His to Take by Shayla Black

  Chapter One

  NIGHT pressed in, along with the rage crushing his chest. As he crept through the unfamiliar house, it lay dark, silent. Every step through the shadowed family room cost him precious seconds during which more people could die.

  If he didn’t survive this endeavor, he damn well planned on taking a deserving bastard or two with him. No way were these assholes snuffing out anyone else.

  He found the hall and crept down its length. As he peeked in each bedroom, he gripped a SIG SAUER in his gloved palm.

  Finally, he found the master bedroom. He stepped in, then frowned. Too still. No snoring, no audible breathing. Dead silence.

  Peering through the inky space, he found the bed rumpled but empty and bit back a curse. Where the hell—

  The feel of something hard and cold pressing against the back of his skull had him grimacing and holding in a curse.

  “You have five seconds to tell me who you are and why the fuck you broke into my house at three a.m. or I’ll blow you away.”

  Despite the grim situation, amusement lifted a corner of his lips. “You could, Hunter, but I think your wife would remove your balls if you started offing her family.”

  “Joaquin?” the other man asked, but didn’t ease up on the firearm aimed at his brain.

  “Kata doesn’t have any other brothers,” he pointed out.

  A muffled feminine squeal sounded from around the corner. The turn of a knob and the yank of a door later, bare feet scampered across a hardwood floor.

  “Damn it, woman!” Hunter Edgington bit out at his wife.

  In response, she flipped on a light and ran at him head-on. “It’s fine, babe.”

  Joaquin Muñoz flinched against the bright beams stabbing his eyes. As he adjusted, he turned to face his sister. She barreled toward him in a pink, gauzy nightie that brushed the middle of her thighs and clearly demonstrated the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra.

  Almost as bad, her very protective husband, Hunter, still pointed a gun in his face. No doubt the former Navy SEAL knew how to use it well.

  With another feminine scream of delight, Kata reached him and launched herself into his arms. How long had it been since he’d seen her? Almost three years. A fucking lifetime ago, really.

  Then Joaquin didn’t think anything as he felt her hard belly against his own. “You’re pregnant?”

  Kata stepped back and rubbed a hand over her distended abdomen. “Yeah.”

  “Thirty-one weeks.” Hunter lowered the gun, but the tone warned him not to upset Kata or there’d be hell to pay. “We’re happy.”

  “We are,” she assured with a smile. “I’m due May thirtieth. It’s a boy. Please be happy for us.”

  Joaquin didn’t get the whole pairing off and spitting out kids thing, but pregnancy agreed with Kata. Though she didn’t wear a shred of makeup, she glowed. Glossy chocolate hair covered her shoulders. Her smile wasn’t the only thing that revealed her apparently sublime joy.

  If she was happy, he’d play happy for her. “Of course.”

  Kata relaxed, grabbing a nearby robe and belting it above her belly. “What brings you here?”

  “Yeah. In the middle of the night without so much as ringing the doorbell?” Hunter’s eyes looked chilly even when he was in a good mood. At the moment, they held the warmth of a glacier.

  Kata elbowed her husband with an exasperated sigh. “Is everything all right? Do you need a bed? Can you stay this time?”

  “Hold it right there, motherfucker!” Another Edgington blasted from the hallway, semiautomatic pointed in his face. Then he blinked. “Joaquin?”

  “As you can see . . .”

  “Logan, damn it!” Kata braced her hands on her hips. “Put the gun down. What are you doing here?”

  “I was up helping Tara feed the twins when I looked out the window. Since that streetlight shines on your back fence, I could see someone sneak over. I found the French doors to the family room unlocked and I followed.”

  When Hunter whipped a censuring stare at Kata, she winced. “Sorry. I forgot to lock the door when I came back in after watering the plants.”

  “And you forgot to set the alarm,” her husband added. “Again.”

  “Jesus, why didn’t you just knock?” Logan sounded almost as annoyed as his brother.

  “I didn’t want to wake everyone in the house up.”

  “Everyone?” Hunter quipped. “There was no one else in the house with me except your sister. And the damn dog that’s obviously sacked out. Freaking furball.”

  Joaquin rubbed at the back of his neck. He’d kind of figured that. He’d wanted help, not a family reunion. Right now, the family thing was just in his way, but he smiled at Kata. “I wasn’t sure, and my time to be polite has run out.”

  “Danger?” Hunter asked sharply.

  Despite his golden hair standing slightly on end, the scars on his shoulder where he’d been shot in virtually the same spot twice, and a pair of low-slung gray sweat pants, Joaquin didn’t doubt that his brother-in-law could still kill a man with his bare hands. Exactly the sort of guy he needed now. Logan, also a former SEAL, was cut from the same cloth. He wore his dark hair a little long these days, and even though it curled up at the ends, Joaquin would never mistake Hunter’s younger brother for a pussy. The pair of them had identical Navy SEAL tattoos on their biceps—an eagle with stars-and-stripes wings holding a trident—and piercing blue eyes.

  “Yes,” he answered his brother-in-law simply. “There have already been multiple murders, the last one less than twelve hours ago.”

  “Shit,” Hunter muttered, then turned to Kata. “Put something on and go across the street with Logan.”

  “I’m not leaving my brother.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “He just got here.”

  “That is a very direct order, Katalina.” Hunter had become an immovable mountain.

  Joaquin’s sister looked agitated and defiant. Given the little collar she wore at her throat, he didn’t think this was the simple request of a husband to his wife. It was the unequivocal command of a Dom to his sub. Interesting . . .

  She drew in another angry breath, hesitated, then whirled on him. “If you leave again without saying good-bye, I’m going to kick your ass.”

  Joaquin smiled faintly. “As safety permits and Hunter allows, I will.”

  Was Kata keen to see him because she was on some family kick now that she was starting her own? He didn’t get it. Blood aside, she’d gone her way. He’d gone his. He wished her all the best, but a picture-perfect, greeting card sort of brother he’d never be.

  “You need more backup?” Logan asked. “Should I call someone to watch the girls?”

  Hunter slanted a glance Joaquin’s way, deferring to him. A little bit of a shock, but he supposed it was because he alone knew the situation.

  “I think that’s wise,” Joaquin advised.

  “On it.” Logan pulled a phone from his belt and called someone named Tyler as Kata grabbed her slippers and her purse—sighing, banging, and slamming all the way. They disappeared out the door, and Hunter followed to the front window, watching them cross the street.

  “When did you move into this place?” Joaquin asked his brother-in-law to pass the time until Logan returned. He didn’t want to explain the hell going down more than once.

  “Almost a year and a half ago.” The man watched his wife like a sentry, not really breathing until Logan escorted her into the house and shut the door securely behind him. “I won’t bother asking how you found me.”

  Yeah, he had ways. “And your brother lives across the street?”

  Hunter nodded. “He and his wife, Tara, moved in about three months ago, just before their twins were
born. We figured it would be good to have the kids close together.”

  More family closeness. Maybe Kata’s desire for it had rubbed off on her husband. The concept of that much togetherness gave Joaquin hives. These days, he couldn’t see past his anger. But he kept that fact to himself and shrugged. “Nice.”

  Within minutes, a big blond guy in a black truck pulled up and, piece in hand, knocked on Logan’s door. The hulk entered. The other Edgington headed back toward Hunter’s place. Now they could get down to business. That was a relief because he needed justice and . . . he really didn’t know what to say to his youngest sister.

  Logan let himself in and locked the door. Hunter secured the French doors and set the alarm. In the kitchen, he flipped on lights, started the coffeemaker, then looked at Joaquin expectantly. “Talk. Are you in danger?”

  “No. But I need to figure out who might be this killer’s next victim.”

  “Are you working a case?” Logan demanded.

  He hesitated. “Not officially.”

  The brothers exchanged a look, like they had some sort of private speak that only they would ever understand. Finally, they broke contact, and Logan gave a little nod.

  “Were you followed?” Hunter asked.

  “No. I was careful. But if I don’t move fast, we’ll have more dead women on our hands.”

  Logan frowned. “Serial killer?”

  “Not exactly, though the man wielding the implements has clearly had both training and practice. But if he were a simple serial killer, I would leave that to the police.”

  As the scent of coffee filled the air, Hunter opened a cabinet and withdrew mugs. “Cream? Sugar?”

  Joaquin frowned. “Do I look like a pussy?”

  “Hey!” Logan objected.

  Hunter barked out a laugh. “Ms. Thang likes cream in his coffee.”

  “Fuck you both,” he groused.

  “No thanks.” Against his will, the brothers amused Joaquin. He missed this banter and camaraderie. Nate had been a great friend, probably the closest thing he’d ever have to a brother. Joaquin still couldn’t believe he was gone. The loss fueled him with fury all over again.

  He shoved the blinding anger down and focused on the case. Nate had done the same until his dying breath.

  “So what’s going on?” Hunter asked, filling the mugs with hot brew and sliding them across the counter.

  Letting out a breath, Joaquin settled onto a bar stool and leaned in, elbows surrounding his steaming cup.

  “I have”—shit—“I had a friend. I worked with him before he left to become a P.I. He took this case . . . A young woman came in, saying she felt as if someone was following her. She never saw anyone, but ‘knew’ she was being watched. According to my pal, Nate, she wasn’t involved with anyone and she couldn’t think of any enemies. Even though he thought she was a bit paranoid, he took the case. It was a buck.” Joaquin shrugged. “Then . . . about thirty-six hours later, he couldn’t find her anywhere. No one had seen or heard a thing. She simply failed to report to work. So he called the cops. Her place had been turned upside down. Signs of struggle were everywhere, but no unidentified prints. No DNA. Nothing. The next day, she turned up dead. Tortured hideously before she died.” He flashed them the crime scene photo on his phone.

  Logan grimaced. “Then?”

  “Nate was a good guy,” Joaquin said, pocketing his mobile. “He thought he’d let this girl down. He was determined to figure out what he’d overlooked and solve her murder. He went through all her records. Financials looked good. Nothing wrong at work. Her phone records were pretty clean, just one number he looked into. But it turned out to be a burner phone, so IDing who it belonged to was as ineffectual as porn in a roomful of blind men.”

  Hunter snorted. “After that? ’Cause it doesn’t sound like Nate is with you anymore.”

  “No.” Joaquin clenched a fist and tried to breathe through the fresh grief. “He called the number. Got nothing. Didn’t leave a message. He asked me to see what I could find out. I did and I got an earful.”

  “Earful?” Hunter prompted. “If you couldn’t trace it—”

  “NSA.” He shrugged. Normally, Joaquin wouldn’t tell anyone what he did or who he worked for, but if he wanted help, he was going to have to be uncomfortably forthcoming.

  “That clears up the mystery,” Hunter commented. “Kata has always wondered. Go on.”

  Joaquin spared them the boring history lesson about his previous few jobs. He’d worked for different fingers within Uncle Sam’s tight grip. The NSA had simply been the latest.

  “I tapped into the signal. And the conversation I heard between these two men shocked the fuck out of me. I tried to call Nate and tell him that he was onto something dangerous.” He cleared his throat, wondering why it was clogged suddenly. Had to be his damn allergies. “He didn’t answer, so I went to his house. He’d been shot execution style.”

  The scene had been branded in his memory. Nate’s hands tied behind his back and his brains splattered all around him. Joaquin choked on a violent urge for vengeance. He’d repay these assholes, no matter what it took.

  “Shit,” Logan muttered.

  “I must have interrupted whoever killed him. They’d started digging into his office, but hadn’t touched the rest of the house yet. Given what I’d heard, his murder coinciding with this woman’s wasn’t random.”

  Logan cursed. “Did you find something yourself? Turn the evidence over?”

  “I found a treasure trove of shit Nate had recently dug up. I swiped it from the crime scene and took it to my superiors at the NSA. I was told to stop using all the cool gadgets at work for my personal shit. Murder isn’t their jurisdiction, so if what I found didn’t involve eavesdropping on potential terrorists at home, I should drop it.”

  “But you didn’t.” Hunter didn’t know him well, but the guy understood him enough not to phrase his reply as a question.

  Joaquin scoffed. “No. A woman was mutilated so badly they had to use the serial numbers on her breast implants to identify her. My best”—and only—“friend is dead. From what I’d overheard, none of that was going to stop.”

  Hunter polished off his coffee, poured another, then looked at Joaquin and Logan. They both shoved their cups forward for refills. He tipped the pot. The dark liquid flowed. Joaquin had the feeling the elder Edgington was collecting his thoughts.

  “Can you tell from the evidence who’s responsible? Any theories?”

  “No. I could use your help. Nate’s dead client hadn’t known who’d been after her. Nate himself hadn’t figured it out, either. I overheard incriminating conversations conducted on that burner phone, but the two assholes never exchanged names. Nor did they state who or what they represented. One called the shots while the other did the dirty work. But to uncover their identities, I’d have to have approval to subpoena phone records, and with a disposable device, the odds of getting that information are long. I was hoping that if I figured out why someone killed them, that would lead me to who.”

  Logan nodded. “If you’ve got nothing else—”

  “I don’t.”

  “Then that’s your best option. So no one you worked for gave a damn about these dead people and . . . ?”

  “I’ve been suspended for a month. I’m pretty sure that when I go back I won’t have a job, but I’m not giving up. I will figure this out. Which is where you guys come in.”

  “What do you need?” Hunter sipped at his brew again.

  “Resources. Anything you can give me to help me find out who did this and why.” Joaquin shrugged. “I figured you two would have ways.”

  Logan smiled smugly. Hunter’s expression was almost a mirror.

  So that was a yes.

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