Hard to Let Go - Laura Kaye

Chapter 1

The warehouse was an abandoned shell. Empty so long that parts of the roof had caved in, most of the windows were gone, and nature had started to reclaim the concrete and cement, with bits of green taking root in the building’s cracks. Proof of the resilience of life, even in the worst of circumstances.

Most of Beckett Murda’s life was proof of that.

The whistling early morning wind and the distant sounds of Baltimore car traffic and ships’ horns were the only noises that made their way into this corner of what was left of the fourth floor, and that was just fine by Beckett. Because the height and the quiet and the seclusion made it the perfect place from which to protect what he cared about most.

His friends.

His brothers.

His chance at redemption.

Crouching beside a busted window gave Beckett the perfect view of Hard Ink Tattoo, his temporary home the past two and a half weeks. Or, at least, it was the perfect place to see what was left of it. The red-brick, L-shaped building sat on the opposite corner of the intersection. Just a few days before, the center of the long side of the L had been reduced to rubble courtesy of his enemies. The predawn attack had claimed the lives of three good men. Three too damn many.

With Wednesday morning daylight just breaking, Beckett scanned a one-eighty from left to right, his gaze sequentially moving from the empty roads that led to Hard Ink’s intersection, to Hard Ink itself, to the surrounding buildings—all empty just as this one was except for Hard Ink. Luckily, the side on which their group lived hadn’t suffered any loss of integrity during the attack, so they hadn’t had to relocate their base of operations.

Beckett repeated the survey using a pair of high-power binoculars, useful for picking up details he might otherwise miss, given the loss of acuity he’d experienced in his right eye from a grenade explosion just over a year ago. His lefty was 20/20 all the way, but shrapnel had reduced his righty to 20/160. His visual impairment in that eye was damn close to legally blind, and it made seeing at a distance a bitch.

That explosion marked the beginning of the whole clusterfuck that led to him sitting in this hellhole all night. Beckett’s Army Special Forces team had been ambushed at a checkpoint in Afghanistan, killing their commander and six other members of the team. In addition to himself, the four survivors—his best friend, Derek “Marz” DiMarzio, second-in-command Nick Rixey, Shane McCallan, and Edward “Easy” Cantrell—had fought tooth and nail to make it out alive, only to be blamed for their teammates’ deaths, accused of dereliction of duty, and sent packing from the Army courtesy of other-than-honorable discharges and nondisclosure agreements ensuring they could never say anything to try to clear their names.

Now they were doing it anyway. This was their one and only shot.

Movement along the far side of Hard Ink.

Beckett focused in to see Katherine Rixey pause at the corner before running across the road to the shadows of the opposite building. From there, Nick’s younger sister skirted tight along the wall, darted across the road again, and then disappeared from view as she entered the warehouse where he hid. Within a minute the rapid thump of footsteps echoed up the stairwell.

Nearly 6:00 A.M., which meant his shift in the sniper’s roost was done. Kat was his relief.

Except that was maybe the only way Kat Rixey relieved him. Otherwise, she had an impressive knack for getting way far under his skin and pushing all his buttons. And every one of his teammates had witnessed it firsthand. Among elite operatives, lives and missions depended on being able to recognize and mitigate your weaknesses. And that meant Beckett had to admit that something about Kat distracted him, irritated him, made him . . . feel.

Not something he had much experience with. Not for years.

Her footsteps neared, their sound louder in the stairwell, and Beckett’s heart might’ve kicked up in time with her jogging pace. Something about her threw him off kilter. And that fucking pissed him off. Because this woman was the younger sister of one of his best friends. And no part of what he was doing here involved—

“Hey, Trigger. You’re free to go,” she said as she stepped into the large room behind him.

Fucking Trigger. She’d been at him with her cute little nicknames since the day they met. Like it was his fault he’d caught