Owen Cullen was a dream. Not a dream come true because I’d never dared to dream. He was my wildest fantasy, a hallucination, a delusion. The handsome man who’d saved my life—twice. He was a real-life hero, and I was…what was I? Filth, that was what I was. The daughter of a gangster, the niece of the reigning king of Chicago’s underground. I tried my best not to fall in love with Owen. I tried not to mistake his kindness. I tried to remember the lessons of my youth: Love was a weakness. Sex was a weapon. It didn’t work. I fell in love. Then my uncle found me, and I ruined everything.
Natasha. It was a fake name. One she’d made up on the fly when my team had rescued her from a life worse than death. She had no place to go, so I took her home. It was supposed to be temporary, just until we learned who she was. But the woman proved to be stubborn and kept her secrets buried deep. She’d lived with me for months, and every day the pull of her called to me. I was living a nightmare of my own making. I didn’t trust women, especially the one sleeping in my guest bedroom. I’d fought the good fight. I’d held out for as long as I could. Then all of her secrets came out, but it was too late. I was in too deep. Natasha, the beautiful woman with no last name, was mine. But she had a last name—Pollaski.
Everything came crashing down.
I was no stranger to the battlefield. I was used to blood, guts, and no glory. What I wasn’t accustomed to was the feeling of my heart being torn from my chest. What I was not acquainted with was desperation. Natasha was gone, and I had less than twenty-four hours to find her, or she’d be gone in a different way.
Welcome back to Z Corp and Special Forces—Operation Alpha. New team, new badass former military heroes. Like the teams that have come before, Owen, Gabe, Myles, Kevin, and Cooper are ready for action. With a little help from Susan Stoker’s unparalleled cast of heroes.
Life is about choices.
I’d read that somewhere.
Every choice you make, makes you.
I’d read that, too.
It was bullshit.
Obviously, the Maxwell guy who wrote that in one of his books about growth and leadership didn’t take into account there were some people who didn’t have choices.
I was one of those people.
I didn’t have choices.
Not if I wanted to stay alive.
My whole life, I was a woman whose decisions had been made for me. I had no choice but to follow the rules. This wasn’t a cop-out, it wasn’t a way to dodge responsibility, and it wasn’t because I was weak or stupid. In the world I grew up in the only choice you had was to learn and do it fast. Learn to keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, and do as you’re told. If you didn’t, you’d find yourself swimming with the fishes with a pair of lead boots on your feet.
I wasn’t sure if my father, the crime boss, or my uncle, the new boss when my father bit the bullet—not literally but close enough—actually said stuff like ‘swim with the fishes.’ But in my head, it sounded better than what it really meant—murdered. Which was how people in my world ended up when they didn’t follow orders. When they thought for themselves, when they had morals, when they tried to escape, when they talked.
My father had tolerated me. This was because I was smart and kept my mouth shut. I did as I was told, didn’t question anything, and mostly stayed out of sight.
My uncle despised me for a variety of reasons. His biggest issue with me was that I was breathing and not just currently—that started when I drew my first breath. No, that wasn’t right. My uncle’s hatred started when I was a bundle of cells. He had a wife, though she wasn’t my aunt—she was the woman of the house. And like all the ones before her she was disposable. Some of them had more freedom than others. After my uncle divorced them, some were set up in brownstones close to where he lived, some disappeared and were just gone. I assumed they were swimming with the fishes, though I never asked.
I did know the ones who were left breathing all lived on the same block. It was like