Six months later London, England
He was tired of chasing a ghost. More than once he’d told himself she was a figment of his overactive imagination or a hallucination caused by too many blows to his head. That some three-hundred-pound bruiser by the name of Rudolph or Hans had rescued him, not a delicate-as-air blond angel named Ghost.
But she wasn’t a figment; he’d felt her, touched her, smelled her. And he couldn’t get her out of his head.
On his return from Brazil, he’d launched two investigations. One was to determine who else had been involved in his abduction other than Victor Lymes. The other was to find his mysterious rescuer.
The investigation into his abduction had taken less than a week. Lymes, working with two of the hotel employees where Lucas had been staying, had seen an opportunity and taken it. The plan had been to ransom him and split the earnings. The two conspirators had confessed immediately when confronted by the authorities. The two men Lucas had killed in Brazil had apparently been locals Victor had hired there. The case was wrapped up quickly, neatly. Quietly.
The second investigation hadn’t gone as well. It was as if the young woman who’d aided in his rescue didn’t even exist.
“Kane, do you agree?”
Lucas jerked his head around. Staring out the window like a daydreaming bored employee didn’t exactly inspire confidence. The twenty executive members of Kane Industries stared at him as if he had a third eye.
“Yes, the takeover should go through without a hitch. Just make sure we have jobs for everyone.” He made a pointed stare at Stanley Humphries. “If I hear that even one worker was displaced, heads will not be the only body parts rolling.”
The stiff nod of agreement was belied by the mutinous expression on Humphries’s face. Lucas noted it, adding to his growing list of concerns. The man had become increasingly belligerent and uncooperative over the last few months. Lucas knew he was going to have to do something about him soon.
Though Humphries wasn’t a member of the executive board, he’d been with Kane Industries for well over thirty years and had earned his spot in making decisions. However, Lucas had become aware of recent shortcuts and mismanagements that the man was directly responsible for.
When Lucas had taken over his family’s empire, he’d been determined to do a few things differently. That included making sure no one was adversely impacted as Kane Enterprises thrived. Humphries apparently didn’t like that concept.
Lucas needed to make a decision about the man’s involvement in future projects. Times like this, he wished for his father’s tough-minded decision making. Lucas could kick ass and kill with the best of them, but when it came to dealing with wayward employees, he was at somewhat of a loss.
Harbin Nickels, CFO of Kane Industries, stood. “I think that about wraps up everything we needed to review with you, Lucas. Anything else that comes up, we can go through your assistants. When do you leave for your trip?”
His mind occupied between finding a ghost and disciplining an employee, Lucas answered with a careless “A few hours” and then was silent.
He knew they stared at him for several seconds before they made their way out of the room. Being distracted wasn’t good for morale. A distracted leader led to uncertainty in his employees. He’d worry about that when he returned. Now he needed to get on his flight to Paris and talk with the one man he believed could help him.
Paris, France Last Chance Rescue headquarters
“Noah, did you give Micah another piece of chocolate?”
Before moving his gaze from the computer screen in front of him, Noah swallowed the remaining evidence. Turning to her, he gave his most innocent look. “Mara, why would you say that?”
Hands on her hips, amazing eyes flashing, Samara advanced toward him. “Because he’s as hyper as a wildcat. Angela’s with him in the conference room, chasing him around the table.”
Before he could proclaim his innocence of giving their two-year-old son chocolate, Samara added, “And because you have chocolate on your chin.”
He sighed. Nothing got past his Mara. “So come over here and lick it off for me.”
Her eyes darkened and she got that look on her face that could heat his blood in an instant. She came toward him and then stopped. “Wait. What time is Lucas Kane supposed to be here?”
Noah groaned and looked at the clock. “Fifteen minutes. Not near enough time.”
“Here.” She handed him a tissue from a box on his desk. “Get the chocolate off for now. We’ll stop at the store on the way home and get some more for later.”
He grinned, already anticipating the night ahead. “Deal.”
Settling into a chair across from him, she returned to the topic of their upcoming meeting. “So you really just want my observation on the man? Nothing more?”
“Are you planning on telling him you know McKenna?”
“No. Her association with LCR must remain private. But I want to meet with him before I mention his search to her. When she relayed the details of his rescue, it got me interested in him even more.”
“For a British billionaire, sounds to me like he handled himself a little too well. About as well as any LCR operative. There’s got to be more to him than just inherited wealth and a keen eye for the next moneymaking venture.”
“Think he has military training?”
Noah shook his head. “Records show that he spent most of his years collecting degrees and prepping himself to take over his family’s empire. No military training mentioned.”
“Perhaps he had someone train him. As high-profile as he is, maybe he felt he needed to know how to defend himself.”
“Could be. That’s where you come in. I want your impression. I may be biased.”
She smiled. “That’s because you’re protective of McKenna.”
“I’m protective of all my operatives.”
“True, but whether you want to admit it or not, you have a special fondness for McKenna.”
Noah couldn’t deny it. He did feel much more like McKenna’s big brother than her boss. Not that he was technically her boss, since she still wasn’t officially employed by LCR.
Though all active LCR operatives were freelance and could work when they wanted, he considered them full-fledged employees. McKenna, not so much.
LCR’s first encounter with McKenna had been unusual. One day, during the middle of an op involving the rescue of a young teenager, McKenna had just shown up. One of his operatives had been injured, unable to assist. McKenna had gone after one of the kidnappers, jumping on his back and taking him to the ground. Dylan had been on the op, along with Shea and Ethan. All three had regaled him with accounts of her bravery. Problem was, she’d disappeared as soon as the rescue was complete.
The second time she had assisted was in Paris. Based upon the description he’d been given, Noah had known this was the mysterious rescuer he’d been told about. He had cornered her before she could disappear. She hadn’t liked being trapped. Had been almost feral in her fear. They’d talked—or at least as much as he could get her to talk. That’s when he’d learned her name, McKenna. He’d also learned enough to know that not only was she incredibly brave and surprisingly skilled, she was also the most alone person he’d ever met. And he’d met a lot of alone people since starting LCR.
Though McKenna had never officially become an LCR operative, most of his people thought she was. Noah gave her that support and allowed her the anonym- ity for one very important reason: McKenna needed to feel that she was part of this organization, whether she realized the fact or not. Even though she turned him down every time he asked her to become an operative, he had high hopes that someday she would change her mind.
When LCR operative Gabe Maddox’s wife, Skylar, had been abducted, McKenna had contacted Noah with the offer to assist. It was during that operation that she learned that Lucas Kane had been abducted by the same man. McKenna had assisted in Skylar’s rescue and then stayed back to rescue Kane, too.
No one knew where McKenna came from or even where she lived. Though Noah was more than aware that he could do his own investigation, he continued to refrain from it. At some point he might have to. For right now, he wanted to allow McKenna the anonymity she obviously needed.
Samara had gotten to know her better than anyone at LCR. One of the many reasons he wanted his wife to meet Lucas Kane. The man had not stopped looking for McKenna from the moment he arrived home after his rescue. Noah wasn’t about to give up any secrets on McKenna, but he wanted Mara’s opinion on Kane. He trusted his wife’s judgment over anyone’s.
“So McKenna has no idea he’s looking for her?”
“She knows he’s looking. As you know, she’s got good instincts about that.” He and Samara both believed McKenna was hiding from someone. But until she was ready to ask for their help, all they could do was wait until she chose to trust them. “I just don’t think she knows how determined Kane is to find her.”
“Why do you think he is so determined?”
Noah shrugged. “Could be as simple as he wants to thank her; somehow I think it’s more. With his contacting LCR, he either suspects we have an association with McKenna or he’s desperate and wants us to do something we don’t do as a rule. He knows we only search for people who are endangered in some way. . . . I’m interested in your observations. What you think he’s looking for.”
The buzzer sounded, alerting them that Kane was on his way. When he’d called Noah, requesting LCR’s assistance, the man had given the vaguest of descriptions and reasons why he was searching for the young woman. When pressed for more information, Kane had insisted on a face-to-face meeting. Since Noah was more than aware that Kane didn’t have additional information to give him, he’d agreed without much argument. Discovering why Kane wanted to find McKenna was Noah’s primary concern.
That he was being allowed to come to LCR headquarters was almost unprecedented. Only LCR operatives, or those Noah knew he could trust, were aware of this location. But Noah had an instinct for people. He’d met Kane years ago at a social event and had never forgotten that meeting. There was more to Lucas Kane than the man allowed most people to see.
Noah didn’t worry that Kane knew where LCR headquarters was. What did concern him was his unusual fixation on McKenna. He wasn’t known to be obsessive . . . so why this time?
McKenna had given Noah the barest of facts on her rescue of Kane, just that all three men holding him were killed. She’d reported that Kane was shot, but only slightly wounded, and she’d left as soon as Dylan Savage, another LCR operative, had picked him up. She also indicated that Kane had assisted in his own rescue.
Noah hadn’t pressed McKenna for more details. If she were officially with LCR, he would have. However, with McKenna he treaded softly. Yes, he wanted to hire her as a full-time operative when she was ready, but that wasn’t the biggest reason. He greatly feared that if he pressed she would just up and disappear. The young woman needed LCR even if she wasn’t aware of it.
After the rescue, Dylan had dropped Kane at a local hospital before he regained consciousness. The story had been that Kane had been in Brazil on business and had been jumped by some thugs. Having no publicity was better for LCR and, for that matter, Lucas Kane.
If one ignored nuances and went only on words, McKenna’s rescue of Kane had taken less than an hour. Noah sensed there was more. Something had happened in that time frame that had her even more skittish than usual. Even more reason to want to meet with the man.
At a knock on the door, Noah went around the desk and stood by Samara.
The instant Lucas entered Noah McCall’s office, he knew he’d get little or no cooperation from the head of Last Chance Rescue. And the petite, dark-haired woman at his side looked just as reticent.
Didn’t mean he wouldn’t try to persuade them otherwise. Lucas held out his hand. “Thank you for seeing me, Noah. It’s been a few years.”
As Noah shook his hand and introduced him to his wife, Lucas felt Samara McCall’s eyes assessing him. He was being given some kind of test, and apparently the lovely Mrs. McCall would be issuing the final verdict. Interesting.
He settled onto the overstuffed chair McCall indicated, and waited. As expected, Noah led the interrogation, while his wife observed.
Seated across from him, McCall leaned forward. “You said you were looking for a young woman?”
“You may have heard that I had a bit of trouble in Brazil a few months back.”
McCall’s expression didn’t change as he nodded.
“Truth is . . . I was in Peru on business, abducted from my hotel room there, and ended up in Brazil. With help from the authorities, I kept it quiet . . . conducted my own investigation. The people who assisted in the abduction were caught. However, there was a young woman there. She rescued me, but disappeared before I could thank her.”
“This young woman . . . what was her name?”
Frustration and admiration dueled within Lucas. Going on nothing but instinct, he was almost certain his ghost had some sort of association with LCR. McCall was apparently going to pretend otherwise.
“She gave no name . . . other than Ghost.”
McCall’s mouth quirked slightly. “Ghost?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, I lost consciousness before I could inquire further. When I woke in the hospital, she was nowhere to be found. I was told a man brought me there, leaving no information other than my name.”
“I’m surprised you came to us. You know we only search for those who have been abducted or are missing.”
“I’d like for you to make an exception in my case.”
“And why would I do that?”
“I think she may be in trouble.”
McCall’s expression didn’t change, but his wife’s shoulders stiffened, confirming Lucas’s suspicions. They did indeed know her.
“What sort of trouble?” McCall asked.
Lucas shrugged. Even as much as he wanted to find her, he felt an odd loyalty to his ghost. Describing the expression in her eyes . . . how do you describe a look that on one hand had the innocence of a fawn but at the same time revealed a stark hell?
His innocence was long gone; he had a familiarity with hell. That look was something he’d seen in his own eyes from time to time. Along with hollowness, emptiness. Extreme sadness. He would mention none of these. Odd, really, but he felt as if a secret had been shared between them. He was loath to break their silent bond. Those naked moments with his ghost would remain theirs alone.
Aware that McCall was waiting for an answer, Lucas shrugged. “She looked as though she needed a friend. I’d like to be able to help her in whatever she needs.”
“I’m sure you’ve hired your own investigators to find her. Why come to us?” McCall asked.
“For one, LCR is the best at finding people. My investigators have come up dry.”
“And the other reason?”
“I thought perhaps she was affiliated with your organization.”
“Why would you think that?”
Lucas shrugged. “She rescued me.”
McCall frowned. “We are hired to rescue. We rarely become involved unless asked.”
While Lucas knew that was true, he also knew that LCR would and had rescued when they saw a need, whether they would be paid for it or not.
“How did your rescue go down?”
This was the first time Samara McCall had asked anything. Her question surprised him. He had figured Noah would be the more direct interrogator. So far, McCall had been subtle; Samara McCall cut to the chase. Did her question hold a secret agenda?
Nevertheless, he described how he’d been abducted from his hotel room while he was on business. He glossed over the disgusting details of his sickness and the infuriating information about the beatings he’d endured while he’d been ill. He explained his first meeting with the young woman who had rescued him, along with her apparent association with Victor.
“Could this woman have not just decided that she’d had enough of Victor and turned on him?” McCall asked.
That’s exactly what he’d told himself many times since then. She was just one of Victor’s people who’d decided to betray him and Lucas happened to benefit from that. None of that rang true. She’d let him go instead, saved his life. Seemed genuinely concerned for his welfare. And she’d asked for nothing in return.
Lucas lifted his shoulder in a casual shrug. “It’s possible. However, I’d like the opportunity to talk with her, ask her myself.” McCall shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think LCR can help you.”
With a nod, Lucas stood. Noah McCall wasn’t known for changing his mind once a decision had been made. Lucas saw no point in trying to persuade him. However, he’d gotten at least a piece of the answer he’d been searching for. This woman did indeed have some sort of connection with Last Chance Rescue. Unfortunately, that was apparently the only thing he was going to get.
Holding out his hand, he shook Noah’s hand and then Samara’s. As he walked to the door, Samara McCall’s soft voice stopped him. “Mr. Kane, if you don’t mind my asking . . . if you were given a chance to see this young woman again, what would you say to her?”
He turned and gave her the truth, hoping that it would get to his ghost. “I would thank her and tell her that if at any time she ever needs my help in any way or for any reason, I would be there for her.”
With a slight smile, she said, “Very nice to meet you, Mr. Kane. Have a good trip home.”
Lucas nodded again and walked out the door.
Noah waited several seconds until he was sure Kane had gotten on the elevator, then turned to Samara. “So what do you think?”
“I think he’ll keep looking until he finds her.”
“Did you also get the impression he knew we weren’t exactly truthful?”
She scrunched her nose. “My fault. He surprised me when he said the words that you and I both feel about McKenna. That she needs help in some way.”
“Don’t worry about that. His knowing she has some kind of association with LCR won’t get him any more information than he had before.”
“Something else is bothering you, though. What?” Samara asked.
“I just think it’s interesting that Kane picked up on McKenna’s vulnerability. When she’s on an op, she’s excellent at hiding her true self. Which makes me even more curious about what really happened during the rescue. When she gave me the details, I sensed she was disturbed about something.”
Samara nodded. “I talked to her a couple of weeks after it happened. She glossed over the entire event, but I got the feeling she has a distinct admiration for Lucas Kane.”
“He’s done some admirable things since he took over his family’s dynasty. Did you get a feel for why he’s so intent on finding her?”
A smile curved his wife’s mouth, and Noah couldn’t resist the opportunity to feel it under his. After several breathless moments, he pulled from the kiss and said, “Sorry, got distracted . . . you were saying?”
Her smile now even bigger, she said, “I think in the short amount of time that Lucas and McKenna spent together, they both felt a strong attraction for each other.”
“You may be right.” He picked up the phone. “Now let’s see if McKenna wants to do anything about Kane continuing his pursuit.”
McKenna hung up the phone. Refusing to acknowledge the racing of her heart at the knowledge that Lucas Kane was in Paris searching for her, she went to her closet. Pulling her duffel bag from the top shelf, she immediately began to pack.
His hunt for her had gone further than she’d anticipated. She’d become aware of questions being asked about her in Brazil. Based upon the physical description the people searching for her had given, she had known they were Kane’s people. She hadn’t expected him to expand beyond Brazil, nor had she expected him to go to LCR. That was a little too close to home.
Why did he continue? Did he believe she was involved in his abduction? Was that the reason, or was there more? Noah had indicated that Kane wanted to thank her. Perhaps that was all. She hoped so. Silly, really, but she hated for Lucas Kane to think badly of her by believing she’d actually been in cahoots with Victor.
She’d had plenty of time to relive those moments from his rescue. His rescue? How laughable. Other than taking out Victor, she’d done very little. Pretty damn bad when the victim becomes the rescuer. Of all the times to pass out. Any other time she’d been forced to kill someone, she would become nauseous. Not pleasant, but at least she was usually able to function to finish the rescue. Passing out was not only embarrassing, it was damn dangerous. They both could’ve been killed.
When she woke, one man had been dead. Thankfully, she’d managed to distract the other one, but Lucas Kane had still been able to take care of him, even with a bullet hole in his shoulder.
After the excitement had passed and she’d been far enough away from Kane to think straight, she acknowledged that if she had never shown up, Lucas Kane would have gotten out of the situation all by himself. Which made her fascination for him even larger. Something she definitely hadn’t needed.
McKenna rushed around her little apartment, collecting the few things she wouldn’t leave without. She’d stayed here longer than she did most places; it was past time to leave, anyway. No use looking around and bemoaning the frilly little curtains she’d hand-stitched herself or the painting she had found at a flea market that reminded her of home. She’d hung it over the television and found herself looking at it more than at what was on TV.
She would leave those things, of course. Taking the minimal belongings was the only way she traveled and the only way she’d survived this long.
Being hunted wasn’t a new thing for her; she just had a new predator. No, she could never call Lucas Kane a predator. Noah’s words continued to whirl around in her head. “He wants to thank you . . . wants you to know if you ever need anything, you only have to ask.”
McKenna snorted as she grabbed a handful of underwear. Maybe she should just go to Kane, tell him that for years she’d been hunted by a crazed maniac, and would he mind hiring an army to kill him? She could just see his handsome face as she gave him her request. He probably wanted to give her a box of chocolates or a basket full of bath salts as a thank-you, not a paid assassin.
No, she would never ask someone to do something she would one day have to do herself. There would be a final confrontation. And she would be the one who would end his sorry life. If she had to lose hers in the process, that was only fair. At some point she would stop being such a chickenshit and do the deed.
Standing on her rickety kitchen chair, she opened the cabinet above the refrigerator. Moving aside the bargain-sized jar of peanut butter, she pulled at the loose board behind it and opened the small area she’d created only hours after moving in. She took the nylon pouch, unzipped it, and checked its contents, though she knew nothing had been moved. Six passports, five driver’s licenses, twenty-eight thousand dollars, and a small black wallet with three photographs. She no longer looked at the pictures—they were carved into her mind, seared into her soul—but she would never go anywhere without them.
She stepped down and returned the chair under the table. Zipping the pouch, she dumped it in with her clothes and toiletries. Placing her notebook computer on top of everything, McKenna closed the bag and straightened. With a long, silent sigh, she took one last glance at the landscape above the television, grabbed the duffel bag, and walked out the door.
Lucas Kane needed to stop looking for her. There was only one way to ensure that he did.
Excerpted from Last Chance by Christy Reece. Copyright © 2010 by Christy Reece. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.