn’t. He texted me.”


“When I was driving here.”

She hooked on her harness and held out her hand for her rope. “Let me get this straight. You were cursing at me, texting with Jensen, and driving at what, seventy miles an hour?”

“Cursing, listening to his texts-to-voice, and going eighty,” I corrected her. “But basically, yes.” I handed her a rope, then ran my rope through my harness and tied off the end.

“Still sounds dangerous.”

I raised my eyebrows and stared down at her with my best you-must-be-shitting-me expression.

She swallowed hard as she met my gaze. “Yeah, I heard myself. But… I worry about you.”

I clenched my fists by my side to keep myself from grabbing her shoulders to shake some sense into her. “You call me at four in the morning—a few hours after swearing to me I could trust you—to report a harebrained scheme you and your partners in crime have tanked, and you’re worried about my driving?”

She shrugged.

I grinned. I shouldn’t have done it, but the woman was always exasperating, sometimes illogical, and so damn amusing . I regained my composure and pointed to the tranq gun on her holster. “Did you use any darts?”

“No. And don’t look so amused.” She sighed. “And I’m sorry. I never should have brought up the trust thing, and I never should have gotten Mai into this.”

“Right on both counts. But while I hold you accountable as the ringleader, Li and Jensen are adults who willingly came with you.” I holstered my own tranq gun. “Jensen’s even a little giddy. He rarely gets this close to the action.”

“Is he?” She glanced toward the front of the van again.

“And Mai was more reckless than she should have been, getting in that SUV without an extraction plan.” I knew Li knew better because I’d trained her myself, not trusting the education of Cynthia’s partner to anyone else. I pulled out a mini-backpack, which contained a climbing kit to give to my erstwhile student when we reached her, and shouldered it.

“Still, this has shades of Henderson written all over it,” Cynthia said.

“Don’t go there.” Now was no time to revisit a failed mission. “And to be fair to Mai, I hardly think she’s as big a problem as Henderson.” I retrieved a long-barreled pistol, shorter than a rifle but with similar sights, from the bag. “I told X when she picked him as your partner that one day he’d get himself shot.” I loaded a magazine into the pistol. “I’ll admit it happened sooner than I expected, though.”

Cynthia stood rooted to the spot, her mouth agape. “He didn’t get himself shot. I got him shot.”

But even as she said the tired, familiar words, I saw the doubt cross her face.

We didn’t have much time to rescue Li before she was discovered on the other side of Beecher’s security wall, but I needed Cynthia focused on the operation, so we had to take a minute.

“That’s still how you see it?” I held out the pistol and she took it. “You were lead on that job.” I bent and retrieved my own pistol. “You told him to stand down until he got your signal.” Loaded a magazine into my gun. “He ignored you like an idiotic fucking macho man and went through that door too early, before you shot the first tranq.” Snapped the gun into my holster. “And he took a bullet for not trusting a woman to make the call.”

She nodded. “You never would have done that. You never would have second guessed me and barged through the door early.”

“That’s because I know how fucking competent you are.”

Thoughts and emotions played across her face. Fear and guilt and understanding and, on some visceral level, acceptance. It was a start. Enough to get us through this operation. “Why pistols, not rifles?”

I followed her conversation as if this had been our discussion all along. “Harder to climb with rifles. We’d have to use an extra sling. Why does that big brain of yours question everything?”

She put her hands on her hips, momentarily distracting me. “You should be grateful for my big brain, because I figured out where Beecher is hiding the weapons.”

“What? When did you have time?”

“About two minutes into your color commentary on your drive.”

“Is that why you were so quiet? I thought maybe I wasn’t impressing you.”

“That, and I thought it was good for you to vent your spleen before you got here.” She grinned like a cat with the canary and the cream.

I pulled her into my arms, so happy to see a glimpse of the confident operative she’d once been and would be again. When her head was clear and her career was back on track, we’d finally be able to get us back on track, too.

I whispered in her ear. “After I help you clean up your mess, I’m going to fuck that smug look right off your face, pussycat.”

She twisted her fingers in my hair. “Promises, promises, loverboy.” She pulled my head down for another gut-churning, dirty-parts-pleasing kiss.

“Guys, I have my rifle.” Mai’s voice exploded in our comms and we jumped apart. “I’ll need one of those shoulder straps to climb back over the wall with it.”

“Fuck me,” Cynthia muttered.

I shrugged. Nothing to be done about being overheard now. “How long have you been listening?” I asked.

Mai and Jensen spoke at the same time. “Ten seconds”—Mai, “Two minutes”—Jensen.

“While you’re deciding on a number,” I said as I yanked on Cynthia’s harness to check that it was secure, “I’ll remind you that it’s my version of tonight’s events that are going to influence what X does to all of you.”

“Definitely ten seconds, then,” Jensen amended. “And I found a way to turn off the electricity to the wall, but I won’t do it until you’re ready to scale it, in case there’s a redundant system in place that I haven’t had time to find.”

“Redundant system?” Mai asked.

“Something that alerts Beecher’s goons that perimeter security has been compromised, inspiring them to search the grounds,” Jensen said.

Cynthia yanked on my harness, returning the favor of a double-check.

“We’re ready to do this thing,” I said. I nodded to Cynthia to do the honors, confirming that I would follow her lead.

She pressed her lips together and nodded back, then spoke into the comms. “Okay team, it’s go-time.”

* * *

You can read Cynthia and Derek’s second-chance, enemies-to-lovers, steamy romance here: