An EXIT Inc. Thriller (Book#3)
In the thrilling conclusion to Lena Diaz’s EXIT Inc. series, former enemies become unlikely allies--and lovers--as the war between rival agencies culminates in a battle that eclipses everything that came before it.
The new leader of EXIT Inc.’s ruling Council, Kade Quinn, is tasked with dismantling the clandestine side of the company. But when the enforcers he’s supposed to rehabilitate start disappearing, he discovers that the government they once protected has marked all of the former operatives for execution--including Kade.
When enforcer Bailey Stark finds herself fighting for her life against the company she works for, the last person she expects to help her is their leader--Kade. She soon finds that Kade’s passion for justice rivals her own. But can she trust the smoldering heat that flares between them? Or is he trying to capture her heart just so he can destroy her?
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“In this action-packed finale, the story boils down to “Whom do you trust?” As EXIT Inc. is completely dismantled, the remaining Enforcers are being brought in, supposedly for retraining. That operation is at the heart of this chilling entry. Adversaries have to make quick decisions that they hope will reveal their true enemies. When emotions become involved, the stakes are raised, considerably.”
– RT Magazine
Friday, 11:55 PM
It was a perfect night to catch a killer.
A warm breeze blew out of the south at about six miles per hour. Rain-heavy clouds covered the half-moon, plunging the cliff where Special Agent Kade Quinn stood into darkness. He was betting on the old cliché, third time’s a charm. And also betting on the numbers—that his six, shiny new special agents could take down one highly skilled, remarkably cunning, experienced assassin.
Not the kind of odds to go to Vegas over. But he had to work with what he had.
If things went as planned, Bailey Stark would soon be in custody like the dozens of other EXIT Inc. Enforcers that his team had managed to capture. The now-defunct company could never again fool the public into believing that all it did was offer vacation packages, so-called “EXtreme International Tours.” The clandestine organization’s true legacy as a corrupt front for government-sanctioned murder would end with the capture of the last few Enforcers. By the time his mission was over, every last one of the assassins who’d worked for EXIT would be functioning members of society.
And innocents like Abby would never again become the victims of killers like Bailey.
Between the nightmare of his wife’s death and the near-constant ache in his ruined left leg, Kade had his own, very personal, debt with EXIT. And he planned on collecting.
He scanned the tree line. Past the red oak and Ponderosa pines, the Colorado Rockies squatted like dark sentinels watching over tonight’s operation. Below him, in the middle of a wide, nearly treeless valley, was ground zero, the two-story cottage that Bailey believed would be her sanctuary.
Instead, it would become her last stand.
A quarter-mile-long driveway connected a two-lane highway to this remote property. At close to midnight and an hour’s drive from Boulder, the road was essentially deserted. Kade couldn’t have asked for a better place to launch an ambush. And if his intel was correct, Bailey should arrive within the next half hour.
Only a few minutes later the two-way radio on his belt crackled to life. “Big Bear to Lone Wolf. Come in.”
Kade rolled his eyes and pressed the transmit button. “Kade here. What’s the situation report, Nichols?”
“You’re ruining my fun, boss.”
He shook his head but played along. He had to pick his battles. “Lone Wolf to Big Bear. What’s the sitrep?”
“Much better.” A chuckle sounded through the radio. “A beat-up, dark blue Camaro just turned off the highway. One occupant. Looks to be our target. She’s heading toward the cottage.”
“Use the SUV to block the road behind her. If she gets spooked, I don’t want her doing a one-eighty and making it to the highway.”
“Affirmative. Big Bear out.”
Kade clicked off the mic and belatedly wished he’d downed a handful of antacids before driving out here. Being assigned these eager, raw newbies had to be his penance for his breakdown after the accident. They were also the reason he was here in person rather than monitoring the mission remotely per the usual protocol. Tonight’s target had already tricked his team and gotten away—twice. Kade was here to make sure that didn’t happen again.
“Cord,” he said through the two-way. “Sitrep.”
“You mean you aren’t going to call me Little Bear?”
“Do you want me to?” He was half-afraid of the answer.
“Hell no. I’m not in junior high.”
“You guys know I can hear you, right?” Nichols chimed in.
“Sitrep,” Kade growled.
“She just passed my ten o’clock,” Cord announced. “Dom should have her in his sights in a few seconds.”
“Already do,” Dominic confirmed. “The car is pulling up to the house. We’re all set.”
“Radio silence in three, two, one.” Kade clicked off the transmitter. They couldn’t risk the sound of static or a mistimed transmission alerting their target. Or at least, that was the official reason for breaking communications. Unofficially, he needed a few moments of silence to get his impatience under control. What had happened to the bureau’s standards? Big Bear, Little Bear? Hell, two of his agents—Dom and Jack—had tattoos. Since when had the FBI allowed tats? Quantico was going soft.
He looked through the binoculars. Instead of driving into the attached garage as expected, Bailey did a three-point turn and parked the Camaro pointing down the driveway. Was she suspicious? Had she purposely positioned her vehicle for a quick getaway?
His hands tightened around the binoculars. The driver’s door opened. A petite woman in dark-colored shorts and a white T-shirt emerged. A pistol was holstered at her waist and her shoulder-length, curly red hair reflected like flames in the soft glow of the porch light. Even at this distance she had the kinds of curves that made men pay attention—including Kade, much to his chagrin. He had more reason than most to despise Enforcers, and yet his breath caught every time he looked at one of her photographs in the case file.
He couldn’t imagine the effect she’d have on him if he ever got within a few feet of her in person. It was bad enough that his pulse quickened whenever those deep green eyes gazed back at him from her pictures. But what he hated the most was the odd feeling of kinship he felt toward her, a tug of empathy when he saw the shadows in her eyes, the same shadows he saw every time he looked in a mirror. He couldn’t help wondering what had happened to harden her and make her look so lost, so sad, so incredibly . . . alone.
Usually, when those thoughts were going through his head, a fuzzy image of Abby would pop up in his mind’s eye, making him despise himself even more. How could he feel sorry for his enemy when his own wife had been murdered by one of Bailey’s peers?
He shook his head in disgust.
Down below, the woman who’d caused him so much confusion and self-loathing over the past few months ducked into her car and pulled out a backpack, which she then slung over her shoulder. A few seconds later she was inside the house, seemingly oblivious to the danger surrounding her as the lights flickered on in the front room. Kade let out a breath of relief. She must not have spotted his agents.
Kade had decided the safest approach was for his team to ambush her after she fell asleep. They’d already disabled her security alarm, making it seem like it was working when it really wasn’t. Cameras and listening devices had been set up inside and constantly relayed information back to the watchlike device on Cord’s wrist. When Cord was confident that Bailey was asleep, he’d press a button on that insanely expensive piece of equipment that would send vibrations to the similar devices strapped to the other agents’ wrists. Then all five of them—three from the front, two from the back, would quietly enter the home.
Their sixth team member, Nichols, was Plan B. If Bailey managed to make it to the highway, the hope was that Nichols would hold her off until the rest of the team arrived.
Kade really hoped it didn’t come to Plan B.
They were counting on stealth and the element of surprise to give them the advantage. Now, all they had to do was wait. But since Kade’s throbbing bum leg was acting up tonight, he’d have to do his waiting in his rental car.
He headed away from the cliff, stiffly maneuvering down the rocky slope. The thick, dark clouds weren’t blocking the moon anymore, so he could easily see the luxury Cadillac Coupe parked beneath some twisted oak trees.
Earlier, he’d made sure the car wasn’t visible from below. He’d also fashioned a small hole in the bushes near the front passenger window so he could see the cottage from inside the car. He’d tried to consider every possible variable. And so far things were going according to plan.
When he reached the car and opened the door, he debated breaking the seal on the bottle of Jim Beam that he’d impulsively bought on the way here. Sometimes the ache in his leg required something stronger than over-the-counter painkillers. And his previous abuse of prescription meds that had nearly destroyed his career left him with precious few ways to treat his pain. Group therapy sure as hell wasn’t helping. He wasn’t good at the whole mind over matter mentality.
After only a few seconds of deliberation, he reluctantly decided against the whiskey. He’d stood on that cliff too long. The pain in his leg and hip had gotten too bad for the relief that just a few shots of whiskey would bring. If he started drinking right now, he might not stop until the bottle was empty—which of course wasn’t an option during a mission. Jim would have to wait until Kade was back at home base and there was no one around to witness his sorry state.
He settled into the luxurious driver’s seat, the soft leather and change of position blessedly reducing the pain to a bearable level. Score one for a car he’d never expected to drive until he was old enough for a retirement home. But hauling himself up into a four-by-four pickup, his preferred mode of transportation prior to the accident, was impossible now without white-knuckling pain.
Using his binoculars again, he watched the operation play out below. Dominic, Alice, and Cord were crouched on the front porch. Even though Kade couldn’t see the back of the house, he knew that Reese and Jack were waiting there.
Bailey didn’t make them wait long. The lights downstairs flicked off. An upstairs light turned on. Twenty minutes later, Cord gave the signal. Making quick work of the locks, the team surged inside, weapons drawn. The only way that Bailey could escape now was if she had wings and could fly out one of the second-story windows.
Kade tossed the binoculars onto the passenger seat and leaned back, massaging the muscles of his left thigh, hoping to stave off the debilitating cramps that often came when the pain got this bad.
In spite of the heat, he didn’t turn on the engine to run the air conditioner. Sound could travel for miles in these foothills. But even with the door propped open, the air inside the car was stifling.
Summer in Colorado wasn’t for sissies.
At least it wasn’t a steam bath like the summers in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. There the humidity made breathing feel like drawing air through a hot, wet sponge.
He closed his eyes, listening to the high-pitched song of crickets and the low rustling of other night creatures. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his face. He absently wiped it away. Time seemed to crawl. But a quick check of his watch revealed it had only been five minutes since the team went into the house. He settled back again, waiting for Cord’s announcement over the radio that Bailey was in custody.
Another minute ticked by. Then another.
His eyes flew open. The crickets had stopped chirping. The woods had gone silent. He scanned his surroundings and curled his right hand around the butt of the Walther PPK holstered at his waist. All he heard was the light rustling of pine needles scraping against each other in the warm breeze.
Something was wrong.
He grabbed the binoculars and studied the cottage. The lights were on upstairs. That should be the signal that they’d apprehended Bailey. So why hadn’t Cord transmitted an update?
A low rhythmic thump sounded from somewhere outside the car. Someone running? He dropped the binoculars and pointed his pistol through the door opening just as a flash of white streaked past and disappeared into the woods.
Bailey. Still wearing her shorts and white T-shirt. Kade swore.
How had she escaped this time?
He holstered his pistol and grabbed the door to pull himself to standing, cursing again when his bum leg threatened to crumple beneath him. When he was sure that he wasn’t going to fall flat on his face, he clicked the transmitter on his belt.
“This is Lone Wolf,” he spat out, “and he’s seriously pissed. Get your heads out of your asses and get up here. Little Red Riding Hood just ran past me.”
Knowing his team would never get here in time, Kade steeled himself against the pain and took off after his prey.