Dangerously Taken

By: Sidney Bristol

1.





WEDNESDAY. AEGIS GROUP Egypt Office, Cairo, Egypt.

Riley Smith strode across the courtyard toward the command center for the Aegis Group’s Egypt offices. These days it seemed like Riley spent more time here than he did at his apartment in Seattle. A fact that his mother was not letting him forget.

His phone vibrated again. It was either a secondary notification calling him to the briefing, or Mom texting him pictures of his brothers getting ready to bale hay. He’d never promised to help, just said he’d try. It wasn’t his fault a top priority job was canceling his travel plans home. His brothers knew what they were doing. They’d been running the ranch since high school. Deep down he knew the messages had nothing to do with baling. He hadn’t been home since Christmas, something Mom thought was unforgiveable. Usually she aimed the weight of her guilt trip on Riley’s youngest brother down in Texas, but lately her focus was on Riley instead. She loved reminding him he wasn’t getting younger, and that she felt he owed her at least one grandbaby.

“Hold the door?” a woman called out.

Riley turned toward the van parked by the gates leading out onto the street. The team’s Client Liaison hauled her laptop out of the backseat, juggling two other bags. He clearly wasn’t the only one ready to get out of here.

“Need a hand?” he asked

Melody ignored his question and stepped through the doors ahead of him.

He wasn’t sure what to make of Melody. Zain, their immediate boss, had informed Lepta Team that because of their unique nature dealing with companies as clients and the high dollar they commanded, the team needed a go-between. Riley didn’t care one way or another. As the team’s second, his focus was logistics. Getting them from point A to B in one piece. The less he had to bother with informing clients about their activities the more prepared he could be. That said, Melody and their Team Leader got along about as well as wet cats.

“Here, let me help you with that.” He picked up her heavy laptop case and carried it up the stairs to the second floor. “What’d Grant say this time to piss you off?”

“What?” Melody glanced up at him, blinking rapidly.

“You seem tense. Grant say something?”

“Oh. No. Long call with the client.” She blew out a breath and climbed the stairs, matching his pace. She was different when the clients were around versus just the team.

“Is the job that bad?”

Melody grimaced.

They reached the second-floor landing. From the sound of it, they were the last to arrive. Melody hesitated in the hall, deep lines of worry bracketing her mouth.

“You ever have a bad feeling about something?” She eyed the hand-carved double doors leading into the command room.

“Yeah...” Great. Just what Riley wanted. Another complicated job.

“The asset makes sense, it’s just... You’ll see.” Melody jerked her head toward doors.

Riley followed Melody into what had no doubt been intended as some sort of grant dining room. Their team used it for the planning and oversight of their work in the Middle East. The other four members of their team were present and seated around the table with the projector on.

“Thanks for joining us.” Grant turned toward the wall. “We’re short on time, so this needs to be brief.”

Melody set her things down by the door and remained standing opposite Grant, who continued to ignore her.

This was going to be fun. How long until Zain made those two kiss and make-up?

Riley just wanted the job to start. Once they all knew their role things seemed to work out.

Grant clicked the remote on the projector.

An image of a woman stretched across the wall.

Riley swallowed. He stared at her eyes, his soul seemingly sucked out of his body. He blinked a few times, trying to shake off the spell. There was something magnetic about her eyes, and he hadn’t even noticed the rest of her. Her crooked smile appeared to be laughing at him as though she were aware of her power. The sun-tanned skin made it hard to pin down her ethnicity, but regardless of where her ancestors hailed from—she was beautiful.

“Meet our VIP asset. This is Erin Lopez.” Grant nodded at the woman. “She is a Project Manager working for NexGen, an oil company working out of the Kurdish region of Iraq. Two hours ago, while touring a facility outside Mosul, a group of extremists breached their security and kidnapped Ms. Lopez. There have been no demands, no contact, nothing.”