Present day Agar, France
“Livingston, where the hell are you?”
As Noah McCall’s terse words rang in his earbud, Jared’s mouth twisted with a wry grimace. His boss was pissed—not an unusual event. Couldn’t do a damn thing about that . . . especially right now. Standing on a six-inch ledge twelve stories above the ground and only a few feet from a maniac with a gun impeded his ability to answer.
Plastered against the white brick wall, his concentration fierce, Jared focused on his destination: the half-open window ten feet to his right. His muscles strained as he extended his arms above him; his long fingers gripped the small overhang as his feet inched along the ledge of the building.
They had been on the other side of the apartment door for over two hours, trying to talk a nutcase into freeing a ten-year-old girl he’d snatched off the street. So far, all they’d gotten were threats to shoot the child if anyone tried to come in. Jared had gotten tired of waiting.
McCall had been in the midst of conversing with the man when Jared had walked away. The Last Chance Rescue leader was a good hostage negotiator, but hearing the child crying had turned Jared’s stomach. He’d figured he had two choices: walk away and let the negotiations continue or do something to speed up the process.
“Livingston,” McCall snarled softly, “if you fall, I swear I’ll figure out a way to bring you back to life so I can kill you myself.”
Apparently someone had alerted his boss that Jared had found an alternate entrance.
He was an avid climber, and at least once a year he went somewhere—lately Mont Blanc—and fed his need. Compared to that, hanging out on a ledge in downtown Agar wasn’t that much of a challenge. Still, even just this high up, the air was fresher and the only creature around was a bored-looking pigeon that had barely acknowledged him.
A heavy gust of wind slammed him hard against the wall. His fingers tightened on the ledge. It was a good reminder that while a twelve-story building wasn’t much of a challenge, it could still get dicey.
He inched closer to the window. Since they’d managed to slide a mirror beneath the door, he had a good idea of what was going on inside. The creep faced the door; his back to the window, he held a gun to the girl’s head. It seemed to Jared that the best option for a live rescue was to come in behind him.
At the edge of the window, Jared stopped. Barely easing his head over, he got his first real glimpse of what was going on inside. The man, known to them only as Bernard, stood about four feet from the window. A young girl sat on a stool in front of the man, her thin body shuddering in obvious terror, and with good reason—the gun was still pressed to her head.
Jared quickly took in the rest of the room. Sofa and chair to the left, small kitchen with a bar to the right. No one else in sight. Looked like the guy was on his own for this.
The window was open about half a foot, with no screen, thankfully. Shooting the bastard was a temptation, but one Jared couldn’t risk. Bernard’s finger was on the trigger. One involuntary jerk and the child was dead.
A sudden flutter of wings was Jared’s only warning as a pigeon dove toward him. As he instinctively ducked, his left foot slipped and he slid to one knee. His right hand latched onto the windowsill, saving him from plunging to the ground. A cooing sounded above him; Jared glared at the two birds sitting on the ledge. Not one whit intimidated, they continued their pecking and ignored him.
With a firmer grip on the windowsill, Jared pushed himself back to his feet and drew his gun from its holster. In that instant, Bernard whirled around. Wild, bloodshot eyes went wide as he stared at Jared. He swung his gun around, moving it away from the girl’s head. Jared had a split second to make the decision. Without hesitation, he took the shot. A small hole appeared in Bernard’s forehead and the man fell to the floor.
A flurry of people burst through the door. Jared slid the window open wider and slipped inside. Medics rushed to the girl; McCall stalked in after them. His boss’s eyes went straight to Jared, and the expression on his face promised a future dressing down.
Jared mentally shrugged. He and McCall had a weekly “What the hell were you thinking?” meeting. He had gotten used to them. Sure, he had a deep respect for his boss and the work LCR performed, but Jared had told the man up front that following rules wasn’t his strong point. McCall didn’t always like Jared’s methods, but he got the job done.
He moved across the room toward the lone Agar policeman, who also happened to be the police chief. A small town like Agar had only a skeleton force. LCR often helped out when small towns needed assistance. Though it had been a clean kill, that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be questions. In Jared’s previous life, he’d been able to walk away with no one even knowing about his existence, much less asking questions. Odd how he didn’t miss those old ways.
Always aware of his surroundings, he knew McCall was bringing in the mother to console the sobbing child, who’d raced to the corner of the room the instant after the bullet hit Bernard. In the middle of the room, LCR operative Aidan Thorne stood over the dead man as a medic examined him.
The jaded, tired eyes of the police chief told Jared more than any words ever could. This was a man who’d been around the block a few times and had seen it all more than once. He’d probably moved to Agar from a larger city, expecting low crime and an opportunity to enjoy some peace and quiet. Problem was, evil had no respect for boundaries. It had a tendency to show up in the damnedest places these days.
In case those tired, knowing eyes had missed the obvious, Jared gave him the information: “It was a clean kill.”
The older man nodded grimly, then proceeded to pepper him with questions, letting Jared know that even though he looked like he’d rather be anywhere else than here, he planned to do his job.
As Jared answered each carefully worded question with his own careful answers, his phone vibrated in his pocket. To most people, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Phones rang twenty-four/seven all over the world for all kinds of reasons. His phone didn’t. He could count on one hand the number of friends he had, and on the other, he could count who else might need to get in touch with him. Either way, he wasn’t going to ignore them.
Holding up his hand to stop the questions, Jared pulled his phone out and answered, “Yeah?”
“Jared?” A sobbing gasp and then: “Please . . . I need your help.”
He was rarely surprised, but his ex-wife’s frantic voice asking for his help came as close as anything had in years. With the phone pressed to his ear, he turned and walked away for privacy. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Mandy. Oh God, Jared, my baby is missing.”
The fact that both McCall and Aidan had stopped what they were doing and were staring intently at him told him they were aware of the importance of the call. A second later, McCall went over to the police chief. Knowing his boss would handle any further questions, Jared headed out the door. In the hallway, he stopped at the entrance to the stairwell and said, “Tell me what happened.”
“I went to her room this morning and she wasn’t there.”
“You called the police?”
“Yes, they’re on the way. Carter’s outside waiting for them.” She paused and then added, “Please, Jared, I’m begging—”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He closed the phone on her plea. Damned if he wanted to hear her beg.
He turned to find McCall behind him. “I’m headed back to Paris. Lara’s daughter has gone missing.”
His boss’s too sharp eyes assessed him briefly, and then he said, “Let me know if you want us involved.”
Jared gave a stiff nod of thanks and strode to the elevator. The elevator, old and most likely unreliable, took its own sweet time getting to the ground floor. As soon as the doors opened, Jared took off at a run to the motorcycle he’d parked a couple of blocks away.
As he ran through midday pedestrian traffic, he thought about his boss’s lack of questions—something he couldn’t help but appreciate. Most people wouldn’t have the same control. They would have wanted to know why Jared cared about helping a woman who’d gone out of her way to let everyone know she despised the man she’d once been married to.
Most people didn’t know the truth, and since it was no one’s business, he kept his mouth shut. Lara had a reason to hate him, and while the feelings he’d once had for her were wisps of vaporous memories from another life, he owed her his help in any way he could provide it.
He spotted his Ducati half a block away. As usual, the cycle had attracted some admirers. Focused on getting out of town quickly, he moved through the small crowd and, without a word, jumped on the bike. Turning the switch, he revved the engine and was gone.
Two hours later, Jared stood at the entrance to the Dennisons’ living room. Unnoticed by the occupants, he took in the scene. Lara, Jared’s ex-wife, sat in a chair close to the fireplace. Her ash-blond hair was pulled away from her pale face, and her slender frame seemed to have shrunk since the last time he’d seen her. The medium-sized man with slightly thinning hair perched on the edge of an ottoman in front of her was her husband, Carter Dennison. They were speaking in low, soothing tones to each other, and the affection in their expressions was telling. This was a couple grieving and finding solace in each other.
The few who knew the truth behind Jared’s failed marriage felt that Lara was at least partially responsible for their divorce. Jared disagreed. Watching Carter and Lara together at such a stressful moment reinforced that opinion. For one thing, he and Lara wouldn’t have had children together. They had talked about it before they’d gotten married. Lara was focused on her career and couldn’t take the time off; Jared hadn’t seen the need to bring another child into the world when there were so many already here who needed good homes. Adoption had been in the future . . . until that future blew up in their faces.
Excerpted from Sweet Reward by Christy Reece. Copyright © 2011 by Christy Reece. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.