Keeping Kyle Excerpt 2

Chapter 2


Everything’s going to be fine? What the hell had possessed me to say that? I had just stepped into God knows what, possibly even a trap.

If so, it was a honey trap, and one set up especially for me. Because the woman I was helping into the back seat of my pick-up was so my type. Or one of my types. Maybe I don’t have an anti-type. Still, petite but with long legs shown off by her pink tennis skirt, blonde hair falling just below her shoulders, and wide blue—albeit hella worried—eyes rang a very particular kind of bell for me.

That’s probably why I didn’t question it when she sat on the floor with the dog instead of sitting on seat. And why I climbed into the truck with her without patting her down for a weapon. I did reach under my seat and pull out my stun gun, which I placed beside me on my seat, within easy reach of my dominant left hand. I’m not a complete idiot, even when sex hormones swamp my brain. I have years of Army Ranger training and my two-year, post-Army stint with the covert agency HEAT to thank for that.

“We probably should get out of here fast,” she whispered, as if she worried we’d be overheard.

I had no doubt she was up to something shady, and I’d just aided and abetted whatever it was, so I hoped at least it wasn’t a felony. My boss, and her boss who ran the agency, would not like having to bail me out from the feds. But the woman who shifted around in my back seat as she spoke in a sing-song voice to the downtrodden dog didn’t strike me as a criminal mastermind, a honey trap, or any kind of enemy agent. The Army and HEAT had honed those instincts as well, so when she told me we might be followed, I didn’t ask questions. Instead, I did what I do best.

I was a logistician. I knew how to move people, supplies, weapons, and whatever else needed to be moved. How to drop soldiers and agents behind enemy lines and more importantly, how the hell to bring them back, even if things went horribly pear-shaped. In this case, I hadn’t had time to draw up an extraction plan, secure at least two exit options, and put back-up in place, but I was beginning to know my new town pretty well. I could formulate a plan on the fly.

“Are we headed anywhere in particular?” I asked as I backed out of my parking space.

“The Thirsty Horse,” she answered. “It’s a bookstore with a bar and—”

“A coffee shop,” I finished. “I know the place.” Not that I hung out there. When I wanted to drink coffee and shoot the shit or grab a drink after a long day, I did so with my teammates at HEAT HQ, in our secure building on the north end of town.

The good news was we weren’t being followed. The bad news was someone was looking for the lady, or the dog, or both of them. As I turned the truck onto the main road, I glanced in the rearview mirror and spotted a pissed looking guy and two smocked workers on the sidewalk outside the pet store. I was about to ask my back-floor passenger for clarifying details about the man, the dog, and what the hell we were doing, when I looked over my shoulder and saw her drawing liquid into a syringe. I slid my fingers over the stun gun.

“A sedative,” she answered without me asking. “After this, I’ll administer an antibiotic. I also have a dog bowl and a can of food. Do you mind if—”

“Poor thing looks like he hasn’t had a meal in ages,” I said. “By all means, please feed him.”

I stopped at a red light and glanced back at her again. The syringe was empty and capped. I moved my hand away from my weapon. Her gaze met mine and her lips turned up at the edges. I smiled in response. I couldn’t help it. She was beautiful. Intense. Brave as hell if she’d done what I suspected and rescued the dog from his abuser. And sweet. The soothing way she spoke to the scared animal stirred something deep in my heart.

I broke our eye lock, checked my mirrors, and refocused on the road.

“It’s a calming sedative,” she was saying, although I wasn’t sure whether she was telling me or the dog. “That’s enough food for now, so only water and potty breaks for the rest of the afternoon.”

Obviously, she was speaking to the dog in that sweet voice of hers to keep him calm, because I didn’t need to know the details of his feeding schedule.

“The Thirsty Horse is coming up in a minute,” I said, and instantly regretted it. Arriving at her destination meant letting her go. I was sure she wasn’t an enemy, but I hadn’t even asked her name. “We didn’t get a chance to introduce ourselves. I’m—”

“No names,” she said. “Isn’t that the protocol?”

The word protocol shot a chill up my spine. Sure, spies and security specialists weren’t the only ones who said that, but the no-names statement added an ominous tone to it. I pulled up to the curb and turned toward her, my fingers once again resting on the cold metal of my weapon.

“Is there a vet on call to look at the dog tonight?” she asked.

It took a few seconds for my Army-trained brain to realize she meant a veterinarian. I shook my head, now truly lost in the conversation.

“Then I’ll need to do it. We’ll need to arrange another hand-off.”

Shit, we were skating dangerously close to spy-speak again. My fingers curled around the stun-gun hilt. “The hand-off.”

She nodded. “I can make it by 5:15 this evening. Willow Run Park. Do you know it?”

I nodded back. I still had no idea what we were discussing, but if I was going to figure it out, I needed to play along.

“Great,” she said. “There’s an oak grove northeast of the marble fountain. If you park on Dayton, you can slip into the trees pretty easily without being seen.”

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. There were also piss-poor sightlines for back-up to keep eyes on someone entering those woods. She’d put a lot of thought into this. If she wasn’t an agent, maybe she should be.

“And I should bring…” I posed it as more of an open-ended statement than a question. But it was definitely a question because I had no idea what we were handing off.

“Just this sweetie.” She patted the dog’s head. “I’ll have everything else we need. Be sure to keep her out of sight.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. Of course you know that. You’re the pro here, not me.”

I fitted the weapon into my palm and shifted so I could react in a split second if she said or did another shady thing.

“Thanks again, whoever you are.” She gave me a dazzling, dimpled smile, then leaned toward me.

I turned my head and slid my finger over the weapon’s trigger. She landed a soft, closed-eyes kiss on my lips.

A kiss I felt in every nook, cranny, inch, and cell of my body. An electric jolt that lit me up from the inside like a fucking overloaded Christmas tree.

“Sorry.” She pulled back from me. Dark pink color flushed her cheeks. “I was aiming for your cheek.” With that, she slid to the opposite side of the cab and popped open the door. “Remember, five fifteen. Take good care of our friend.” She hopped out of the truck, trotted across the sidewalk, and disappeared into the front entrance of the Thirsty Horse.

I sat in stunned silence until the sedated dog let out a soft whine. “Shit,” I said out loud. Maybe the woman really had been an agent because, fuck me, she’d distracted me enough to drop a strange dog into my lap. Now that my brain was firing on all cylinders again, I grokked the hand-off comment.

I’d damn near tased the soft-hearted, dog-rescuing woman, when all she’d wanted to do was give me a thank-you kiss on the cheek for taking care of her stolen dog for the day. At least, I hoped it was just for the day. If for any reason she didn’t show up for our meeting in the park, I would have to escalate this to my boss. I had no fucking idea how I would explain getting tangled up in something possibly dangerous, probably illegal, and definitely in violation of HEAT’s protocols.

And I didn’t want to admit that if the mysterious stranger kissed me again, I’d probably follow her to the gates of hell.