A FILE landed with a small slap on the desk in front of Gabriel Romero. He picked it up and flipped the cover open while his boss, Bryan Sorensen, gave him the lowdown on his newest assignment. “Twin brothers, Alexander and Jason Ryker. Nineteen years old and very powerful, telepathic and telekinetic. They were abducted forty-eight hours ago before we could get to them.”
Gabriel stared down into the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. His chest tightened at the innocence shining up at him from the young man in the photograph.
“Gabe… Vincetti has them.”
He whipped his head up at Bryan’s words. “Vincetti? Are you sure?”
“Yes. Our inside intel tells us they were taken to a secret compound in Vermont. I need you to assemble your team and get them out of there.” Bryan grimaced. Gabriel could tell Bryan felt guilty asking him, due to the events five years ago. “You’re the only one I trust with this, Gabe.”
Gabriel didn’t say anything for several moments as he sifted through the file on the two teenagers. The boy who’d captivated him immediately was Alexander Ryker. The dossier stated that he stood at six foot even, with short dark-brown hair and green eyes. What it didn’t state was how flawlessly smooth the man’s face looked or how sexy the small dimple was that appeared in the corner of his mouth when he smiled. Gabriel forced himself to look at the next photograph of Jason Ryker. Jason had the same green eyes as his brother, but with a more worldly depth to them. His dark-brown hair hung to his shoulders, and a small silver hoop pierced the lower right corner of his mouth. The agency had been aware of them for a little over a year, and had been tracking them up until two days ago, when they’d been forced into a nondescript white van outside a convenience store.
“Level five?” Gabriel sucked in a sharp breath when he saw the number.
Bryan nodded. “Yes. Alex and Jason are both level fives.”
Alex was the telepath, and at that level, he could project his thoughts into another’s mind as well if he wished it, though the file held no mention of the young man doing so. Gabriel jolted in remembrance. There had only been one other person that he’d ever known who could do more than just listen. He shoved those thoughts away, refusing to think of the worst moments of his life. All that mattered was getting the boys back.
Jason, the telekinetic, appeared to be as strong as his brother, if not stronger. There were several eyewitness accounts of Jason practically lifting a car by himself to save a little girl who’d been struck by the vehicle and pinned beneath the wheel. He’d brushed it off as an adrenaline rush, but the agency knew better.
Gabriel looked back up at his boss and said, “We’ll leave in three hours.”
“Good. Contact me the instant they are in your custody. Use the safe house in Mineral Point. Lay low until we contact you.” Bryan looked at his best agent. “Be careful, Gabe.”
Standing, Gabriel nodded abruptly. He spun on his heel and strode out of his boss’s office. The Agency for Deviant Assistance offered guidance and help to gifted humans such as the twins. It was the only safe haven for anyone with special abilities. No one understood how the abilities developed, but the tension grew thick between the humans without gifts and the humans who possessed them. Ten years ago, a third of the population on Earth began to exhibit signs of strange behavior. The first incident pertained to a man who could levitate things around him when upset or angry. Within a month’s time, there were over five hundred documented cases of similar events happening all over the United States. Eventually it became known as a worldwide epidemic.
Normal human beings grew afraid of what these gifts could do to them or their families. Angry mobs broke out a year after the first occurrence. Gabriel had been twenty-two by the time the first Deviant murders occurred. They were dragged out of their homes, butchered, shot, or hung. At first, the police attempted to stop the incidents, but as the population of Deviants rose, they too grew afraid of what could happen to their families and loved ones. Soon it was an all-out war between Deviants and Normals. Deviants were forced into hiding, living in underground tunnels or abandoned homes. Fear of discovery and the knowledge that they were one misstep away from death left any Deviant shivering in the cold nights.
Gabriel remembered being one of those people. He’d been twenty-three when his own abilities surfaced. There’d been another murder of a Deviant, Paul, a friend of Gabriel’s from college. He’d been forced to watch as they brought him to the ground, strung the rope around his neck, and tied it to the back of a car. They had driven around and around the block, dragging Paul behind. Gabriel could still see the bloody mess Paul was by the time the bastards stopped. He would never forget the nightmare that time became, or the rage he’d felt for an innocent life lost, which caused his own abilities to manifest. He hadn’t been able to stop what happened next. It sent him running for his life as he tried to stay one step ahead of the humans who’d murdered his friend.
Five years of brutal slayings and destruction took place before the government stepped in and stopped the fighting. Known Deviants were sent to concentration camps in unpopulated rural areas, but it didn’t stop the Normals from trying to destroy them. In Gabriel’s opinion, it just made it all the easier for them to find the Deviants. Rogue groups of raiders hit the camps every chance they had.
A couple of months before the government tried to restrain the ever-heightening situation, Bryan Sorensen created the Agency for Deviant Assistance in memory of his child. Bryan’s son, Jamie, had exhibited signs of being a strong level five telekinetic. He attempted to keep Jamie’s abilities hidden, but a neighbor witnessed the child levitating his toys and, out of fear, turned the information over to a group of known Deviant hunters. At the time, Bryan was a successful attorney and a clear advocate for Deviants. He’d returned home from his office one day to find his wife and son dead on the kitchen floor. They’d shot his wife in the head when she tried to protect Jamie. To honor his family’s memory, he’d created the agency to assist any Deviant who needed a place to stay or to learn how to control their abilities enough to prevent discovery.
Bryan inherited an old farmhouse when his grandfather passed away, and after it sat empty for two years, he’d decided to put it to good use by making it the headquarters of the agency. Investing thousands, he’d renovated the farmhouse and added on additional rooms, as well as converting the run-down barn into a training facility. He’d also had the same private construction company build a garage big enough to house the agency SUVs, and eventually the helicopter they used for their missions. The agency, Gabriel’s home for five years, now accommodated up to thirty-five Deviants at a time, including the three five-member teams. Most of the Deviants were only there a matter of a month or two before being ensconced in a new life with a new identity.
Gabriel’s hands clenched into fists as he strode into the common room. Jackal lounged on the couch with his girl, Teresa, while arguing with Lizard and Tank about the greatest football player of all time. Chris, the resident computer techie and genius, sat surfing the Internet, and looked up at him as he entered the room. He saw the serious intent on Gabriel’s face and sat straighter in his chair. “What’s going on, Gabe?”
“Jackal, find Bear,” he ordered. Jackal was on his feet and out the door before he’d even finished speaking. Gabriel’s usual team consisted of the four Deviants, and Chris, a Normal, was the pillar of support they relied on heavily. They were the only people Gabriel would trust with his life and the life of any Deviant on the planet, aside from Bryan. In their past four years together, Gabriel had never run a mission without them.
Chris Reed, a clear advocate for Deviants, provided the gear needed to complete a mission. He usually stayed at the farmhouse, the ADA headquarters, directing them via radio with the blueprints of whatever building or compound their targets were being held in. Gabriel depended heavily on his intel and trusted his knowledge without question. Despite his supergenius status, Chris didn’t give off the “nerd” vibe most people associated with computer wizards and Internet geeks. Six foot one, he had a stocky build with well-defined muscles, blue eyes, and his head was almost completely shaved.
Bailey “Jackal” Ferris was a level four Deviant. Nicknamed the Jackal due to his cunning and speed, he had the ability to outrun just about anything and the strength to match. Jackal had been the only survivor of one of the concentration camps attacked in the middle of the night. He’d barely survived the blast that left him in a coma for two months. Bryan offered him a position at the ADA when he woke up, and Jackal had been there ever since. Jackal topped off at five foot nine with dark-green eyes, shoulder-length brown hair that he kept tied back, and a lean physique, which Gabriel supposed added to his speed and agility.
Vinnie “Lizard” Thomas, another level four, had also been in one of the concentration camps the Normals had raided. His ability to camouflage himself within his surroundings was the only thing that kept him alive. He’d seen his mother and father shot to death right in front of him. When he’d learned of Bryan’s agency, he’d sought him out and offered his services. Lizard despised Normals with every breath he drew. Six foot two, shockingly white blonde hair, eyes as blue as the sky, and around two hundred pounds of toned muscle made an impressive package. One ear was lined with multiple piercings, while several tattoos littered his body, the most obvious one a lizard.
Jorge “Bear” Vallejo, a massive mountain of a man at six foot eight, earned his nickname due to his impressive size and his strength. Bear was able to lift a car with one hand while shooting a gun with the other. His mother tried to smother him in his sleep at the age of twelve. His strength saved his life. The silent type, he barely strung more than two words together at a time. When he wasn’t running missions with Gabriel, he spent his time lifting weights and working on cars. Of Hispanic lineage, obvious in the dark olive-toned skin, black hair, and dark brown eyes, Bear had a temper that simmered to a boil before it exploded. Raised in Spain, he spoke Spanish fluently, but when he’d arrived in America, he’d made it a personal challenge to learn English just as completely. Bear tested at a level three, although many believed he should have qualified as a four.
Last but not least in Gabriel’s lineup was Jackson “Tank” Beauvard, also a level four. Tank did exactly what his name signified. A solid wall of muscle that could tear through buildings like they were paper, he was practically indestructible. Not even bullets could penetrate his skin. He’d come to Bryan a few years back, when his sister had been kidnapped by a group of Deviants known for their hatred of Normals. Tank stood at six foot six, dark-skinned with short black hair and dark-brown eyes. He’d been the last Deviant to join Gabriel’s team two years ago. They were still searching for his sister.
As soon as Bear entered the room, Gabriel launched into their newest mission. He handed the folder containing the information about the Ryker twins to Chris. “Twin brothers, Alexander and Jason Ryker, were abducted forty-eight hours ago and taken to a compound in Vermont. Both of them are level fives. We’ll be staying at the safe house in Mineral Point for a while. Be prepared to move out in three hours. We’re going in under the cover of darkness. Chris, we need a layout of the compound and where the boys are possibly being held. Tank, I’m going to need you as lead on this mission.” The others looked at Gabriel in surprise. “It’s Vincetti.”
If a pin had hit the floor at that very moment, it would have been heard for miles. Tank’s eyes grew hard, and his jaw clenched. Lizard growled low in his throat, and Teresa let out a small squeak when Jackal’s hands tightened on her arms. “Sorry, baby,” Jackal murmured, immediately letting her go and massaging the bruised flesh.
Gabriel knew every person in the room had a reason to hate Vincetti and the monsters who worked under him. He gave a grim smile. “Let’s move, people.”
The next three hours passed in a flurry of activity. Tank prepared the helicopter, while Lizard and Jackal loaded up the weapons they would need. Bear gathered together everything necessary for their time at the safe house. A heavy tension hung over the occupants of the farmhouse as the hours ticked by like mere minutes. The usual chatter and joking around was absent from the five men getting ready to enter the compound of their strongest enemy.
Gabriel headed up to his room in the agency to change and fortify himself for what was to come. He pulled a pair of black jeans up over his muscular legs, buttoning them before tugging on a black T-shirt with a black nylon weapons vest over it. Picking up two matching daggers, Gabriel slipped them into two of the slots in the vest before grabbing his gun and ensuring it was loaded. The noise of the gun cocking echoed in the silence of his suite. He shoved it into the holster and snatched up a black duffel bag sitting in the bottom of his closet to stuff a few changes of clothing into.
When he realized his hands were shaking, Gabriel gripped the edge of the dresser tightly and looked into the mirror. Haunted amber eyes gazed back at him from his reflection. A tension around his mouth turned the skin white, no matter how hard he tried to force it away. Memories bombarded him, as fresh as the day they’d happened, and he breathed deeply, repressing them as fast as they came. He could do this. He had to do this. Those boys’ lives depended on it. Shoving away from the cabinet, Gabriel seized his bag and stalked out of his suite. Nothing would stop him this time.
Exactly three hours after Bryan had given him the assignment, the team headed out. It would take them a few hours to arrive in Vermont, and Gabriel sat tensely in the passenger seat of the black SUV with Lizard at the wheel and Bear in the backseat. “You okay, Gabe?” Lizard glanced over at him in concern.
Gabriel could only offer a hard smile in answer to Lizard’s question. With his jaw clenched so tightly, he’d be surprised if he didn’t crack a tooth. Tank and Jackal followed behind in a similar black SUV towing a trailer transporting the chopper. They would stash the trucks and take the helicopter within a few miles from the compound. From there they would approach on foot. Getting into the compound would be the easiest part. Gabriel worried about getting out.
The six hours it took to get to Vermont were the longest Gabriel had ever felt. His mind kept returning to the image of the two boys, and knowing anything could be happening to them right at that very moment. His fingers dug into his thigh in frustration. He hated feeling helpless. It reminded him too much of the day Paul was killed and he’d been unable to stop those men. Just inside the Vermont state border, Chris’s voice came over the bud in Gabriel’s ear, disrupting his thoughts. “The targets are most likely being held in the back of the compound, boss. It appears that the place was originally a prison, shut down about twenty years ago.”
“Good work,” Gabriel barked. “Is there a way in?”
“There’s a section on the east side of the complex that shows a storm drain leading into the compound. Not sure if they’ve blocked it off or not, but that’s the best place to start.” Static crackled over the speaker for a split second before Chris continued, “If you go in on the east side, head north about half a click and you’ll see an entrance into the building. Inside, there is another access door to the old jail cells.”
Gabriel looked down at the small gadget in his hands as Chris transmitted the blueprints with the details he’d just given. He studied the layout, memorizing every building and room shown on the screen. It looked like there was every possibility of getting back out the way they came in if they could shut down the camp surveillance and alarms. “Is there a way to deactivate the security systems on your end?” he asked in a flat tone.
“Already on it, boss. Just give me the word, and with the press of a button you’re good to go,” Chris replied with confidence ringing clearly in his voice. He’d already thought that far ahead, and, after getting the blueprints, he’d started hacking into the system.
“Almost there, Gabe,” Lizard stated quietly. His hands tightened on the wheel as they approached the target zone for stashing the trucks. The helicopter would draw too much attention if they took off inside a town or city, so the vehicles would need to be stashed as far into the trees as possible.
In a matter of thirty minutes, the team was in the air and on their way to the compound. Gabriel’s face became grimmer the closer they got to their destination. Tank took lead the moment they were on the ground, and Gabriel followed closely behind. Lights shone from the compound, and they could see several guards patrolling the yard. They observed radio silence when they were two clicks from the fence. Gabriel sent the single beep over the radio to let Chris know to disable the systems. They would have to move quickly, because it wouldn’t take long for the guards to realize something was up.
The storm drain had a padlocked grate over it, but otherwise the drain remained intact. Bear reached out with one hand and crushed the lock, tossing the pieces to the ground. The gate swung open with a small squeal, and Gabriel’s eyes darted to the guards, holding his breath as he waited to see if they’d heard the noise. He carefully released it when they continued on their paths. He pointed at Lizard and Jackal before motioning for them to stay put. Lizard scowled but nodded.
Tank hunched over and stepped inside the drain, almost having to bend in half due to his height. Gabriel followed, with Bear taking up the rear. They stopped just inside the entrance to wait for the spotlight to sweep past their hiding place. The moment it passed, the three figures stealthily raced across the yard and flattened against the side of the building. Making their way north, they located the door Chris directed them to, and Bear made short work of the door handle, twisting it harshly.
Sweat built up on their skin, and Gabriel felt as though the tension would send him to his knees. They’d made it this far without a problem, but they still had to locate the boys. The dim hallway they entered beyond the door made Gabriel wary of whom they might run into. The three could see the other door just ahead of them, and they crept forward, all senses on alert. When they reached it, Gabriel motioned for Bear to wait. He closed his eyes and pushed outward, “feeling” for any presence of life on the other side.
Gabriel flicked his gaze toward Bear, tipping his head to indicate for him to open the door. The cells that lined the hallway had been modified from the original wrought iron bars to what looked like reinforced plexiglass. Horror slammed into Gabriel as he saw several cells were already occupied. Tank looked at him, a pleading expression in his dark eyes, but Gabriel shook his head. They couldn’t take them all. A low growl rumbled in Tank’s throat, and he swung back around to continue down the corridor. Gabriel knew how Tank felt. His jaw was a rigid line as he ignored the Deviants they passed.
The twins were in the second to last cell they reached. Gabriel could see one boy sitting with his brother’s head in his lap. More than likely they were keeping Jason sedated until they had a firm hold on him being able to use his abilities against them. Alexander looked up at them in surprise as they approached the cell, and fear shimmered in his eyes when he saw it wasn’t their usual guards. Gabriel saw Alexander clutch his brother tighter, and tried to reassure the teenager with a tight smile and a tip of his head. They were there to rescue them, not hurt them. Understanding dawned in those bright green eyes Gabriel couldn’t look away from. The boy was, no doubt, reading his mind, and their intentions were evident to him.
He finally managed to tear his gaze away from that intent stare and looked for an access panel. There was a keycard slot and pad on the wall. Gabriel pulled a small device from one of the pockets on his vest which contained a keycard. Punching in a couple of sequences, Gabriel slid the card through the slot decisively. The light stayed red, and he almost punched the wall in frustration. Tapping the piece in his ear, Gabriel fairly snarled over the radio, “Need a little help.”
Chris sounded surprised when he responded, “Problem, boss?”
“The keycard didn’t work.” Gabriel motioned for the other two to keep a lookout while he stared intently at the device on the wall. “It requires a code. Find it.”
The radio fell silent as Chris zipped through program after program, hacking into the security system at the jail until he located the necessary information. “Cell number?”
Gabriel glanced around the cell walls but didn’t see any identifying numbers. Agitation glittered in his gaze, and he looked at Tank and Bear. They’d been in there too long. The longer they remained in the compound, the more likely they would be discovered and possibly captured. “Be ready for anything.”
Bear’s eyes widened a fraction at the realization that Gabriel intended to use his abilities. In four years, the team had only seen him use them a handful of times. The three of them stepped back from the cell. Taking a deep breath, Gabriel concentrated on the plexiglass door. The glass shuddered before a powerful boom reverberated against the cement walls and it fairly exploded into pieces that scattered across the corridor floor. Gabriel pushed inside the cell in the breath of a second. He hauled Jason up into his arms, tossing him across his shoulder. “Let’s go,” he commanded quietly.
The moment Alexander stood from the bed, a piercing alarm sounded throughout the complex and red lights started flashing everywhere. Gabriel swore profusely. “Go, go, go!”
Tank started at a fast clip down the corridor while Gabriel shoved Alexander in front of him, followed by Bear at the rear. Several of the Deviants were pounding on the glass, begging them to release them. His stomach clenched as he swallowed the bile rising in his throat. There was no way to save them all.
Gun shots rang out across the yard when they broke out of the building. Lizard and Jackal were keeping them busy, firing as they ran to cover the four of them. Gabriel felt a bullet slam into his shoulder and suppressed a loud roar at the pain tearing through him. “Jackal, Lizard! Let’s go!” he shouted through clenched teeth.
It felt like they were miles from where they had entered the compound. He was only able to take a deep breath when the drain appeared up ahead. Gabriel sheltered Alexander with his body as he practically pushed the boy into the storm drain. The others raced behind them, firing on the guards chasing after. Bullets thudded into the tree trunks a hairsbreadth from hitting their targets as they raced into the cover of the trees. The sound of the alarm echoed through the forest. Gabriel stumbled briefly under the weight of the boy across his shoulder. He could feel the warm, sticky blood flowing down his free arm. Tank stopped Gabriel briefly, yanking Jason from him. “I’ve got him, boss.”
He grabbed at his shoulder, trying to stem the flow of blood as best he could. Shouts could be heard behind the team, but farther back now. It wouldn’t be long before they reached the helicopter. Jackal had raced ahead of the group to start the engine, and they could hear the blades long before they saw the chopper. Lizard jumped inside, reaching out and pulling Alexander into the seat next to him. Bear slipped into the passenger side as Tank hefted Jason in and turned back to Gabriel, offering his hand to him. “Come on!”
A bullet pinged into the metal side of the helicopter, and Gabriel whipped around, holding up his hand. The gun exploded in the guard’s grip, and he screamed as the shrapnel dug into his skin. Gabriel clasped Tank’s wrist, allowing the man to tug him into the chopper. Jackal took off as fast as safely possible. Gabriel watched the field flood with men below them. They were still firing at them, but they were too far out of reach for the bullets to hit anything with accuracy.
When they were finally heading toward the safe house, Gabriel slumped back and sighed, still holding his shoulder tightly. He felt eyes on him and rolled his head against the seat to see the boy staring at him. Unable to take the strong emotions ripping through him as he gazed at the teenager, Gabriel closed his eyes and attempted to ignore him. He’d learned a long time ago how to block out a telepath, and closed his mind to the boy.
Lizard let out a profane word when he finally saw the blood covering Gabriel’s shirt. He shifted into the seat next to his friend and shouted, “Why didn’t you say you were hit?”
Gabriel felt pretty certain his face was pale from the pain and loss of blood, but he managed a cocky, though somewhat shaky, grin. “You know me, Lizard. I can take a hit and keep on trucking.”
Glaring at the stubborn bastard, Lizard reached out and stripped the weapons vest from Gabriel’s chest before ripping the shirt down the middle. He worked carefully to pull Gabriel’s arm from the short sleeve, but Gabriel still let out a hiss as the fabric pulled at the bullet hole. Lizard popped the end of a flashlight in his mouth as he examined the wound. Gabriel knew the bullet had gone all the way through, but figured it would need stitches. Lizard tore open the first aid kit from under the seat and wrapped the wound up as best as he could. “You’re going to need stitches,” Lizard yelled to be heard over the loud blades.
Gabriel grimaced but nodded, tipping his head back into the headrest. God, he hated needles.