Chapter One

 

“HE’S HOT,” one of the young female students said not so quietly to her friend as they walked past Jonah. He got comments like that on a regular basis. But Jonah had to ignore them and remain stony and stern. He was, after all, a Secret Service agent.

Jonah appreciated the young woman’s comment, even though he wanted to tell her that he’d much rather get naked with their male jock friend who trailed behind them. Now that one was exactly his type. But no. He was on duty, even if he was bored to tears.

The hallway in which he was stationed was dull and drab. He stood tall, stance rigid, face impassive—most of the time—eyes alert to even the smallest change. All day long, he shadowed his charge, Dr. David Hammond, from classroom to student meetings to faculty meetings. Wherever Hammond went, Jonah or one of the other agents on the detail accompanied him. Even when he had to use the restroom, one of them escorted him, checking the room first before allowing him to enter.

From the time they picked Hammond up in the morning until they delivered him back to the White House, safe and sound, Jonah kept him in sight, except for moments like this when Hammond was meeting with a student, with another agent from the team in his office with them. As the lead Secret Service Agent in charge of safeguarding the husband of the President, Jonah took his job seriously.

While most men and women in the agency had dreams of being on the President’s detail, whether they would admit it or not, Jonah was happy right where he was. The President’s husband was a great guy and an agent’s dream because he trusted his agents and adhered to all advice and guidance provided to him.

People on the campus of Georgetown University had grown accustomed to seeing Dr. Hammond constantly accompanied by his well-dressed, intensely focused shadows. For those who noticed, Jonah was always with Hammond, usually one step behind and slightly to his right or quiet in the corner, but on alert at all times.

When Hammond announced, “Time to call it a day, gentlemen,” Jonah was pleased. The end of his workday was in sight.

“Yes, sir,” Jonah said, immediately issuing commands via the microphone discreetly tucked into his jacket collar.

After packing his papers, Hammond stepped into the hall and locked his office door.

Jonah and the protection detail prepared to move Hammond from his office on the Georgetown University campus to his waiting motorcade a few hundred yards away. Anytime they had to move their charge from one place to another, especially going outside, all the agents became extra cautious and careful. Outside, they lost control over things around them in ways that made any security person pay close attention.

“Dove is in flight. I repeat, Dove is in flight. Look alive, people. Fifteen seconds to the exit,” Jonah calmly gave the updates.

Jonah’s team was top-notch, and he knew all his men personally and trusted their abilities. Everyone had a role to play and would do precisely what they were supposed to do, regardless of what happened.

Jonah took up position behind Hammond while two other agents flanked him and two others led the way in front. Jonah quietly spoke into his microphone again. “Five seconds to exit. Open the car door. We’re exiting the building now.”

Another agent outside opened the door and held it for Hammond and the security detail before taking up a position walking with the others the short distance to the car. As they formed a loose circle around Hammond, they checked their surroundings, eyes scanning for anything out of the ordinary.

It was an absolutely spectacular early fall day. The weather was warm but not humid, as it had been for most of the summer. A light breeze wafted through the stillness, just enough to move the air around a little, but not enough to disrupt anything or cool anyone off too much. As a result, the popular open grassy area outside Hammond’s building was filled with students sitting, lying, tossing Frisbees, doing anything they could to be outdoors.

The sidewalk ran along the crowded green, which gave Hammond’s agents a lot of people to visually scan.

“Look sharp, people,” Jonah ordered softly, even though he didn’t have to—his agents were good, and he knew it. Jonah was one of the youngest men in the agency to be placed in charge of a detail to guard a member of the President’s immediate family. It was a huge responsibility, but one he embraced with enthusiasm.

They were ten feet from the building. Twenty feet. Fifty feet. One hundred feet. All looked clear—just like the hundreds of other times they’d made this same walk. The car door was open, and another agent from his detail stood ready with his hand on the door.

At nearly the halfway point between the building and the waiting car, Jonah heard it. Someone yelling.

What the hell was that? A voice—a loud voice, angry. But who? What? Where?

Jonah and the others instinctively moved closer to Hammond without anyone saying a word.

Where the hell was that voice coming from?

They spotted the man at almost the same second. He was still ranting as he bore down on them from a fair distance away. Something had him all worked up, and he was yelling obscenities, and they, or presumably Hammond, were clearly the focal point of his rant. Jonah’s heart rate practically doubled. There was a threat. It was time to act. They would protect Hammond regardless of the cost. This was what they trained to do. Without a word, they picked up the pace to get Hammond to his car, but it wasn’t fast enough.

“Gun!” one of the agents shouted at the same second the gun was raised and a shot fired in their direction. The report was loud, seeming to reverberate in the confined space between the many campus buildings. Several more shots were fired in rapid succession.

With their adrenaline surging, each agent sprang into action, and Jonah felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. The agent assigned to throw Hammond down and cover him with his own body did so. Sure, there might be a skinned palm or two, but their charge would be alive, and that was the key point.

Jonah heard another shot and saw an agent to his left drop his weapon and collapse to the ground. He cringed as he heard the man’s head hit the sidewalk. Shit! That had to hurt. But Jonah was so focused on the shooter that he didn’t have time to see who had been hit. He had a man down and a threat to his charge. Worry later. Act now.

“Man down,” he shouted into his radio. “Man down. Backup. Backup. Backup. Dove in jeopardy.” The remaining agents and Jonah crouched, aiming at the shooter.

From out of nowhere, a compact, muscled man launched himself straight at the gunman. He collided with the shooter and knocked him to the ground—hard. That time Jonah felt nothing when the man hit the ground and dropped his gun. The man who had taken the gunman down remained on top of him, holding him completely immobilized in a chokehold.

“Car! Car! Car! Get Dove into the car. Now!” Jonah shouted at his team. With an agent on either side and another bodily lifting Hammond off the ground, they were prepared to move him to his car and get him the hell out of there. It would have worked too, if Hammond hadn’t seen the injured agent fall to the ground right beside him.

“Let go of me!” Hammond angrily shouted at the men who held him as he struggled hard to get away. He dug in his heels and bucked, trying to get free of the hands intent on rushing him forward. “Let me go, damn it! I can save him. Let go of me. Let me get to him,” he screamed in frustration as the agents kept a firm hold on him, intent on doing precisely the opposite of what Hammond wanted. “Stop!” he screamed, struggling just that much harder to break free.

Jonah could see his men were having trouble. Hammond was strong. He was all muscle—they all knew that. Hammond was also a black belt in karate and could be dangerous in a man-on-man situation. But Jonah knew his men would do everything possible to comply with the order to keep him safe. They had to get Dove into the car and get him the hell out of there. That was protocol—no exceptions.

“I’m a doctor. Let me help him. He’s bleeding out. I’ve got to get to him. Let go of me. Please.”

Jonah heard the shouts of frustration continue with every step his agents took rushing Hammond toward his car. He grabbed hold along with his men, and the four of them got Hammond to the car and literally threw him inside. One of the agents followed immediately after him, throwing himself on top of Hammond’s body in the car. Jonah slammed the door closed and ordered, “Move! Now!” With tires squealing, the SUV and a matching one took off and sped away from the campus.

Leaving one of his men beside their fallen teammate, Jonah had to be sure the shooter was disabled. Gun in hand and crouched low to make as small a target as possible, he ran toward the shooter, his head swiveling around, looking for additional threats, but his survey was clear. Maybe they had a lone wolf. Finally, something that would make his life a little bit simpler.

The man who’d fired at them was older, and he was cursing a blue streak at the small but powerfully muscled man who was still on top of him. The older guy was pushing with every ounce of strength he had, making the smaller guy on top of him struggle and strain, but the shooter wasn’t going anywhere.

“Cuffs!” the man on the shooter’s back shouted at Jonah when he spotted him.

“What?” Jonah said.

“Give me your goddamned handcuffs!” the man yelled as the old man beneath him found some untapped reserve of energy and struggled more strenuously.

“I’ll cuff him,” Jonah snapped, angry that someone was trying to tell him how to do his job. Just because one of his men was down didn’t give some stranger the right to tell him what to do or how to do it.

“So do it,” the man ordered.

Jonah dropped down and snapped the cold metal cuffs onto one of the old man’s wrists, yanking it forcefully behind him toward the other hand. At least the man who had taken him down wasn’t interfering. With a knee in the old man’s back and another across his neck, Jonah got the other wrist cuffed.

“I don’t see signs of another shooter,” the stranger said, scanning the area as Jonah had done a moment earlier. “Potentially a lone wolf.”

With no further signs of trouble, the assailant in custody, and Hammond in his car and now gone, Jonah could start to take in more than just the immediate crisis. Only now did Jonah become aware of the chaos around him. Screams came from every direction, accompanied by countless sirens rapidly closing in on their location. People cried, while others ran. Two students were down, clearly struck by gunfire, and others clustered around them, trying to help or call for help at the same time.

The calm of the beautiful afternoon had been destroyed in a flash. In that short span of time, what had once been serene had transformed into something that looked more like a war zone than an Ivy League college campus in the nation’s capital.

Fuck! This was so not good.

Shaking his head and sighing, Jonah knew his life wasn’t going to be his own for the near future.

The immediate problem might be handled, but now the follow-up investigation would start, and the questioning, and the accusations that weren’t actual accusations. Shit. He was supposed to be finished in an hour. And just like that, some crazy old fuck with a gun had derailed everything.

As Jonah started to pull the handcuffed man to his feet, the one who had taken him down stuck tight.

“You got him?” the arrogant little prick had the gall to ask, while still scanning the surrounding area. Such a simple question, but timed at such a miserable moment. With Jonah’s detail scattered, one man down, and his career potentially flaming out, the stranger inadvertently walked straight into Jonah’s personal line of fire.

“Yes! I’ve got him,” Jonah snapped. “It’s my job. And just who the fuck do you think you are, anyway?” Jonah demanded as uniformed officers appeared and relieved him of the handcuffed man. His patience with this stranger had reached its breaking point. “What’s your name?”

“Benjamin Campbell, but everyone calls me Benji.”

“And what are you doing here on campus?”

“Um, I’m a student here,” Benji said calmly but hesitantly.

“Don’t fucking move,” Jonah snapped at him as he raced across the campus green toward his fallen agent.

Two EMTs, a doctor, and two nurses from the nearby hospital surrounded the agent where he lay, frantically working to save his life. One started an IV, another was doing CPR, but none of those efforts were going to work. Jonah knew it with just one glance. There was too much blood. The bullet must have hit something vital. The damned lucky shot had cost a member of his team his life.

Jonah felt an overwhelming weight drop onto his shoulders, nearly taking him down with it, when he saw someone check for a pulse and order all efforts stopped.

“Bullet severed his aorta; he bled out,” the doctor said. “Time of death, 5:04 p.m.”

Jonah was filled with anger. He wanted to shout. He wanted to raise his fists to the heavens and scream in agony and pain. They were right next to a goddamned hospital with hundreds of doctors. How could someone die a hundred yards from the front door of a huge state-of-the-art hospital? This just could not be happening.

Moving Hammond had been a simple operation. How had it gone so totally wrong?

The EMTs moved back, starting to pack up their things, and Jonah saw the face of the man they’d been working on. The fact that one of his men had been shot had registered—the detail of who it was hadn’t. But now it did.

Fuck. They got Hank. His best friend at the agency. They’d been selected to join the Service at about the same time. Hank was one of the people who knew Jonah was gay and was good with it. And now he was gone, his lifeless body lying sprawled on the bloody sidewalk.

He flashed back to all the torturous days of training they’d gone through together and how they’d both wanted to quit on especially bad days. But they’d had each other’s backs and kept each other focused and determined to succeed. And that was precisely what they’d done.

Suddenly Jonah felt defeated. His adrenaline surge was over, leaving him with only his sagging strength, and it wasn’t nearly enough. Jonah wanted nothing more than to just go sit in a quiet room for an hour or so to go over everything in his head. Too bad that wasn’t going to happen.