Mission: Her DefenseBy: Anna Hackett
Team 52 #4
She smelled blood.
Blair Mason strode out of the elevator and into the marble-lined, ballroom lobby of one of the Spire Casino’s tall towers.
Floor-to-ceiling windows offered a bird’s-eye view of nighttime Las Vegas far below. Jammed-up traffic filled the Strip. Garish lights blinked on all the casinos, amplified by Christmas decorations as the casinos tried to outdo each other with their festive spirit. There were even lights on the large cranes that arched into the sky from the construction site next door.
The Spire was one of the newest casinos, made up of four tall glass spires all linked by glass bridges at different levels. It made her think of some fantasy palace.
Blair loved living in Vegas. She loved the vibrant, slightly-crazy energy of the city.
But the glitz hid a darker side as well.
To one side of the lobby stood an impressive suit of Japanese samurai armor. Her gaze ran over it hungrily. This armor was old and exquisite with iron scales and an elaborate helmet. There was a huge banner on the wall behind it proclaiming the name of the exhibition in bold, red letters: Soul of the Samurai.
To the other side of the space, a group of men and one woman were huddled, talking. Everything about them screamed “cops”, from their black shoes to their button-down shirts. But no one screamed it more than the man who followed her out of the elevator.
She felt him, like a low-level hum of electricity against her skin. He paused beside her, and despite the fact that Blair was tall for a woman at five foot nine, he towered over her. He had broad shoulders, and messy brown hair threaded with the odd strand of gold. His dark jeans hugged long, long legs, and he had a shiny badge attached to his belt.
Detective Luke MacKade. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.
A man who regularly set her teeth on edge, and made her blood boil.
She shifted her high-tech, CXM7 rifle on her shoulder and watched the rest of her team—more tall, muscled men and one other woman—exit the elevator.
As always, she felt a quiet sense of pride to be a part of this team. They were some of the best people she’d ever fought with. They saved lives and made a difference.
At the front of the group was their leader, and Blair’s best friend, Lachlan Hunter. He scanned the room with his flat, gold eyes, taking it all in. Beside him stood Smith Creed. The big man was cradling his rifle and scowling. Lean, good-looking Seth Lynch was next, followed by sexy Axel Diaz and dark-haired Callie Kimura. Callie caught Blair’s gaze and hefted her medical kit up on her shoulder. The medic’s face, which was stamped with her Hawaiian heritage, looked unhappy. Callie hated when anyone was hurt.
They were all in their civilian clothes, because they’d been enjoying a night off at their favorite bar until MacKade had tracked them down.
“This way.” MacKade’s voice was a deep, confident rumble.
Of course, it came out sounding like an order. Blair followed him, scowling at his back. “You actually going to tell us anything, MacKade? Walking in blind is always a freaking bad idea.”
MacKade was Team 52’s contact at the LVMPD. And since Blair was the team’s second-in-command, it fell to her to liaise with him.
The liaising usually devolved into arguments. Team 52 was a covert, black-ops group, tasked with securing and safeguarding ancient artifacts. What most of the world didn’t know was that human civilization had been a lot more advanced than most historians believed. At the end of the last ice age, those civilizations had been wiped out by flooding. But every now and then, pieces of powerful, ancient technology popped up. In the wrong hands, they could do a lot of damage.
Not surprisingly, bad guys often wanted these artifacts. It was Blair’s job, along with the rest of her team, to stop them. The artifacts ended up out in the secure warehouse at their base, Area 52, hidden in the Nevada desert.
A smile briefly curved her lips. She was good at her job. As a Marine, she’d made a difference, but as part of Team 52, she rocked at bringing down assholes intent on hurting others.
But sometimes, that meant the fight got messy, and MacKade was generally tasked with the cleanup. He made no effort to hide the fact that he disliked it.
MacKade paused and swiveled. Brown eyes hit hers and she felt the impact like an electric shock.
Her fingers tightened on her rifle. She hated the impact this man had on her and she did her damnedest not to show it.
He glared at her. “You’ll be briefed.”
She tilted her head. “This century?”
“Blair.” Lachlan’s tone held a thread of warning.
“Samurai exhibit.” MacKade nodded at the banner. “Officially opens tomorrow, but tonight was a VIP, opening-night party with a small group of selected guests. Someone locked the doors, and then screams were heard.”
Blair’s jaw locked. Not good.
“First cops on scene managed to get in. They never came back out.”
Really not good. “Why’d you come and get us?”
“You’ll see.” MacKade swiveled, his boots clicking on the tiles as he headed for the cops. “Status?”
One older man lifted his head, rubbing the back of his neck. He wore a rumpled beige shirt over the start of a belly, and had thinning, brown hair. “Shit, MacKade. We got access to the first exhibit room.” The man released a breath, his curious gaze skating over Blair and the rest of her team. Then he straightened. “Everyone was slaughtered. All the VIP guests, security guards, the first cops on the scene.”
Shit. Blair shared a look with Lachlan.
A muscle ticked in MacKade’s jaw. His focused gaze moved to the closed double doors. “Where are the perps now, Baxter?”
“Well, we looked at some security footage. Looks like there is only one perp.”
Double shit. One person had killed a room full of people. Blair eyed MacKade. That was why he’d called in Team 52.
“Looks like the perp came in as a guest for the VIP preview of the exhibit,” Baxter continued.
“Where is he now?” Lachlan asked.
“He’s crossed over to the second exhibit room.” The older detective glanced at Team 52. “It’s over in the neighboring tower. There’s a damn glass bridge linking the two buildings.”
Blair shifted her feet. Her hands itched to grab her CXM and get in there.
The female cop stepped forward. She had her chestnut-brown hair pulled back into a no-nonsense braid. She looked about ten years older than Blair’s thirty-three.
“SWAT went in,” the woman said.
“What?” MacKade barked. “I told you to stall them!”
“We tried. Once they saw the dead in there—” the woman jerked a thumb at the closed doors. “They refused to wait. They wanted in.”
“We need to move,” Blair said. “Now.”
“Who are these guys?” The third cop—a younger, compact man with brown skin and black hair—asked, staring at Lachlan and the others.
MacKade didn’t answer. Instead, he spun on his heels and strode toward the double doors.
He threw them open and the scent of blood hit them all in the face.
Blair stepped inside, her chest hitching. Blood splattered the walls, ran over the tiled floor, and dripped off several glass exhibit displays.
“Fuck,” Lachlan muttered.
“Madre de Dios.” That voice was Axel.
Blair took in the samurai armor, swords resting on racks, displays of old scrolls. Most of the items were safe behind tempered glass. There were more black and red banners and large red lights hanging from the ceiling.