Teaser: It’s Always been You (Always #1)

Smoke and Shadows comes out March 7. It’s time for you all to meet Travis and Caitlin. The series is supposed to be a more sedate read than the Guardians, but somehow I can’t stay away from action-packed opening scenes anymore. The planned publication date is September 2014. I know I wish I could write faster, but I find writing only two books a year gives me the right amount of time to ponder the plot and turn out the best work I can offer. So, please be patient. 🙂

Bullets shattered the rear windshield as their car careened dangerously close to the steep embankment. Their vehicle swerved left, the motion violently throwing Caitlin to the right of the backseat. She lost hold of her gun.
“Are you alright?” Jase yelled from the driver’s seat.
“I will be once you learn how to drive.”
“Stop fucking around, Cat. Did you get hit?”
Caitlin didn’t answer him; instead, she groped through the darkness for her Beretta. Finding the weapon, she resumed her shooting position. With the barrier of the windshield gone, it was now easier to fire from the open window.
Another spray of bullets zinged past their car. If their attackers managed to shoot out their tires, it would be game over.
“Keep the car straight!” Caitlin said as she hunkered down, keeping herself steady by kneeling on a leg and bracing her other foot against the seat in front of her. With two hands gripping the gun, she focused below the glaring headlights of the black SUV pursuing them.
“Steady…” Caitlin muttered to herself.
Deep breath and hold. Focus. Squeeze trigger. 
Almost simultaneously with the recoil of her gun, their attacker’s car listed to the right and then fishtailed before screeching to a halt.
“Fucking A!” Jase shouted, thumping the steering wheel with his fist. “Good job, buttercup!”
Caitlin grunted and shook the shards of glass from her hair. She hadn’t had time to gather her blonde locks in a ponytail. The minute Jase had barged into their apartment and ordered her to get moving, she’d known that there hadn’t been a second to spare.
She scooted in between the front seats and plopped down on the passenger side. After his initial exhilaration, Jase had gone deathly quiet. And he had winced.
“Are you hurt, Jase?”
“It’s nothing.”
“Where?”
“I said it’s nothing!” he snapped.
“Pull over.”
“Are you nuts? You know they hunt in pairs. Their backup won’t be too far behind.”
Caitlin knew he was right. She could feel some glass cuts on her knees and forearms, but they were superficial. If he was shot, he needed attention. Bleeding out was not an option. They couldn’t go to a hospital without attracting attention, and the quicker they attended to the injury, the less likely they’d be to wind up there.
“If it were me—”
“Damn it! Left shoulder blade, OK?”
“Is there—”
“No exit wound.”
“Jase—”
With a muffled curse, he pulled off to the side of the road. They were twenty miles from Berlin on a two-lane country road lined with trees, tall grass, and miles and miles of nothing. This was their eighth escape in three years. They had gotten better at evading whoever wanted them dead. The first time had been challenging because Caitlin had been encumbered by the casts on her leg and arm. She had cried for Jase to leave her, but he had refused, and somehow they had made it out alive.
Caitlin shuddered at the memory as she got out of the car. “The medical kit is in the trunk.”
Just as she reached the back of their vehicle, it shot forward twenty feet.
Her heart leapt into her throat. Was Jase abandoning her? “What the hell?”
A backpack was tossed out; she watched as it tumbled down the ditch.
Caitlin ran toward the car knowing that Jase had already rolled up all the windows. She had a brief image of herself climbing through the broken rear windshield.
She angrily tried the door. Locked.
She banged on his window. He was staring straight ahead, his jaw working convulsively. Finally, he lowered his window an inch.
“What are you doing?” Caitlin screeched.
“I’m a dead man walking, Cat,” Jase said sadly. “They could still leave you alone. But they want me dead.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“There’s a village about two miles up,” he continued without answering her question. “Hide there for two days, and then go to the American Embassy in Berlin.”
Caitlin was confused. “They’ll arrest me.”
Jase sighed, his shoulders slumping. “No, they won’t.”
“I don’t understand.” Fear started clawing up her throat. There was a grim resoluteness on his face—one she had never seen before. “Open the fucking door, Jase.”
“I didn’t mean for it to end this way between us,” he whispered.
“You’re scaring me.”
There was a suspicious sheen in his eyes. He lowered the window, reached out with his good arm, pulled her head down, and kissed her. Just as quickly, he let her go. “It’s time for you to stop running. I’m not the one you love.”
With that cryptic message, the man who had been her rock for three years left her by the side of the road.

*****
Travis Blake stared at the stack of résumés before him and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. For every ten he received, only one deserved a call. He had been interviewing applicants for the past two days, and only three had made the cut. Blake Security Inc. had made its name by providing high-quality security services. Each client had different needs and their profile was individually assessed by any of his five team managers before they made a recommendation in terms of manpower and equipment requirements. Most of his clients were politicians and foreign dignitaries. He frequently received assignments from the Secret Service, and his deep connections within the CIA and the FBI didn’t hurt either.
In just two short years, he had cultivated a client list of the who’s who in Washington DC. Repeat business and word of mouth had quickly turned his security company into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
“Will that be all, Travis?” a lilting musical voice spoke from the entrance of his office. Emily was his personal assistant. She was married to Edward Knowles, one of his team managers who was a former Navy SEAL just like he was. Emily did everything from office management to logistics, and Travis was thankful that he had her to take care of the mundane activities that went with running a business. With the rapid growth of BSI, Ed had been grumbling to Travis about hiring an assistant for Emily, who was consistently putting in almost sixty hours a week.
Travis glanced up at Emily, his eyes cutting over to the clock on the wall. It was 8:00 p.m. on Friday night.
“Yes, Em. Thanks. Sorry for keeping you so late.”
“If you need me to stay, Travis, I can.”
“No, I’ll be bugging out soon,” Travis lied. “Go on home. Ed’s arriving tonight, right?”
“His flight arrives at nine, yes.”
“Enjoy your weekend.”
Emily hesitated at the door. A troubled look crossed her face, and it seemed she was about to say something but changed her mind. “You too, Travis. See you Monday.”
After Emily left, Travis leaned back in his chair and sighed, thankful that Emily had not lectured him again about finding a girlfriend. His eyes drifted to the photograph on his desk—a picture of an achingly beautiful woman with long blonde hair and the most amazing hazel eyes. Sarah…
No. He would not allow himself to think about her tonight. He’d done enough of that this morning when he’d booted up his computer at 2:00 a.m. and looked for her. If anyone knew of his predawn habits, he would lose his business and would be committed to an asylum. A man looking for his dead wife—if that didn’t scream of insanity, he didn’t know what would. Three years ago, his mind had buried her. She was in a closed casket. All logic dictated that the DNA result and autopsy hadn’t lied. Yet his heart and soul had refused to accept that the putrid flesh the authorities had recovered, which Travis had banished beneath six feet of earth, was his Sarah.
Travis stood up and walked to the liquor bar to pour himself some Scotch.
Not a single day. For three years, not a single day had passed without him thinking of her. Although the ache in his heart had dulled with the passage of time, it could sometimes still spike to an unbearable pain—like this week, because tomorrow was their wedding anniversary. They would have been married for five years. He’d only had her for two.
But there was method to his madness. About eighteen months ago, while working security for one of the senators, Travis had managed to take down an assassin. The coroner had sent him pictures of all the man’s markings to determine if he belonged to any organization. He had many tattoos, including one on the sole of his foot that looked like the infinity symbol. Sarah had the same mark in the same location. She’d told him that she had done it as a form of teenage rebellion.
He threw back the Scotch and welcomed the burn of the alcohol down his throat. He had no time to do this. He blanked his mind for the next few hours to tackle the résumés in front of him.
At about 11:00 p.m., his cell phone buzzed.
“Nate?”
“Are you sitting down?”
“What’s wrong, buddy? Did something happen to Perot?”
“Our detail wrapped up with no problem. Did you check your e-mail?”
“No. What—”
“Check it.”
Frowning at his best friend’s vagueness, Travis opened his e-mail and clicked on the most recent one from Nathan Reece.
The bottom fell out of his gut at the graphic pictures before him. “What the fuck?”
“The fingerprints threw up alarms in the CIA database,” Nate said grimly. “Luckily, I was working out of their station in Frankfurt. I hauled ass to Berlin. That man is John Cooper…or was.”
“John Cooper died with my wife,” Travis said, his voice turning hoarse. “How can he be alive?”
“Or recently dead?”
Travis stared at the picture of the man he had hated with every fiber of his being. John Cooper’s blood had been found at their house the night Sarah had died. Their bodies had been found together.
“He was killed execution style?”
“That’s the initial report. They’re still doing the autopsy.”
“I’ll take the next flight out.”
“Travis, let me handle this. I’m already here. Use me.”
“No!” Travis snapped. “If Cooper is…was…alive, Sarah—”
“Can you just leave?”
Travis hated the challenge in Nate’s voice because it was true. He had shit to wrap up.
“Give me forty-eight hours. I’ll charter a flight out.”
“There’s something else. I’ll see what I can dig up from here, but Cooper had three passports on him. His American passport says his name is Jase Locke. The other two passports were German and Russian with different names. And Travis?”
“Yeah.”
Nate sighed deeply, twisting the knot in Travis’s gut further.
“What, Nate?”
His friend hesitated another beat before saying, “John Cooper had the same tat on the sole of his foot.”
“Fuck! Are you telling me that—”
“I’m pretty certain now that shadow agents are real.”
“Including Sarah?”
“I’m sorry, man.”
“I couldn’t find a single fucking shred of substantiated evidence of their existence, Nate. They’re fucking urban legends of the CIA.”
“It’s much like the Delta Force, man. The government denies they exist, but we know they do,” Nate said. “You’re tight with Admiral Porter. What does he say?”
Benjamin Porter had been his CO when Travis had been a Navy SEAL. It turned out that the admiral was a top-level recruiter for the CIA Special Activities Division, which was a euphemism for Black Ops.
“He wouldn’t confirm or deny.”
“Son of a bitch,” Nate muttered. “Look, man, I’ll keep you posted.”
“Nate, watch the embassies.”
“I will. Chances are, if Sarah’s alive, she would hold the same passports.”
If Sarah is alive…
Travis ended the call. His mind was in a daze, and he wanted to jump on the next flight out to Berlin. He stared at the stack of résumés in front of him again. Fuck.

About Victoria Paige

Author, Fire and Ice
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