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Kill Without Mercy

Kill Without Mercy, January 2016
Ares Security #1
by Alexandra Ivy

Zebra
Featuring: Annie White; Rafe Vargas
368 pages
ISBN: 1420137557
EAN: 9781420137552
Kindle: B00VQFKG4I
Paperback / e-Book
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"His involvement wasn't planned but it would be forever ... if they survive."

Fresh Fiction Review

Kill Without Mercy
Alexandra Ivy

Reviewed by Annetta Sweetko
Posted January 19, 2016

Romance Suspense

All he planned to do was clean out his late grandfather's home and bug out, back to his friends, those who work with him at ARES Security. Rafe Vargas certainly didn't plan to get caught up in the old case of the Newton Slayer, someone they claimed could KILL WITHOUT MERCY... but something about Annie White draws him in. And soon this man who survived as a prisoner of the Taliban wants nothing more than to release her from the prison her past has held her in for so many years.

Annie is drawn back to Newton, Iowa, though nothing good can come of returning to her father's crime scene. But she is back because there are unanswered questions and more women are missing. She never planned to get involved with the tall, handsome, very protective stranger. A stranger who soon becomes as important to her as finding the answers.

KILL WITHOUT MERCY will have you on the edge of your seat from the first word. In the midst of a very intriguing mystery you will find a clear romance brewing between Rafe and Annie. A perfect match ... both survivors, both intelligent and both with secrets and skeletons. Author Alexandra Ivy debuts her new series Ares Security with KILL WITHOUT MERCY and is a fascinating and engrossing beginning. There is just enough information, especially on the guys who form the ARES Security agency, to whet the appetite but not so much it bogs down the action or takes away from Rafe and Annie's adventure. The romance is steamy and well written, not just plopped in for effect; it really did flow with the rhythm of the book. As a sucker for haunted heroes and brothers of the heart, I enjoyed the touches of side stories and hints of the personalities of the men who make up this series and can't wait to see what else Ms. Ivy has planned. If you want an action packed, steamy and hard-hitting mystery with a number of unexpected twists, then pick up KILL WITHOUT MERCY and you will not be disappointed.

Learn more about Kill Without Mercy

SUMMARY

From the hellhole of a Taliban prison to sweet freedom, five brave military heroes have made it home—and they’re ready to take on the civilian missions no one else can. Individually they’re intimidating. Together they’re invincible. They’re the men of ARES Security.

Rafe Vargas is only in Newton, Iowa, to clear out his late grandfather’s small house. As the covert ops specialist for ARES Security, he's eager to get back to his new life in Texas. But when he crosses paths with Annie White, a haunted beauty with skeletons in her closet, he can't just walk away—not when she’s clearly in danger…

There’s a mysterious serial killer on the loose with a link to Annie’s dark past. And the closer he gets, the deeper Rafe’s instinct to protect kicks in. But even with his considerable skill, Annie’s courage, and his ARES buddies behind him, the slaying won’t stop. Now it’s only a matter of time before Annie’s next—unless they can unravel a history of deadly lies that won’t be buried.

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

The worst part of being held in a Taliban prison was the nightmares. At least as far as Lucas St. Clair was concerned.

No matter many years passed, his nights were still plagued with memories being trapped in the smothering darkness of the caves. He could smell the stench of unwashed bodies and undiluted fear. He could hear the muffled sounds of men praying for death.

He knew that his parents assumed that his biggest regret was the derailment of his political aspirations. After all, his military career was intended to be the first step in his climb to a position as a diplomat.

From there…well, his family was nothing, if not ambitious. They’d no doubt seen a White House in his future.

But there were few things that could make a man view his life with the stark clarity of five weeks of brutal torture.

By the time he’d managed to escape the caves, he’d known he was done living his life to please the precious St. Clair clan.

Instead he’d banded together with his friends, Rafe Vargas, a covert ops specialist, Max Grayson who was trained in forensics, Hauk Laurensen, a sniper, and Teagan Moore, a computer wizard, to create ARES Security.

He’d wasted too much of his life.

He intended to leave the past behind and concentrate on his future.

Of course, there was an old saying about ‘the best laid plans of mice and men…’

CHAPTER ONE

The Saloon was the sort of bar that catered to the locals in the quiet, Houston neighborhood.

It was small, with lots of polished wood and an open-beam ceiling. On the weekends they invited a jazz band to play quietly on the narrow stage.

Lucas spent most Friday evenings at the table tucked in a back corner. It was unofficially reserved for the five men who ran ARES Security.

They liked the quiet ambiance, the communal agreement that everyone should mind their own f**king business, and the fact that the table was situated so no one could sneak up from behind.

Trained soldiers didn’t want surprises.

At the moment, the bar was nearly empty. Not only was it a gray, wet Wednesday evening, but it was the first week of December. That meant Christmas madness was in full swing.

Perfectly normal people were now in crazy-mode as they scurried from store to store, battling each other for the latest, have-to-have gift. Or attending the endless tour of parties.

Currently Lucas and Teagan shared the bar with a young couple who were seated near the front bay window. Those two were oblivious to everything but each other. And closer to the empty stage there was a table of college girls. Already at the giggly stage of drunk they were all blatantly checking him out. At least when they weren’t gawking at Teagan.

No biggie.

Both men were accustomed to female attention.

Teagan was a large, heavily muscled man with dark caramel skin, and golden eyes that he’d inherited from his Polynesian mother. He kept his hair shaved close to his skull, and as usual was dressed in a pair of camo pants and shit-kickers. He had an aggressive vibe that was only emphasized by the tight T-shirt that left his arms bare to reveal the numerous tattoos.

Lucas St. Clair, on the other hand, was wearing a thousand dollar suit that was tailored to perfectly fit his lean body. His glossy black hair was smoothed away from his chiseled face that he’d been told could easily have graced the covers of fashion magazines. As if he gave a shit.

His eyes were so dark they looked black. It wasn’t until he was in the sunlight that it became obvious they were a deep, indigo blue.

Most assumed that he was the less dangerous of the two men.

They’d be wrong.

But while the girls became increasingly more blatant in their attempts to attract their attention, neither man glanced in their direction.

Teagan because he already had a flock of women who included super-models, and two famous actresses.

And Lucas because…he grimaced.

To be honest, he wasn’t sure why. He only knew that his interest in women hadn’t been the same since he’d crawled out of that hell-hole in Afghanistan. Not unless he counted the hours he spent brooding on one woman in particular.

The one who got away.

Lucas gave a sharp shake of his head, reaching for his shot of tequila. It slid down his throat like liquid fire, burning away the memories.

Nothing like a twelve year old vintage to ease the pain.

Lucas glanced toward his companion’s empty glass.

“Another round?” he asked.

“Sure.” Teagan waited for Lucas to nod toward the bartender, who was washing glasses at the same time keeping a sharp eye on his few customers. “I assume you’re picking up the tab?”

Lucas cocked a brow. “Why do I always have to pick up the tab?”

“You’re the one with the trust fund, amigo, not me,” Teagan said with a shrug. “The only thing my father ever gave me was a concussion and an intimate knowledge of the Texas penal system.”

Lucas snorted. They all knew that Lucas would beg in the streets before he would touch a penny of the St. Clair fortune. Just as they all knew that Teagan had risen above his abusive background, and temporary housing in the penitentiary to become a successful businessman. Teagan had not only joined ARES, but he owned a mechanic shop that catered to a high-end clientele who had more money than sense when it came to their precious sports cars.

“I might break out the violins if I didn’t know you’re making a fortune,” Lucas said as the bartender arrived to replace their drinks with a silent efficiency.

“Hardly a fortune.” Teagan reached for his beer, heaving a faux sigh. “I have overhead out the ass, not to mention paying my cousins twice what they’re worth. A word of warning, amigo, never go into business with your family.”

“Too late,” Lucas murmured.

As far as he was concerned, the men who crawled out of that Taliban cave with him were his brothers. And the only family that mattered.

“True that.” Teagan gave a slow nod, holding up his frosty glass. “To ARES.”

Lucas clinked his glass against Teagan’s in appreciation for the bond they’d formed.

“To ARES.”

Drinking the tequila in one swallow, Lucas set aside his empty glass. There was a brief silence before Teagan at last spoke the words that’d no doubt been on the tip of his tongue since they walked through the door of the bar.

“Are you ever going to get to the point of why you asked me to meet me here?” his friend bluntly demanded.

Lucas leaned back in his chair, arching his brows.

“Couldn’t it just be because I enjoy your sparkling personality?”

Teagan snorted. “If I’d known this was a date I would have wore my lucky shirt.”

“You need a shirt to get lucky?”

“Not usually.” Teagan flashed his friend a mocking smile. “But I’ve heard you like to play hard to get.”

Lucas grimaced at the direct hit. Yeah. Hard to get was one way to put it.

“I want to discuss Hauk,” he admitted, not at all eager to think about his lack of a sex life.

Teagan leaned forward, folding his arms on the table. “Did you pick up any intel from your overseas contacts?”

Lucas didn’t ask how his companion knew he was quietly reaching out to his military connections in an effort to track down who was stalking Hauk. They were each using their various skills to discover who was responsible for leaving the creepy messages that were increasingly threatening in nature.

“Yeah.” He’d received an updated report earlier that morning. “There’s been no chatter that includes Hauk or anything about our escape from Afghanistan.”

Teagan nodded. Each of them had managed to make enemies during their time in the Middle East. It was war. But Hauk was a sniper who’d received a very public medal of honor for taking out three powerful terrorist leaders during his time in service.

That was the sort of thing that pissed people off.

“Then this isn’t the work of an organized cell?”

“Nope.” Lucas gave a decisive shake of his head. He’d contacted everyone he knew, including those at Homeland Security. If Hauk’s name had been floating around as a potential target, someone would have heard it by now. “It’s more likely some independent whack-job.”

Teagan’s jaw hardened with frustration. “I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. If it was a cell we could keep an eye on them, but how the hell do we find some lone nutcase?”

“I have word out that I’m looking for information on anyone who’s shown an interest in Hauk.” Lucas studied his companion’s grim expression. “What about you?”

Teagan reached for his beer. “I’m doing a computer search on anyone who served with Hauk during his tour in the Middle East and has left the military in the past six months.”

Lucas arched a brow. Teagan was talented. Maybe even the best hacker in the States. But he wasn’t a miracle worker.

“That’s a long list.”

“It’s going to take awhile,” Teagan admitted, taking a deep drink of his beer.

“Shit. I hate this waiting,” Lucas muttered. The thought that some unseen enemy was hunting Hauk was making them all twitchy. “What about Max?”

“He’s…” Teagan slowly lowered his beer as his gaze narrowed. “Did you forget to pay your taxes?”

Lucas frowned. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Teagan nodded across the room. “There’s a government employee who just flashed a badge at the bartender and is now heading in our direction.”

Lucas glanced over his shoulder, his gaze trained on the middle-aged man strolling in their direction.

The stranger had thinning blond hair that was ruffled from the stiff breeze. A suit that was in dire need of a good pressing. Cheap shoes. And a face that had a hint of a bulldog.

Yep. Definitely a government grunt.

Lucas turned back toward his friend. “How do you know he isn’t looking for you?”

“I’m too clever to get caught.”

Lucas rolled his eyes. “Christ.”

“Lucas St. Clair?”

Halting next to the table, the man instantly locked his attention on Lucas. Which meant he knew exactly what Lucas looked like.

So, had he recognized Lucas because of his ties to the St. Clair clan? Or because he’d done a background check before entering the Saloon?

Lucas was betting on the background check.

The stranger didn’t look like the sort of man to take an interest in politics.

“Yes.”

The man flashed a badge that identified him Houston Homicide Detective Sergeant Sam Cooper.

“I have a few questions for you.”

Lucas remained relaxed in his chair. There was no reason to get his panties in a twist. If there’d been a death in his powerful family he wouldn’t be contacted by a mid-level bureaucrat.

And he hadn’t killed anyone. At least, not lately.

“Concerning?” he asked.

The man glanced around the nearly empty bar. “Do you want to do this here?”

Lucas shrugged. “Unless we need to include my lawyer.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

The ‘yet’ hung in the air between them and suddenly Lucas was a lot less nonchalant about the encounter.

Narrowing his gaze, he nodded his head toward the chair across the table.

“Have a seat, Detective.” Waiting until the man lowered his solid form into the chair, Lucas waved a hand toward his friend who glowered at the lawman with a menacing frown. “This is Teagan Moore.”

“Detective Cooper,” Teagan muttered, folding his arms over chest to make it clear he wasn’t leaving.

Lucas hid his smile. In his work as a negotiator, he’d learned the art of subtly. It was easier to coerce people to do what he wanted, rather than trying to force them.

Teagan, on the other hand, was a sledgehammer.

Returning his attention to the Detective, he tapped an impatient finger on the table. He had a dozen things he needed to take care of before he could return to his elegant townhouse in the center of Houston.

ARES Security might be a relatively new business, but they were already swamped with demands for their services. And to make matters more insane, Rafe had taken off with his new bride to Hawaii for a well-earned honeymoon.

He wanted to be done with this cop so he could get back to work.

“You said you have some questions,” he prompted.

The man offered a self-depreciating smile, but Lucas didn’t miss the cunning intelligence in the man’s blue eyes.

He was a man who liked to be underestimated.

Taking the time to pull a small notebook and pen from an inner pocket of his jacket, Sam Cooper laid them neatly on the table.

Precise. Careful. Meticulous.

“What’s your relationship to Anthony Hughes?” he at last asked.

Lucas frowned. “There is no relationship. I’ve never heard of-” He bit off his words as an ancient memory floated to the surface of his brain. “Wait. I went to prep school with a Tony Hughes. I don’t know if that’s the same guy.”

“Where was the school?”

Lucas shrugged. “Hale Academy in Shreveport.”

The detective’s face remained impassive, but something flashed through his eyes that told Lucas that they were speaking about the same person.

“So the two of you are friends?”

Lucas hesitated. In truth, the two couldn’t have been more opposite.

He was the son of a Senator. He’d lived in a fancy mansion on the edge of town with a nanny while his parents spent most of their time in D.C. Tony was the youngest of five brothers who grew up in a shack that had barely been habitable. If Tony hadn’t been a six foot two behemoth who excelled at football he would never have been admitted into the exclusive private school.

And even that wouldn’t have made them more than classmates.

It was only their mutual friendship with Mia Ramon that’d thrown them together.

“Not really,” he said. “I haven’t seen him in fifteen years.”

Sam scribbled on his notepad, his gaze never leaving Lucas’s face.

“You’re sure? He hasn’t tried to call or contact you?”

“I’m sure.” Lucas felt a stab of dread. “What’s going on? Is he in trouble?”

The Detective instantly pounced. “Why would you say that?”

Lucas arched a brow. “Beyond the fact a homicide detective is asking me question about him?”

“Yeah, beyond that.”

“It was no secret that Tony was doing drugs from the time he arrived at Hale,” he admitted, not bothering to add that Tony was also dealing to make enough money to support his dead- beat dad. It wouldn’t take much of a detective to dig up that old dirt. “He was kicked off the football team when he tested positive for weed our senior year. If some unknown donor hadn’t come up with his tuition he would have been forced to leave school.”

More scribbling on the pad. “Were you close growing up?”

“I didn’t really know him until he transferred to the academy.”

“But you were friends?”

“We both played football and occasionally hung out together.” Lucas made a sound of impatience. “Are you going to tell me what your interest in Tony is?”

“He’s dead.”

“Dead?” Lucas blinked at the blunt response. Somehow he’d already leapt to the conclusion that Tony had been arrested for murder and was desperately trying to call in favors from the powerful acquaintances he’d acquired during high school. Now he struggled to readjust his thinking. “An overdose?”

“He was shot three blocks from your office building.”

A stab of regret sliced through Lucas even he lifted his brows in surprise.

“Tony was in Houston?”

The Detective gave a small nod. “He was.”

“Did he live here?”

Sam Cooper shrugged. “He was carrying a Louisiana driver’s license. We’re checking the address that was listed.”

The air pressure dropped as Teagan leaned forward, his expression hard with annoyance. Despite his years in the military, the younger man harbored a deep distrust of authority figures.

“Why are you here?”

The Detective turned his head to meet Teagan’s glare. “Excuse me?”

“If you have a body, shouldn’t you be out looking for who made it dead?” Teagan demanded.

“I find it’s quicker to discover the killer when I know my victim.”

Lucas studied Sam Cooper. The police were clearly treating this as a murder, not a random drive-by shooting.

Interesting.

“Then you came to the wrong guy,” Lucas informed the Detective. There was no point in letting the man waste his time. He felt as bad as hell that Tony was dead, but it had nothing to do with him. “Like I said, I haven’t seen or heard from Tony since high school.”

Sam ignored the unmistakable cue to bring the interview to an end.

“Odd that he was shot so close to your building, don’t you think, Mr. St. Clair?”

“Enough.” Lucas abruptly shoved himself to his feet, vaguely aware that Teagan was rising at the same time. “I’ve tried to be polite and answer your questions, but you’re starting to piss me off.” He held the Detective’s steady gaze. “Are you trying to imply I have some connection to this crime?”

Sam remained sitting, remarkably nonchalant as both Lucas and Teagan glared down at him. Of course, they would have to be f**king idiots to attack a member of the Houston Police Department in the middle of a bar, plus he was probably carrying. Hard to detect beneath that hideous sports jacket.

“I think Tony Hughes was coming to see you,” Sam said in a calm voice.

Lucas scowled. “Why?”

“Because of this.” Reaching into his pocket, the Detective pulled out a clear baggie and set it on the table.

Lucas leaned forward to study the wrinkled piece of paper that had his name and address scribbled on it.

“Where’d you get that?” he demanded.

“Tony had it in his front pocket.”

“Shit,” Lucas breathed in shock.

“Still no idea why he was in the neighborhood?”

“No.” A chill inched down Lucas’s spine. Why the hell had Tony been looking for him after fifteen years? And who would shoot him in the back? Questions that needed answers, but not until he shook off the tenacious policeman. It was never a good idea to chat with a Homicide Detective when he had a connection to the dead body. “And we’re about to take this to my lawyer’s office.”

“About damned time,” Teagan muttered.

Sam lifted his hand, trying to look harmless. “I just have one more question for now.”

“What?”

The Detective reached into his pocket to pull out another baggie. This one held a photo of a dark-haired woman with the words ‘kill her or else’ scrawled across her face.

“Do you recognize this woman?”

Lucas reached to snatch the baggie off the table, holding the picture toward the muted light. He barely heard Teagan’s low curse or Sam’s protest at his rough handling of evidence.

Even at a distance he’d easily recognized the image of a stunning young woman.

Oh, her features had matured from the soft prettiness of youth into elegant lines. And her body had filled out with curves that made his mouth water.

But he’d recognized the thickly-lashed dark eyes and soft, kissable mouth anywhere.

His stomach was fisted with a stark sense of horror that wrenched the air from his lungs.

“Mia,” he rasped.

“Mia?” With a surge, the Detective was on his feet, snatching the baggie from Lucas’s fingers. “Last name?”

“Ramon. Mia Ramon,” Lucas said even as he was turning away from the table.

On some level he understood that he wasn’t thinking clearly. Shock did that to a man. But his primitive instincts didn’t give a shit. All he knew was that Mia was in danger.

Nothing else mattered.

“Wait,” Sam commanded as Lucas headed toward the door. “Where are you going?”

Lucas’s long strides never faltered. Not even when he sensed Teagan moving to walk at his side.

“What can I do?” his friend asked.

That simple.

No aggravating demands for an explanation. Just a sincere desire to help.

“Tell the guys I’m headed to Shreveport,” he said, his subconscious making a list of tasks that had to be finished before he could leave Houston. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”


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