Book Three in the Last Chance Rescue Series: Too Far Gone
Obsessions can be deadly
Gabriella Mendoza has lived her life in seclusion. Guarded by the most corrupt men in the world, she has no chance for escape until an unexpected meeting with the mysterious Grey Justice Group changes everything. Gabriella is free for the first time in her life, but is that freedom all a lie?
Vengeance is Jonah Slater’s only purpose. Finding the man who killed his fiancée and making him pay is his only goal. Babysitting the pampered princess of a crime boss is not part of his agenda. But the more he gets to know Gabriella, the more he realizes that protecting her might be the most worthwhile thing he’s ever done.
They thought they knew the threats, believed they were contained. Jonah and Gabriella soon learn that evil has varying degrees and many faces. And very often, the deadliest is the one you never see coming.
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Name of the Reviewer, The Fancy Magazine
Twenty-one years ago
The man tiptoed down the hallway. Holding his daughter tightly with one arm, he used his other arm to keep his wife by his side. At three in the morning, the only sound in the monstrous old house was the tick-tock of the giant clock in the formal parlor. The old children’s rhyme, Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse, came to him. But this was no children’s story. If anyone put a name to it, horror would be the most appropriate genre. Because if he failed, there was no doubt what would happen to him and his family.
How he had allowed things to advance this far was something he would regret until the end of time. He had promised to protect his loved ones. Instead, he had been on the verge of following in his father’s footsteps and in the process had almost lost his wife and daughter. To his everlasting shame, he had already lost his son to that soulless monster. He refused to lose any more. If it was the last thing he did, his wife and little girl would be safe. This he swore.
The childish whisper, barely a sound, tickled at his ear. He squeezed her tighter and spoke softly against her ear, “Shh, baby girl. You have to be quiet till we get to the car.”
Held in her father’s arms, the child felt safe and snug. Even though it was the middle of the night when everyone else was asleep, she was wide awake, excited for the adventure to come. They were going on a magical, secret trip. Just she, Mama, and Papa. Her brother wasn’t going. She knew Mama was sad about that, because when she had asked if he was going, her mama had started crying.
She should probably feel guilty that they were going on a trip without her big brother, but she couldn’t help but be glad he wasn’t coming along. He’d been mean to her lately. Just a few days ago, he’d taken one of her favorite dolls and torn it apart, right in front of her. Then he’d laughed and called her a bad word-crybaby. She knew it was a bad word, because he’d said it in front of Mama one time, and she had smacked his bottom and made him go to his room.
Maybe when they returned from their trip, he would be nicer to her. For now, she couldn’t wait until they started on their new, big adventure.
“Someone’s coming,” Mama whispered.
“Come on.” Papa took her mama’s hand, and they ran into the library.
“Going somewhere?” The familiar voice behind them had both her parents whirling around with a gasp.
Papa’s arms tightened around her. Though recognizing the owner of that voice, she twisted in her father’s arms so she could see him. He wasn’t big like Papa, but when he smiled, like he was now, he was as scary as any giant closet monster she’d ever imagined. He was her grandpapa…her papa’s papa. And he wasn’t a very nice man.
“Get out of our way, old man. We’re leaving.”
“Is that right? And where will you go?”
“That’s not your problem. We’re taking nothing with us that belongs to you.”
“Oh, but you are.”
Grandpapa looked right at her when he said that. Shivers started at her toes and raced up her body. Why was he looking at her like that?
“You’ve already taken one of my children,” Papa said. “You cannot have the other one.”
Grandpapa smiled, one of his scarier ones. “I blame your mother for your melodrama. She coddled you too much.”
“My mother would have been disgusted by what you’ve done.”
“Your mother understood more than you think. Besides, what is there to worry about? Your son will be my heir. He’ll inherit an empire. Want for nothing.”
“Yes,” Mama hissed. “And you’ll turn him into a heartless fiend, just like you. You cannot have my daughter, too.”
“Your daughter is my granddaughter,” Grandpapa snapped. “She will lack for nothing. Will have the best of everything. If you take her away, she’ll be penniless. A nobody like yourself.”
“She’ll have love.”
Tears streamed down her mama’s face. She hated it when her mama cried.
“Leave her alone, Grandpapa.”
Grandpapa’s eyes zeroed in on her, and the shivering she’d felt before grew stronger. She’d heard her mama say once that Grandpapa had the eyes of the devil, black and lifeless. She thought maybe that was true, because right now they gleamed like one of the monsters in her fairy-tale books.
“I’m pleased you have spirit, little one. It will see you through much.” Without moving his eyes from her, he said, “Take her back to her room, Stephan.”
Her entire body stiffened with fear as she looked over her papa’s shoulders at the man who had just entered. If there was anyone who scared her more than Grandpapa, it was Stephan.
“No!” Papa shouted. “We are leaving!”
She clung to her papa’s neck, but Stephan’s big hands pulled her away. Mama was hanging on to her, too, pleading with Grandpapa to leave them alone.
Kicking and screaming, she scratched and bit, trying to get away from Stephan. With one arm holding her legs and his other securing her arms, Stephan carried her out of the room like she was a sack of laundry.
She squirmed and screamed. Just before he got to the stairway, she managed to free one leg and kicked as hard as she could. Stephan grunted, and his arms went limp as he dropped to his knees. The instant he set her free, she ran back to the library. She pushed open the door and then froze.
Papa stood in front of her mama, tears rolling down his face. She heard a little pop, and then Papa fell on the floor.
“Papa!” she screamed.
Her mama cried out, “Don’t look, Gabby!”
Another small popping noise sounded, and then Mama fell on top of Papa.
The shrill, anguished sound of a little girl screaming echoed through the house.
The elevator glided noiselessly up to the penthouse. Jonah Slater stared straight ahead, leashed violence evident in the rigid set to his shoulders. He told himself he was ready, more than ready, to find out the truth. The news would lead him down a path he never thought he would take. At one time, the thought of destroying another life would have been an abomination to him. But for justice, for honor…for Teri, he would carry out his promise.
With only a slight jolt, the elevator reached the top, and the doors slid open. The man he had come to see—more friend than employer—stood before him. The solemnity of his expression was normal. Grey Justice wasn’t known for his easygoing personality.
Dark blue eyes swept over him in an all-encompassing sweep. “I’m glad to see you’re in one piece, even if you do look like you tangled with a pack of rabid coyotes.”
Unable to hold back, Jonah asked, “You have something?”
“Come in and let’s talk.”
Knowing he would get nothing until Justice was ready to speak, Jonah wasted no time on protests. Having been in the man’s home many times, he knew his way around. He made his way into the living room, cursing the pain in his left thigh. The last op had been a hairy one, and he’d come out of it better than he deserved. Mostly bruises, really, but his body was telling him to take it easy for a while. His mind and heart said no way in hell. Not until he had what he needed.
He stopped in the middle of the room. “What do you have?”
“You want coffee or something stronger?” His eyes zeroed in on an ugly bruise on Jonah’s jaw. “Or maybe some aspirin?”
The instant the offer was made, Jonah knew he wasn’t going to hear what he wanted…what he needed.
“You don’t have his name, do you?”
“Yes and no.”
“What does that mean?”
“I have a first name, I have a general location.”
First name? Hell, what good was a first name? He asked anyway, “What is it?”
“Peter.” Justice held up his hand. “I told you going in it would be a slow process. This group is well organized and good at hiding in plain sight.”
“What’s the location? I’ll go there and find someone who knows something.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“No. Unfortunately not.”
Wrenching disappointment slashed at his heart. When he’d gotten the call to come for a private meeting at Justice’s penthouse, his gut had told him something monumental was imminent. The knowledge that, once again, Teri was being denied justice was infuriating.
“Then why’d you call me here?”
Justice cocked his head and raised a questioning brow. Jonah blew out a soft curse. “The Starling incident.”
“Incident is an interesting word for it. You almost got yourself killed.”
“It worked out fine.”
“Someday it won’t.”
“That’s my problem, not yours.”
“For everyone who cares about you, yes, it is a problem. Eli deserves better.”
Guilt slammed into him, and Jonah looked away from his boss’s piercing stare. The man was right. Eli, Jonah’s older brother, and the only brother he would claim, did deserve better.
“I’ll go see him.”
“And what? Explain why you don’t care if you die or not?”
Justice was wrong about that. He didn’t want to die…at least not until he’d found Teri’s killer. After that? Hell, he didn’t know.
“The situation was resolved. Other than a few bumps and bruises, no one got hurt.”
“Look, Justice, I know you’re pissed. I—”
“I don’t get pissed, Jonah.”
That was true. Justice rarely lost his cool. His control was legendary. Jonah reached for his own control. Yeah, he knew he’d almost screwed up last week, but in the end the job got done.
“If you think I’m upset about how the op went down,” Justice continued, “you’re wrong. You made the decision based upon the information you had. No one, especially me, will fault you for that.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Justice’s voice went to a steely growl. “You went against protocol and ran into that building like some kind of Lone Ranger vigilante. You left your team behind. If they hadn’t disobeyed orders and followed you, you’d be dead.”
“I was leading the op. My choice, my decision.”
“You were leading a team. I don’t think you understand the concept of teamwork. You’re not one lone man trying to save the world. You’re no longer one lone man trying to bring down your father’s corrupt empire. You have people depending on you, just like you depend on them. One day it’s not going to work out. You’re either going to burn yourself out or get yourself killed.”
No, not yet. And other than a few nicks and the occasional near miss, he had encountered no real problems. Staying busy kept him sane. And looking for Teri’s killer kept him alive.
“It worked out fine.”
“You got lucky this time.”
Luck? He didn’t believe in it. Especially not good luck.
“So, if you have no real info for me, why am I here?”
“I have a job for you.”
“You’re not firing me?”
“No. Despite your rashness, you’re damn good at what you do. Besides, this is more than a job. It’s also a favor. And it’ll give you some thinking time.”
Hell, all he had was thinking time. Staying busy, on the edge of danger, was the only time the demons of regret didn’t eat at him.
“What kind of favor?”
“Bodyguard. Interrogator. Watcher. Keeper.” Justice shrugged. “However you want to term it.”
“Sounds like some kind of made-up bullshit to keep me out of trouble.”
“It’s neither made up nor bullshit. It’s a legitimate and important job. If you don’t do it, I’ll have a difficult time finding anyone else.”
Jonah cast a narrow-eyed doubtful look. “You’re telling me that out of all your thousands of erstwhile employees, you can’t find someone more suitable than me?”
“Yes. Out of my thousands of employees, you are at the top of my list for this particular job. And before you claim that it’s not legitimate, let me remind you that I don’t have time for bullshit.”
Couldn’t argue with the man there. If there was anyone who didn’t have time or the inclination for BS, it was Grey Justice. Jonah had met Justice a few years ago. After discovering that his father, Mathias, along with his oldest brother, Adam, were up to their eyeteeth in a multitude of illegal activities, he’d gone to Justice for some advice.
At that time, Jonah had believed that discovering the vileness behind much of his family’s wealth would be the darkest moments of his life. Little had he known that uncovering those misdeeds would lead him to an even greater darkness. That had been just the beginning, a starting point. He came to realize that there was darkness and then there was the total absence of light. Nothingness. All hope gone. That was where he’d ended up. Since that day, he had yet to see even a glimmer of light.
Grey Justice, with his obsession for righting wrongs, had helped him immeasurably. Without him, Jonah would be dead. That was fact. He owed the man a helluva lot. So, instead of turning him down outright, he asked, “What makes me so suitable for this job?”
Grey watched with interest as myriad emotions flickered across the hard planes of Jonah’s battered face. For a man known for quick action, including making decisions, he had stalled considerably on this particular assignment. Going back and forth, he had weighed the consequences if this thing went south against the benefits if it worked the way he hoped. In the end, he trusted his gut. Jonah Slater might be a hothead, but he wasn’t without compassion. Life, in the way of his father and brother, had screwed him royally. What better way for him to get past his own pain than to meet someone who had been dealt an even more rotten deal? Jonah had one focus—vengeance. What would happen if he could channel that need into something more worthwhile?
Having manipulated people and events to get the desired results for most of his adult life, Grey had no compunction in skirting the truth. “She’s an asset in danger.
“What kind of asset and what kind of danger?”
“The details will be sent to you. Right now…” He glanced at his watch. “You’ve got a plane to catch.”
“Babysitting is not exactly one of my strengths.”
“I think Sophie and Violet would disagree.”
At the mention of Jonah’s two nieces, his stern face softened. “They are the exception. I doubt being an expert in hide-and-go-seek or sipping fake tea is what you have in mind.”
“Acting as a bodyguard differs vastly from babysitting. She will be in extreme danger. I’m counting on you to keep her safe.”
Grey locked gazes with the man in front of him. He knew full well that Jonah didn’t need to work, for Grey or anyone else. Money had nothing to do with his employment with the Grey Justice Group and everything to do with his need to quiet the demons of guilt and grief inside him. Being no stranger to those types of monsters, Grey knew better than most that the only way to combat them was to meet them head on.
Jonah gave a grim nod. “Fine. I’ll grab my gear and—”
“No need. Lily’s on the roof, waiting. You’ll find a go bag already on the chopper, along with the information you’ll need.”
“I’m impressed. You have your ace pilot waiting for me.”
“She’ll take you to the landing strip and fly you to your destination.”
Jonah went to the elevator door and then turned back to give Grey an enigmatic look. “I’ve shelved the questions for now.”
“You’ll learn all you need to know soon. I’ll be in touch.”
The door closed on Jonah’s frowning face. He knew the man hadn’t missed the veiled nuances of Grey’s promise. Jonah would learn all he needed to know. That didn’t necessarily mean he would learn everything, though. At least not yet.
And when he did? Who knew what he would do?