The Edge, Book One
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After a devastating injury, Lucas Ramsay knows he’s finished as a soldier.But when the general who saved his life asks him for a favor, he says yes. All Lucas has to do is keep the general’s daughter from getting on a plane to Colombia — which is easier said than done…
Independent to the core, Sloane Gideon is a member of the Edge-a group of mercenaries for hire. But she’s not on the clock for this mission. Her best friend is being held by a vicious drug lord, and Sloane must rescue her — no matter how many handsome ex-soldiers her father sends to dissuade her.
With little choice, Lucas tracks Sloane to Colombia-where she reluctantly allows him to aid her in her search. But as they grow closer to the target, they grow closer to each other. And before the battle is over, both will have to decide just what they are willing to fight for…
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Lucas Ramsey’s target stood out from the swirling masses of perfumed, sequined gold diggers on the ballroom floor. There was something different about her — a watchful, focused quality that none of the other women at this fancy shindig possessed. Then again, there were three other women flirting with the flabby, older man she was hanging on. Maybe she was worried she’d lose her sugar daddy.
Too bad Lucas wasn’t a rich man, ’cause he’d love to sign up for that job, even if for only one night.
The weapon in his shoulder holster felt odd through the thin cotton of his tuxedo shirt, and the shiny leather shoes didn’t have the same gripping traction of his combat boots. He was as far out of place here as a man could get, but Sloane Gideon was here, so he was, too.
She was his last chance to repay a man he owed everything to. And the job was simple. All he had to do was keep her from catching her flight on a private jet in ninety-eight minutes.
No sweat. Even a washed-up soldier like him could handle that. In fact, Lucas could think of more than one way to make her miss that flight. The Old Man had said to use any means necessary to keep her in Texas, and as the list of the more interesting possibilities formed in Lucas’s head, his body temperature kicked up a couple of degrees.
There were hundreds of people here, all as well dressed as the room itself. Silk draped the walls, and fine linen cloths covered the tables. No polyester there.
A tidy crew of unobtrusive waiters weaved among the guests, offering an endless supply of champagne in crystal flutes. Live music swelled from the raised platform where a small orchestra played. Elegant harmonies wove their way through the room, and on the far left, couples danced to a waltz Lucas recognized but could not name.
He was more of a beer and rock-and-roll kind of guy, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the finer things in life.
Like Sloane Gideon. She was definitely fine.
Sloane was lovely in an untouchable sort of way. Perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect dress flowing over perfect curves. She was walking perfection, and he’d bet his last dollar that she knew it. Decked out in diamonds and a dress that probably cost more than his car, she was way out of his league. Of course, if a man managed to strip her of all that flash and sparkle, the playing field would be a lot more even. And a lot more interesting.
All he had to do was pry her off the arm of Money Bags.
Lucas made his way across the ballroom, through the glittering, upper-crust socialites. He ignored the women who glanced his way, and the men who sized him up, staring at him as if trying to calculate his net worth. Not much, he knew, but he’d played enough roles in his life that this one wasn’t much of a stretch. At least here no one was shooting at him, which made this a walk in the park by comparison.
He mimicked the rigid posture of the other men here, donned an air of casual indifference to the ridiculous amounts of wealth being displayed, and moved toward his target.
His knee throbbed as he forced it to accept his weight without limping. He wasn’t sure how he was going to hit the dance floor with Sloane without giving away his weakness, but he’d think of something. Maybe a nice, long slow dance would come their way.
Even with a busted knee, Lucas could still come up with at least a dozen ways he could make her forget about her flight. Hell, if he wasn’t too rusty, he might even be able to make her forget what day of the week it was. That would be a nice change of pace from his recent, unwelcome, lengthy celibacy.
Any means necessary held a cargo ship load of possibilities.
Lucas had a hotel room upstairs all ready and waiting, stocked with enough wine to knock a man his size unconscious. Come morning when his debt to the Old Man was repaid, he’d leave Sloane satisfied and sleeping while he walked away from his old life with a clean slate and a clean conscience.
His new life held little appeal, but that, thankfully, was a problem for another day.
A movement in his peripheral vision stopped him dead in his tracks. He wasn’t yet sure what he’d seen, but his instincts were: trouble. The urge to duck and cover screamed inside him, making his pulse skyrocket.
He turned his head, just enough to see the threat.
On a raised platform behind the orchestra was a thick arrangement of huge potted trees and plants. Sticking out of those plants was the last six inches of a rifle’s barrel.
And it was aimed right at Sloane.
* * *
The man crossing the ballroom toward Sloane had been born to wear a tux.
She let her gaze slide up and down his body, appreciating the way the fabric hugged his broad shoulders and accentuated his trim waist. The fit was so good it almost hid the bulge of the weapon beneath his jacket. Almost.
She tightened her grip on the arm of her client, signaling to him there was trouble.
“Time to go,” she whispered into his ear, smiling as though she’d just said something seductive.
Edward Henning looked at the three cosmetically engineered gold diggers fawning at him and giggling, then back at her like she was crazy. “I don’t think so.”
Sloane squeezed his arm harder. “Move. Now.”
She’d scoped out the place earlier, and her best bet was the eastern stairwell exit. She gave her client a not-so-gentle tug, but the man refused to budge. He stayed glued to the spot, hanging on whatever bimbette number three was saying.
Mr. Tuxedo and his concealed weapon were still fifty feet away, but he was making progress through the crowds easily. Men parted from his path, pulling their wives and dates out of his way. Not that she could blame them. Any woman in that man’s path was a target — whether for sex or violence, Sloane wasn’t sure, but it was definitely one of the two. Maybe both.
The bimbo trio giggled at something her client said, and she felt his chest puff up. At sixty-three, Edward Henning was turning to flab, spending too much time at a boardroom table and not enough in a gym. Then again, if he’d been in better shape, maybe he wouldn’t have needed to hire her to watch his back. Out-of-shape flab with deep pockets was her job security. And Sloane loved her job — loved the danger and adrenaline rush. If it hadn’t been for her friend Gina, she never would have even considered taking vacation time.
But Gina needed her. Now. Another half hour of guard duty and Sloane was officially off the clock. Her private flight left in ninety minutes, and it couldn’t happen soon enough. It had taken all day and she’d called in a lot of favors, but she’d managed to make arrangements for a whole lot of firepower to be waiting for her in Colombia. No matter how deep a mess Gina had gotten herself into this time, one way or another, Sloane was going to get her out of that godforsaken country in one piece.
Mr. Tuxedo stopped for a split second, then fixed his gaze on her and picked up speed with more than a hint of desperation hurrying his pace.
Now it was really time to go.
Sloane plastered a vapid smile on her face and stomped over whatever bimbette number two was saying. “It’s time to go, Edward. I have twin twenty-somethings back in our room waiting for us, and the girls won’t wait naked all night.”
Edward’s eyes rounded with shock, and her absurd distraction worked well enough that when she tugged on his arm this time, he went.
“What is going on?” he asked under his breath as they hurried toward the exit.
“A man with a gun is headed right this way. I thought now would be a really good time to leave.”
Edward cast an apologetic look over his shoulder at the girls. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“I did,” said Sloane, refusing to allow her frustration to enter her tone.
“No, you said it was time to go. You didn’t say anything about a gun.”
“You hired me to protect you, rather than one of the big, beefy men I work with. That tells me that you really didn’t want a lot of people knowing you needed a bodyguard. I was trying to be discreet.”
“By telling everyone I’m going to have sex with twin girls?”
Sloane shrugged, urging Edward to hurry the hell up. The exit was only twenty feet away. “Would you have preferred guys?”
He sputtered in outrage, but at least she’d gotten his blood moving enough that he had picked up speed.
Just not enough.
Hot, strong fingers closed around her bare arm, jerking her to the side. Her grip on Edward failed, and she stumbled toward Mr. Tuxedo.
“Run,” she shouted at Edward.
“Get down,” barked Mr. Tuxedo.
He tried to push her to the floor, but Sloane had other plans. She had a perfect track record at the Edge, and she wasn’t about to ruin that now by leaving her principal unprotected.
She spun her arm, breaking Mr. Tuxedo’s grip. She needed to reach Edward and get him out of harm’s way. Running in heels was an art all its own — one she’d spent hours working on — but the laws of physics hadn’t changed because of that training, and she found herself slipping on the glossy ballroom floor.
Edward hadn’t moved. He stood staring at her in shock, his mouth hanging open, his flabby body trembling with indecision.
“Go!” yelled Sloane. She’d catch up with him on the stairwell once she’d disarmed Mr. Tuxedo.
Behind Edward, only inches from his head, a glass wall sconce exploded into shrapnel. A large gaping hole opened up in the drywall where a bullet had shredded it.
“Gun!” shouted Mr. Tuxedo, an instant before he tackled her to the floor, covering her with his bulk.
Screams filled the ballroom. Confused panic skittered through her system.
Mr. Tuxedo’s heavy body crushed the air from her lungs, and black spots formed in her vision. Through them, she saw Edward turn tail and run, pushing open the heavy stairwell door.
Now all she had to do was get out from under Mr. Tuxedo and join Edward. Not that she was going anywhere until she got a little oxygen.
Another shot went off, fracturing a section of the exit door, and people started stampeding.
“We’re going to get trampled.” Mr. Tuxedo’s mouth was right next to her ear, allowing her to hear him over the panicked screams of the partygoers.
His weight disappeared, and in the next instant, she felt weightless as he lifted her to her feet and pulled her toward the exit. She jerked away, dodging him in the crowd. The doorway was already clogged with people, pushing and shoving as if that would help them escape faster.
For one split second, she thought about going back to find the shooter and take out the threat to her principal. She knew better; she knew her job was to keep Edward safe, not hunt down scum, but the urge was still there, and she had to fight it every step of the way. There were at least two gunmen here so far. Who knew how many more there might be flooding out the doors toward her unprotected client?
Someone stepped on her foot, hard, but she didn’t dare look down to figure out who it was. Beside her, an old woman gasped and slipped beneath the shoving bodies.
Sloane reached for her, but was too late, and the frail woman went down beneath a herd of lethal spiked heels.
Sloane tried to turn around to face the mob, hoping to stop them before they killed the woman. She was swept along in their wake, forced to move with them or fall herself. The crush of shoving limbs was unrelenting, and it took her too long to face the oncoming crowd. She pulled in a breath to scream for them to stop when she saw Mr. Tuxedo behind her with the frail woman in his arms.
He gave her a grim, determined nod. “Go,” he told Sloane. “I’ve got her.”
Seeing him protect the old lady gave Sloane pause. He was supposed to be the bad guy. Wasn’t he?
Okay, so clearly he wasn’t the shooter — that shot had come from across the room. But if he wasn’t here to hurt Edward, why had he been heading their way with a gun under his jacket?
There wasn’t a whole lot of time to contemplate that question before Sloane squeezed through the door, down the steps, and found Edward waiting for her on the ground floor.
She didn’t even slow, but grabbed his arm and headed for the rear exit of the hotel, where the armored limo was supposed to be ready and waiting to pick them up.
Mr. Tuxedo still had an elderly woman in his arms to deal with, and Sloane hoped that by the time he did, she and Edward would be long gone. She really would have liked to know what his part in all of this was, but her job was to get her principal out safely, and that’s exactly what she was going to do.
* * *
Lucas had lost her. One minute she was right in front of him, and the next, she was gone.
He set the little old lady on a bench and checked to make sure she was going to stay upright. Her white hair had come free of its sparkling combs and was now a mess. The sleeve of her silk gown was torn, but she looked healthy enough.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She gave him a shaky nod.
“Are you hurt?”
“Just banged around a bit. I’ll be fine. Thank you.” She sounded breathless, but Lucas figured she had a right to be. That whole mess had probably scared the hell out of her.
She reached up to pull at her mangled sleeve, and her hands were shaking so badly, they looked like they might fly off her wrists. A dark bruise was forming on her forearm, beneath pale, papery skin.
Shit. He couldn’t leave her like this. What if she’d hit her head?
“Sit tight. I’m going to find you some help.”
Lucas flagged down one of the confused bellboys and hauled his pimply ass over to the woman. “You stay with her,” he ordered the kid, jabbing a finger into his skinny chest. “Do not let her out of your sight until a paramedic has checked her out. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said the kid.
Police and other emergency vehicles were swarming into the parking lot. Lucas flagged down the first paramedic he saw and dragged him bodily to the old woman. The wide-eyed EMT went to work, glancing nervously over his shoulder every few seconds. At least he seemed capable enough to handle the situation.
It was going to have to be good enough. Lucas still had to find Sloane and keep her off that flight to Colombia. His best chance now was to intercept her at the small airport where her plane would depart.
In eighty-eight minutes.
As he headed for his car, he dialed the Old Man.
“Is she with you?” he answered on the first ring.
“No, sir. There was a situation here. Shots fired. She got away.”
“Shots? Is she okay?”
“I swear to God, Ramsey, if so much as one hair on her head is harmed, I’ll hold you personally responsible.”
Lucas slid behind the wheel of his car. “Yes, sir.”
“Find her. Stop her. Do not let her step foot on that jet. I don’t care what it takes.”
He eased out of the parking lot as more emergency vehicles came into view down the street. “I’m on it, sir.”
“I chose you for this because you’re not a man who knows how to fail. Was I wrong?”
“No, sir. This was just a minor setback.”
“Any idea why there were shots fired at some charity ball?”
“None. But I can tell you that the shooter was aiming right for her.”
“Dear God,” breathed the Old Man, sounding like he’d just aged twenty years in a heartbeat. “Are you sure he wasn’t aiming at her principal?”
Lucas merged onto the highway, heading away from Dallas toward the airstrip. “Principal, sir?”
“She’s a bodyguard, of all things.” He spoke like the mere thought chapped his ass raw. “Are you sure the shooter wasn’t aiming for her client?”
A bodyguard? Seriously? Well, that would certainly explain how she knew how to break his hold without so much as batting an eye.
Lucas wondered why this little bit of info hadn’t been passed on to him earlier. Must’ve been need-to-know.
“No, sir. I guess he could have been the target. She was hanging all over him, so it’s hard to be sure exactly where the gunman was aiming. I assumed that since she was my target, she was also the shooter’s.”
“Anything’s possible with that woman, but I hope you’re wrong.”
“Is there anything else about her I should know, sir?”
“Now that you’ve lost her, you mean?”
Lucas gritted his teeth and gunned the engine, maneuvering around the late-night traffic. “Yes, sir.”
“Like why it’s so important that I stop her from getting on that flight. What’s so important about some chick bodyguard?”
“That chick bodyguard happens to be my daughter.”
Daughter? No way. The Old Man couldn’t have a child. He wasn’t human. He was frigid logic. He lived and breathed strategy and tactics. He was walking death with any weapon created by man, and had at his disposal some of the most lethal men on the planet. All of whom feared and respected him. He couldn’t have a kid. That was just . . . spooky.
“Uh. Sorry, sir. I didn’t realize you had a daughter.”
“Not many people do. See that you keep it that way.”
The Old Man hung up, leaving Lucas reeling. The stakes had just been raised, big-time. If he failed to stop Sloane and she ended up heading toward one of the most dangerous countries on the planet, he wouldn’t have to worry about a new line of work. The Old Man would kill him.