Forged in Steele k-7Maya Banks
Forged in Steele
( KGI - 7 )
Steele, a KGI team leader, is an enigma not even his team mates understand. His emotions are tightly locked down and nothing can break that icy exterior. Nothing except Maren Scofield, a doctor on a mission, a woman who has gotten under Steele’s skin and threatens to crack that unflappable cool he’s legendary for.
Steele is determined not to allow Maren past his carefully guarded defenses, but when she’s in danger, there’s no way he’ll allow anyone else to protect her. She’s hiding something. He’s sure of it. But he isn’t prepared for the shocking discovery her secrets reveal. Or how they will forever alter the course of his destiny. He has a decision to make. Hold tight and shut her out. Or take a chance on something more powerful than he’s ever faced. Love.
Forged in Steele
KGI - 7
To my dad.
For all the softball games, basketball games, tennis tournaments he attended. For buying me a softball bat, my first tennis racket. For always being there and never missing the important stuff.
Please know I’m with you now.
“STATUS,” Steele said in low tones.
His receiver crackled in his ear and P.J. Rutherford’s response was immediate.
“No shot yet. Repeat, no clear shot. Give me two minutes to reposition. I’ll get him.”
Steele’s gaze swept the guard towers and simmered with impatience. They were fifteen minutes past go time and the extrication chopper would land in forty-five. Which gave them almost no time to get in, grab the girl and get out.
He wasn’t entirely certain this chick wanted out, but her parents were paying KGI a mint to go in and wrest her from the grasp of Matteo Garza. During three days of round-the-clock surveillance, it had not appeared to Steele that Christina Westlake was in any sort of distress. She’d pranced around in a thong and bikini top and five-inch heels, laughing and smiling and looking smugly content. He just hoped to hell she was wearing sensible shoes today because running would be a bitch in the stilettos and he needed her steady on her feet.
“Make it fast, P.J.,” Steele growled. “We’re on a timetable here.”
“Cool your jets, boss man,” Cole drawled. “My girl will get the job done.”
Steele rolled his eyes, and he knew damn well P.J. was doing the same. He’d suffer more bickering from the two newlyweds as soon as the mission was completed. P.J. would remove Cole’s balls for that remark.
“Any sign of our target?” Dolphin broke in. “I haven’t seen her in half an hour. Thought she was supposed to be sunbathing at this time?”
Miss Westlake had a routine. It was one thing Steele could say for her. Dolphin, Baker and Renshaw had eagerly volunteered for the afternoon surveillance shift so they could see the leggy blonde in her thong. Not to mention she always took her top off when she sunbathed.
She was a looker, no doubt, but she didn’t do a damn thing for Steele.
“She’s late,” Baker muttered. “Which means we’ll have to find her ass when we go in.”
“I’ll go get her,” Renshaw said, an evident grin in his voice.
“Quiet,” Steele ordered. “I want radio silence until I say differently. Get the damn shot, P.J. Waiting on you to take out the guards so we can get this show on the road.”
“Done and done,” P.J. said curtly. “Both front towers are clear. Giddy up, cowboys. Let’s rope the goat and get back home.”
Cole’s chuckle echoed in Steele’s ear. “That’s my girl!”
“Move in,” Steele barked. “I want a clean in-and-out.”
Steele slid out from the blind he’d constructed, hoisted his rifle and crept through the thick shrubbery that surrounded the palatial home.
Usually for a retrieval mission, he’d go in under the cover of night, hit hard and fast and get the hell out. Garza, however, doubled his security at night, almost as if he anticipated a night raid. During the day, he employed few security men and those he had were lazy and inattentive. This should be a piece of cake.
He’d learned better than to actually utter those damning words, and he didn’t have a superstitious bone in his body.
He was heading in a direct line to the back of the house when gunfire erupted in the distance.
“Goddamn it, what the hell is that?” he barked into his mic.
“Sorry, boss man,” Dolphin said, a huff in his breath. “Couldn’t be avoided. They know we’re here now.”
Judging by the shrieks that filled the air, Christina Westlake knew they were here too. She wouldn’t have a clue they were here to help her. She just knew bullets were flying, as was blood.
“Give us some cover, P.J., Cole,” Steele ordered. “I’m going after the girl.”
“Already cleared you a path,” P.J. said. “They’ll think the queen of bloody England is coming.”
Steele shook his head at her wit and quickly scaled the stone wall over onto the veranda by the pool. The pool where Christina Westlake was supposed to be sunbathing. The woman had to get unpredictable now of all times?
Another screech rent the air and Steele turned his head in the direction of the god-awful noise and immediately started for the steps leading to the second-floor balcony. He ducked a knife when he got to the top and rammed his shoulder into the burly guy who’d tried to ambush him.
Pain slashed through his arm and he gritted his teeth, pushing aside the discomfort as the blade sliced through skin.
When his attacker stumbled back, Steele swung the butt of his rifle up and crushed the guard’s jaw. He crumpled on the spot, hitting the floor with a resounding thud. Steele’s gaze immediately swept the area, taking in any potential threat. Another sound from inside the double glass doors caught his attention.
“Stupid bitch! Get out of my way!”
“You can’t leave me, Matteo!”
The shriek made Steele wince. Evidently Matteo wasn’t as attached to Christina as she was to him. He was bent on making his escape, but it wasn’t Matteo Steele wanted. Garza could make this as easy or as hard as he wanted. Steele would prefer as little bloodshed as possible, but he was prepared for anything.
Get the job done. Whatever it takes.
It was a creed that had damn near gotten his teammates hurt when P.J. had taken off and gone lone wolf, bent on vigilante justice.
That was done, thankfully, and now they could get back to doing what they did best. Working as a team. Kicking ass. Getting the job done.
Steele edged toward the door and then kicked it in with his boot. The door flew open and Steele grabbed his pistol with his left hand while holding his rifle with his right.
Matteo Garza whirled around, dropping the bag that he’d been stuffing full of things from the wall safe. His eyes were wild and crazed. Christina cowered, trying to insert herself between Matteo and the wall, but he was having none of that. He shoved the screaming girl in front of him and wrapped a beefy arm around her neck.
“What do you want?” he demanded hoarsely.
Steele viewed him in disgust. Using the girl as a shield. No man used a woman in such a manner.
“The girl,” Steele said calmly. “We aren’t here to harm you. Let her go and we’ll go in peace.”
Garza’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Then he glanced at the girl in scorn.
“Did you do this?” he snarled in her ear.
“No!” she squeaked out. “Matteo, I have no idea who this man is. You have to believe me!”
“Her parents sent me,” Steele said. “Now let her go and I’ll be on my way. Or you can refuse to cooperate and I’ll take you apart. Your choice.”
Garza shoved Christina forward and she stumbled, tripping right in front of Steele. In a lightning move, he slung the shoulder harness over his arm so his rifle wouldn’t fall, and then he made a grab for her with his right hand, pain screaming up his arm as his muscles stretched the already torn flesh.
He was careful to keep his pistol trained on Garza as he collected the wriggling, protesting woman against him.
“Let me go!” she shrieked. “I don’t want to go. I’m happy here! Matteo, are you just going to let him take me?”
There was hurt and confusion in her voice. Garza was completely unaffected.
“Take the puta,” Garza bit out. “She’s nothing to me.”
“Liar!” Christina shrieked. “You said you loved me! You said you wanted to be with me forever!”
Steele tightened his hold as the woman went ballistic in his grasp. Damn it. His arm was hurting like a motherfucker and he had no idea of the extent of his injury.
“Dolphin, get your ass up here. Second level. Balcony entrance. Double time,” he barked into the mic.
“On my way,” Dolphin returned.
Steele backed toward the doors, turning so he could see clear to the entrance but also keep Garza in his periphery. When the man started to move, Steele halted and leveled his gun at Garza.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Steele warned. “I’ve got what I came for. I have no interest in killing you. Don’t give me a reason to change my mind.”
“I care nothing for the puta,” Garza bit out. “But I won’t suffer the insult of you trespassing and killing my men.”
“Do yourself a favor and forget any insult you feel,” Steele clipped out. “Don’t fuck with me or I’ll make you very sorry.”
Garza’s nostrils flared and his eyes glittered with anger and damaged pride.
Dolphin bounded up the stairs and in that moment, Christina kicked back sharply with her spiked heel, catching Steele right in the knee. She turned like a damn wildcat and stabbed at his eyes with her daggerlike fingernails and pitched backward.
Steele was forced to let her go or risk hurting her. As she ran back toward Garza, the dumbass pulled a gun, aiming toward Steele. As Christina whirled around, she saw Dolphin raise his gun and in an even dumber move than Garza’s pulling the gun to begin with, she flung herself in front of Garza right as Dolphin took the shot.
She screamed in pain and Garza was flung against the wall, blood spreading rapidly over his chest. Christina went utterly white and teetered unsteadily before falling into a dead faint. Right at Garza’s feet.
“Fuck a duck,” Dolphin swore. “What the hell did she think she was doing?”
Steele hurried forward, turning the unconscious woman over. His fingers ran up her side and came away with blood. Just a graze. Thank God. Her parents would be pissed if their daughter came home with a bullet hole courtesy of KGI.
Dolphin squatted beside Steele and put his fingers to Garza’s neck.
“Our exit has just been moved up,” he said grimly. “Garza’s dead. Word is he has the local police in his pocket. Shit’s going down all over this place. P.J. and Cole are playing ducks in a row, picking off assholes left and right. Baker and Renshaw just set explosives by the back wall because we can’t go out the front. We have three minutes until it blows and then we have to get the hell out, boss man.”
“She didn’t want to go,” Steele said, shaking his head. “He didn’t give a shit about her. Tried to use her as a shield.”
“What a dick,” Dolphin said in disgust.
“Yeah and she still tried to take a bullet for him.”
Dolphin glanced at Steele and frowned. “You’re bleeding. What the hell happened?”
“Tangled with a knife,” Steele said shortly. “Get the girl. You’ll have to carry her. I’ll cover you.”
“Well, fuck. We can’t take her home like this. Her parents will shit a brick.”
Steele sighed, knowing they weren’t far from Maren Scofield. Fuck it all, but the last thing he wanted to happen was to schedule an unexpected visit to the blond doctor.
She bugged him. Got under his skin. Hell, it prickled anytime he was near her. Like ants under his skin, crawling from the inside out.
“As soon as we get to the chopper, get on the horn to our pilot,” Steele bit out. “Tell him we’ll be making an unscheduled stop.”
Dolphin slung his rifle over his shoulder, shoved his pistol into his holster and then reached down to carefully pick up the still-unconscious woman.
“Stay close,” Steele said tersely. “You hit the dirt if anything goes down. Don’t try to be a fucking hero with the girl in your arms. If she dies, we’re fucked. I’ve never lost a subject and I’m damn sure not starting now.”
“You da boss.”
Steele rolled his eyes at the irreverence in Dolphin’s voice. Not that it was anything new. Steele would go to his grave before he’d ever admit that he was pretty damn fond of Dolphin’s attitude and his ability to lighten almost any situation with his quirky humor. Steele took ribbing from his team for having no sense of humor, but hell, why did he need one when he had Dolphin, P.J. and Cole? Between those three, they were more of a circus than a military ops team. But they got the job done and that was all that mattered to him.
They dealt with shit on a daily basis that normal people never even dreamed of. If this was their way of coping and staying sane, he was down with their shenanigans. Even if they pushed his buttons on a regular basis.
He pushed ahead of Dolphin and headed for the doorway onto the balcony. He ducked low, motioning for Dolphin to do the same as he examined the perimeter for any potential threat.
“Nine o’clock,” Steele said sharply. “Get down!”
Steele raised his gun and aimed through the slats in the railing, squeezed off two rounds and downed two men who were crossing the veranda by the pool. He gestured for Dolphin to pick up the pace and they scrambled down the stairway.
“Status,” he barked into his mic. “Dolphin and I are coming out the back. We have the subject. Need cover. Clear a path and get your asses in gear.”
“Way ahead of you, boss man,” Baker piped in. “P.J. and Cole have cleaned house. Renshaw and I are positioned at the back gate ready to blow this sucker. Give me thirty seconds. Maintain your current position until this shit blows.”
Steele and Dolphin both ducked, providing cover for the woman with their bodies as they crouched at the bottom of the steps, using the wall to shield them from debris from the impending explosion.
On cue, the blast bellowed over their ears. The ground shook and pieces of metal and stone rained down like a hailstorm.
“Damn, they know how to get it done,” Dolphin muttered. “They may have used a little too much C-4.”
“You think?” Steele said dryly. “Let’s move.”
Coughing from the cloud of dust and decimated concrete, they ran toward the gaping hole in the stone wall surrounding the pool area.
“Hope to fuck the others are in position so we can get the hell out of here,” Steele said in terse tones.
“Cool your jets. We’re on it,” P.J. snapped.
Steele shook his head. Temperamental woman. That much never changed, thank God. She was back where she belonged. He’d never said as much—he wouldn’t offer her that kind of disrespect or lack of confidence in her abilities—but she’d worried him coming off her solo mission of revenge. Besides overcoming multiple injuries, her emotional and psychological trauma had been off the charts. If it had been up to him, he would have grounded her another few months. Only she wasn’t having any of it, and if she was taken out it meant he lost Cole too. No damn way he was going to operate two team members short.
“Glad to have your cranky ass back, Rutherford,” Steele said in an uncharacteristic display of humor.
There was complete radio silence. And then, “Holy shit, did he just crack a joke?” Baker asked aghast.
“Hey, that’s Coletrane now,” C
ole complained. “She married me, remember? Pretty damn sure the paperwork says she’s Penelope Jane Coletrane now.”
“I’m going to kick your fucking ass, Cole!” P.J. snapped.
Steele couldn’t tell who said what because it all came in three directions followed immediately by hoots of laughter and instant jibes. Jesus Christ. They weren’t out of the woods yet and his entire team was acting like it was a night out in a bar.
“I need everyone to shut the fuck up and make the rendezvous point with the chopper,” Steele snapped. “You can bicker later.”
Steele set a rapid pace but was careful to keep Dolphin and his charge close behind him so he was shielding them both with his body. Baker and Renshaw fell in, closing ranks around Dolphin.
Blood dripped in a steady stream from Baker’s face, splattering the ground and leaving a visible blood trail.
“How serious is it?” Steele barked in Baker’s direction, his gaze never stopping its sweep of the terrain.
“Bleeding like a fucking pig. I have no idea,” Baker bit back. “Can’t feel a damn thing at the moment and my ears are ringing like a son of a bitch.”
“I told his dumb ass to get farther back from the blast zone,” Renshaw muttered. “I didn’t have the time to calculate the strength of the explosives so I went for more than I guessed was necessary.”
Steele swore. Just what he needed. Another out-of-commission team member when he’d only just gotten his team back together after two months of training rookie recruits and being bored out of his mind.
“We’ll be making a pit stop to see Dr. Scofield. She can check you and the woman over. Make sure it’s nothing serious and then we can get the hell home and collect a paycheck.”
Renshaw caught up to Steele and cast a quick glance at Steele’s arm. “And you too, boss man. Looks like you have a boo-boo too.”
Steele’s lips curled in impatience. “It’s fine.”
Renshaw shrugged. “Hey, if you don’t want to get checked out by the pretty doctor, your loss. I’m sure Baker won’t be complaining.”