US Marshal Jaeger Tripp is assigned to the Federal Witness Protection Program. The hurt and destruction he’s seen—along with protecting criminals who are only cooperating with the authorities to keep themselves out of jail—have left him with a bleak and jaded view of both life and people. His current assignment is Wren O’Riley, a computer wizard who witnessed a high-profile cartel hit.
To Jaeger, Wren is the same as any other job. He must protect him long enough to get him to testify at trial, and his personal feelings have no place in his work and must be set aside. But that’s easier said than done. On the run and fighting for their lives, Jaeger and Wren can’t help but grow closer. And Jaeger can’t help seeing beyond Wren’s nerdy exterior to a man who might be just what Jaeger needs to settle his soul and capture his heart—if they survive long enough to get that chance.
Order of the Black Knights
Every century has seen its knights, but they are not always seen. Some of them do what must be done—getting their hands dirty when no one else is willing. Assassins and antiheroes who work from the shadows, they are called the Black Knights. From the time of the society’s creation in the 1100s, these men are cursed to repeat their lives of bloodshed. But for each knight, there is one who can bring out the man that waits inside and break the cycle. The question is whether or not the knight will kill his true love before he figures it out.
OPPRESSIVE HEAT caused the sweat to trickle down Jaeger’s back and pool at the waistband of his camouflage BDUs. For three fucking days, he’d been entrenched in the mosquito-ridden jungle of Colombia, waiting for his mark, Carlos Quintanilla—drug runner, coca grower, and major player in the Colombian cartel. He and his team were paid handsomely to sit, wait, and dispose of a target. And though the original twenty-four hours—in, shoot, and out—had grown to three days, mercenaries were paid to wait under any conditions.
Once the deed was done, he would trek four klicks through the jungle and rendezvous with the team, cross into Venezuela, and transform into a businessman for the trip back to the States. With his payoff, he planned to retire—hang up his hat as a killer for hire and live on an island in peace and quiet. Maybe. If the nightmares stopped and gave him respite.
He watched through his rifle sight as Quintanilla lumbered along the edge of the pool of his multi-million-dollar fortress. Security was a priority for him, but that was of little consequence to Jaeger, who was perched approximately half a mile away from the complex in a makeshift tree stand with his Remington 700, nicknamed Lolita. He waited.
Movement to the right of the pool caught his attention. Jaeger shifted ever so slightly as the slim figure of a man dressed in blue flowered board shorts, a white undershirt, and flip flops approached Quintanilla. The young man couldn’t have been more than twenty-four.
A dirty blond mop of hair fell over his eyes. His skin was only slightly tanned, as though it had been kissed by the sun, and his ass was meant to be grabbed.
Jaeger didn’t have time to ogle over some squeeze Quintanilla kept at his house. Or maybe the young man was the drug runner’s son. Intel reported that Quintanilla’s wife, children, and mistress were away on vacation. So either the young man was a fuck buddy or a returning son, there to see daddy. Additionally, the team had watched the workers and security guards and knew the next few days were the only time that month Quintanilla would be alone. It looked like a vacation from the world. Quintanilla sent everyone else away and stayed to enjoy the amenities he acquired by dipping his hands into blood money. Carlos Quintanilla believed himself so powerful that no one would dare to touch him. He’d soon be proven wrong.
“Target in sight.” Jaeger spoke softly into the mic attached to the lapel of his camouflage shirt. The earpiece in his right ear crackled with static.
“Can you take the shot, Arrow One?” The speaker, located approximately four kilometers away, waited with the rest of the team for Jaeger to complete the deed and return to the rendezvous point.
“Roger, Base One. Shot available, but there’s a slight problem. The target is not alone. Over.”
Jaeger waited for base to confirm or negate his mission. He hoped it was a go, because if not, the sitting in a mosquito-infested jungle, being eaten alive would have been for naught. And that would highly piss him off.
“Can you take them both out, Arrow One?”
Jaeger thought and quickly contemplated the speed of the traveling bullet, the wind velocity, and the reaction time for the second target to move and attempt to take cover and fall at Quintanilla’s feet. He couldn’t guarantee it.
“Negative, Base One. Advise.” Jaeger waited.
Sitting in the jungle required patience, which any mercenary or sniper had in spades. The average man found it torturous to sit in silence for three minutes. Jaeger did it for days at a time. So the five minutes it took for base to get back to him was nothing. If Quintanilla attempted to leave the premises, Jaeger would have to either take him out and leave the young man alive or try to eradicate both of them.
“Base One to Arrow One. Over.”
“Arrow One here.”
“It’s a go, Arrow One. Target first, then the secondary. Take the trip to the destination and see if any cleaning is required. We are still a go for the meet. Over.”
“Roger, Base One. Over.”
Jaeger had the green light. Kill Quintanilla, shoot the young man, and confirm both kills. Jaeger had no doubt Carlos Quintanilla would be dead, but was not sure of the second target. He’d put a bullet in him on sight, if needed.
Jaeger peered through the lens, blinked his eyes to refocus, and stared at Quintanilla. He and his blond companion were seated side by side in chaise longues. The young man’s hands moved earnestly, as if the talk was at the forefront of his young life. Jaeger inhaled and filled his lungs. The feel of Lolita against his cheek and on his shoulder and the caress of the scope and wood stock comforted him but had also brought him great pain. But this was not the time to become maudlin. He had a job. One that would enlarge his bank account and maybe deliver the solace he’d struggled so hard to find.
Ever so slowly he released his breath as his index finger rested on the trigger. As he let go the last of his breath, Jaeger squeezed the trigger. The whiz of the bullet rang through the air and blended with the cacophony of birds in the untamed Colombian jungle. Jaeger released the shell, inhaled again, and aligned his second shot. Dead-on, the bullet pierced Carlos Quintanilla’s skull, and blood oozed from the hole. Quintanilla fell over in the lounger. The young man dropped to his knees and covered his mouth with his hands. The angle of his body made it impossible for Jaeger to kill him, but he’d maim him until he was onsite and could finish the deed. This better involve a bonus. And not a two-fer-one sale.
The second shot, strategically aimed at the young man’s side, tore through his ribs and pierced a lung, incapacitating him until Jaeger arrived. The man dropped.
Jaeger slung his minipack onto his back, hoisted Lolita onto his shoulder by her strap, and jogged through the foliage. Normally the slight trek would have taken about ten minutes on solid ground, but in the thick of the Colombian jungle, half a mile could take up to an hour. Jaeger didn’t have the luxury of wasted time. He humped the half mile as fast and expediently as the surrounding area allowed and arrived at the fortress in less than thirty minutes.
Careful and mindful of any unwanted guests, Jaeger quickly entered through a low-lying wall on the back side and made his way to the pool area. The silence was welcome, except for the slight whimpers of the wounded bystander. Jaeger verified Quintanilla’s death and turned his attention to the young man who struggled for breath as his lungs obviously filled with blood and his heart enlarged and worked overtime to pump. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. His soulful chocolate-brown eyes pooled with tears as he peered up at Jaeger. Blood, snot, and tears did not detract from the young man’s good looks. In retrospect Jaeger realized he was Quintanilla’s son and not a boy toy.
Jaeger removed his Sig from the side holster and aimed. The young man resignedly closed his eyes. Sadness illuminated Jaeger’s soul at the prospect of taking an innocent, but no witnesses were allowed. And Jaeger was paid to kill. He wasn’t quite sure where his feeling emanated from, but a job was a job, and Jaeger and the team were being paid handsomely. The boy had the misfortune to be born into the Quintanilla family and grow up the son of a notorious drug runner. Maybe not so innocent, then—tainted by his genealogy. Jaeger pulled the trigger. The sound was louder than usual.