No ExitBy: Lena Diaz
The subtle tightening of the lines around Cyprian’s mouth told Jace he didn’t appreciate his lack of respect.
“You handled my men like a pro.”
The accusation in the older man’s voice was clear. He was just as wary as Jace’s teammates had expected him to be, which was why they’d decided to approach him through his daughter—using Jace, who had no prior ties to EXIT. But Cyprian’s suspicion-laced question was one that Jace was prepared for. And he didn’t even have to lie.
“I spent most of my career as a Navy SEAL. But more recently, I was a bodyguard.”
Patricia’s lifeless, broken body wavered in his mind’s eye, as it often did in his nightmares. He forced the image away. “My last mission didn’t go as I’d hoped.” He couldn’t help wincing at that understatement. He’d quit his bodyguard job and had wallowed in his misery, and the bottle, for far too long. He might still be in that dark place if a mutual friend hadn’t introduced him to Devlin Buchanan, who’d then introduced him to Mason Hunt. They’d recruited him into the Equalizers—a secret organization whose sole goal was to take down EXIT—and gave him hope again.
Joining them had been his salvation, another chance to prove he could be better than his one, horrible mistake and protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Or so he’d thought. Now, after Ramsey’s foolishness, he wasn’t as convinced that he’d made the right decision.
“Where did you say you’re from?” Cyprian asked.
“I didn’t. But I’m from Savannah, Georgia. Moved to Boulder a few months ago.”
Something dark passed in the depths of Cyprian’s eyes. Savannah didn’t have pleasant memories for either of them, and Jace figured the older man was weighing the odds, making connections, perhaps wondering if Jace knew any former enforcers who’d been based out of Savannah—like Devlin. Cyprian hadn’t survived this long in his line of work without being careful. But then again, neither had Jace.
“Who did you work for there?” Cyprian asked.
Melissa gave her father a reproachful look. “Stop badgering him. We haven’t even introduced ourselves.”
Taking her cue, Jace said, “I’m Jace Atwell. And in answer to your question, I was with Dawson’s Personal Security Services. I was one of fifteen bodyguards working for the owner, Luke.” He gestured toward Cyprian’s car again. “Looks to me like you could use an upgrade in the bodyguard department. I could give you Luke’s number.”
Melissa put her hand on her father’s shoulder as if to hold him back and frowned at Jace.
Cyprian surprised him with a rueful grin and offered his hand. “You might have a point there. Cyprian Cardenas. Pleased to meet you.”
Jace forced a polite smile and reluctantly shook Cyprian’s hand. What he really wanted to do was retch as soon as he touched him—or put a bullet in Cyprian’s brain to make the world a safer, better place. Men like Cardenas were the reason Jace had joined the Navy right out of college. They were why he’d later become a bodyguard, and why he’d recently joined the Equalizers.
Thanks to Devlin and Mason, the coleaders of the Equalizers, Jace knew all about EXIT and the infamous CEO before him. EXtreme International Tours described the Fortune 500 company’s public mission. But it was far more appropriate to its true purpose, its clandestine side. EXIT Inc. was a front for a brutal organization of professional killers who were supposed to protect innocent people by taking out bad guys. But the abuses of power within the organization meant that all too often, EXIT’s enforcers ended up killing the very people they were supposed to protect.
The Council that served as liaison between the company and the government had determined just last year that EXIT was manufacturing fake evidence to trick some of the enforcers into killing innocents while believing them to be criminals. And they’d put Cyprian on notice that the enforcement side of EXIT could easily be taken away from him if he didn’t follow their rules. The Equalizers were therefore understandably sworn enemies of the man standing in front of Jace, the man who’d once been their boss. And they had no faith that Cyprian would abide by the Council’s dictates.
“And this is my daughter, Melissa,” Cyprian announced.
She smiled and held out her hand. This time, Jace didn’t hesitate. Based on the reports that he’d read, and his own in-depth investigation, he was inclined to believe that she probably knew nothing about EXIT’s secret charter and the double life her father led. He fervently hoped that was true. He couldn’t imagine that the kind woman that he knew so well, on paper at least, would have anything to do with the evil that her father perpetuated.
His observations had also convinced him that she loved her father deeply. Which meant that when Jace and his teammates brought EXIT down and exposed Cyprian for what he was, she’d be hurt. And if Jace was able to manipulate her into offering him a job, thus getting him into EXIT’s headquarters, Melissa would blame herself for what happened to her father.