The Ultimate Betrayal
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To prove her father’s innocence, she’ll have to turn a killer’s sights on herself
When journalist Jessie Kegan’s father is accused of espionage and treason, Jessie has no doubt the man she looked up to her entire life is innocent. Worse yet, before Colonel Kegan can stand trial, he’s found dead of a heart attack…but Jessie knows it was murder. Forcing down her grief, she’s determined to use her investigative skills and resources to clear her father’s name. But going after the truth means Jessie soon finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who wants that truth to stay buried with her father.
Protecting Jessie Kegan is a job bodyguard Brandon Garrett can’t refuse. Jessie isn’t just a client at Maximum Security—she’s the sister of his best friend, Danny, killed in Afghanistan. With dangerous forces gunning for Jessie from every angle, keeping her safe will mean keeping her close and Bran finds their mutual attraction growing, though being Danny’s sister puts Jessie out of bounds.
With their backs against the wall, Jessie and Bran will have to risk everything to expose her father’s killer—before his legacy dies with his daughter.
Excerpt 1 From The Ultimate Betrayal, by Kat Martin
Too much downtime always made him nervous, kind of edgy as he waited for the other shoe to drop. It had been a week since his last client had headed back to Nashville, a week of peace and quiet he should have enjoyed.
Instead, he had this nagging feeling that something bad was coming down the line.
Lounging back in the chair behind his desk at Maximum Security, Brandon Garrett looked up at the sound of the front door swinging open. A gust of cool, late October winds swept in, along with a petite, whirlwind of a woman with the prettiest strawberry blond hair Bran had ever seen.
She had a sweet little body to match her fiery curls, he noticed, outlined by the dark blue stretch jeans curving over her sexy little ass and the peach knit top that hugged her breasts.
It wasn’t tough to read the anxiety in her big green eyes as she surveyed the room, but instead of heading for the receptionist’s desk, those big green eyes landed on Bran and as she started toward him, there was something about her that rang a distant bell. Interest piqued, he rose from his chair. “Can I help you?”
“You’re Brandon Garrett, right? You were a friend of my brother’s. Danny Kegan? I recognize you from the photos Danny sent home.”
The mention of his best friend’s name hit him like a blow, and the muscles across his stomach clenched. Daniel Kegan had been a member of his spec ops team, a brother, not just a friend. Danny had saved Bran’s life at the cost of his own. He was KIA in Afghanistan.
Bran stared down at the girl, who was maybe five-foot-four. “You’re Jessie,” he said, remembering the younger sister Daniel Kegan had talked so much about. “You look like him. Same color hair and eyes.”
She nervously wet her lips, which were plump and pink and fit her delicate features perfectly.
“My brother said if I ever needed help, I should come to you. He said you’d help me no matter what.” She glanced back toward the door and his mind shifted away from the physical jolt he felt as he looked at her to the worry in her eyes.
“I’ll help you. Danny was my closest friend. Whatever you need, I’ll help. Come on. Let’s go into the conference room and you can tell me what’s going on.” When her gaze shot back to the door, his senses went on alert.
“I didn’t mean I needed your help later,” Jessie said nervously. “I meant I need your help right now.”
Gunshots exploded through the windows. “Get down!” Bran shouted to the other guys in the office as he shoved Jessie down behind his desk and covered her with his body. Glass shattered and a stream of bullets sprayed across the room.
Jaxon Ryker popped up, gun drawn, and ran for the door. Hawk Maddox and Lissa Blayne were shuffling through their desks, arming themselves. Jonas Wolfe drew his ankle gun and ran for the rear entrance, ready for any threat that might come from there.
“Black SUV with tinted windows,” Ryker reported. Six feet of solid muscle, dark hair and eyes, Jax was a former Navy SEAL, currently a PI and occasional bounty hunter. “Couldn’t get a plate number.” Jax’s gaze swung to the front of the room. “Mindy, you okay?”
The little receptionist eased up from beneath her desk. “I-I’m okay. Should I call the police?” Around here, it was never good to jump to conclusions.
Bran hauled Jessie to her feet. He could feel her trembling. Her eyes looked even bigger and greener than they had before. “Are they coming back?” he asked.
“I-I don’t know. It could have just been a warning.”
Bran turned to Mindy. “Unless someone’s already phoned it in, let’s wait to call the cops till we know what’s going on.” His attention returned to Jessie. “We need to talk.”
She just nodded. Her face had gone pale, making a fine line of freckles stand out across her forehead and the bridge of her nose.
Bran took her arm and urged her toward the conference room. “Keep a sharp eye,” he said to The Max crew. “Just in case.”
Jessie sank unsteadily down in one of the rolling chairs around the long oak conference table. The man she had come to see, Brandon Garrett, sat down beside her.
“Okay, let’s hear it,” he said. “What’s going on?”
She thought of the men who had just shot up his office and her pulse started thumping again. “Danny said if I ever needed help–“
“Yeah, I get that. Your brother knew he could count on me. Like I said, I’ll help you any way I can, but I need to know what’s going on.”
Bran was taller than Danny, around six-three, with a soldier’s lean, hard body, vee-shaped, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. Powerful biceps bulged beneath the sleeve of his dark blue T-shirt. With his slightly too-long mink brown hair, straight nose and masculine features, he was ridiculously handsome, except for the hard line of his jaw and the darkness in his eyes that contrasted sharply with their beautiful shade of cobalt blue.
“Start at the beginning,” he demanded.
Since she wasn’t sure exactly where to begin, Jessie dragged in a shaky breath and slowly released it.
“I’m here because of my father–Colonel James Kegan, Commander U.S. Army Alamo Chemical Depot. Just before he died a little over two months ago, my father was removed from active duty. He was charged with larceny–specifically the theft of chemical weapons stored at the Depot. Because the Army believed he was selling the weapons to a foreign entity, he was also charged with espionage and treason. I need you to help me prove his innocence.”
Excerpt 2 From The Ultimate Betrayal
Thin rays of sunlight washed over the flat Texas landscape the following morning. Bran sat at the controls of the sleek white twin-engine Beechcraft Baron G58 parked in front of its hanger at the Dallas Executive Airport, south and a little west of downtown.
He had learned to fly after he’d left the military. Barely recovered from the bullet wounds that had forced him to leave the Army, one in his thigh, one in his abdomen, and another that had taken out part of his spleen, he’d been bored and unhappy to have lost the job he was trained for.
He’d been trying to figure out what to do with his life when Chase suggested he take flying lessons. Once he’d started, he’d liked it so much he’d considered getting a plane of his own, maybe something like the single engine Cessna that Hawk Maddox flew.
Chase had come up with the idea that Bran and Reese should share the one he owned, since it didn’t get used that often. It was a beautiful plane so Bran had eagerly agreed. Once he discovered private security work was the answer to his dilemma, the plane had come in handy. As it did today.
“You belted in?” he asked Jessie.
She nodded. “All set.” She settled back in the fawn-colored leather co-pilot’s seat and glanced around the interior. “This is really nice.” Besides the two people in the cockpit, the plane carried four passengers in comfortable club seating.
“It hasn’t gotten a lot of use lately. We’ve all been pretty busy.” He started the pre-flight, checking the electrical system, looking for any warning lights, checking the GPS navigation, checking the oil and fuel levels.
He’d already done the walk-around, inspecting the body for damage, looking for fluid leaks: oil, fuel, hydraulics.
“We’re all set.” He put on his headphones and waited for Jessie to put on hers. Settling back, he got on the radio and spoke to the tower, then began taxiing into position on the runway.
Once cleared for takeoff, the plane began to roll down the tarmac, the propellers humming as the engine picked up speed. Jessie studied the landscape outside the window as the plane lifted into the air and climbed to flying altitude. She didn’t say much until the city of Dallas disappeared in the distance behind them.
“As a rule, I’m not crazy about flying,” she said. “But I have to admit this is great.”
He smiled. “Glad you’re enjoying it. For me flying’s mostly a convenient way to get around. Helluva lot better that going through all the hassle at the airport.”
“That’s for sure.”
It was an easy flight, just a few thunderheads beginning to develop, which he was able to skirt by slight course alterations. The patchwork quilt of farmland held Jessie’s attention, giving him a chance to study her.
She was really pretty, he thought, and she was smart. There were plenty of beautiful women in Texas, but when you added brains and a dynamite figure, it was a combination Bran found hard to resist.
Unfortunately, anything other than a completely platonic relationship was out of the question. He owed a debt to Danny Kegan that he could never repay. A one-night hookup with his sister or anything remotely similar was out of the question. His sigh went unnoticed beneath the hum of the engines.
Near the half-way point, he landed at a small executive airport in Amarillo and had the planed topped off while they went into the terminal restaurant for a pit stop and something to eat. Sandwiches and soft drinks and a couple of bags of chips and they were airborne again. A short flight north and a little west and he landed at Cutter Aviation, a private airport a few miles west of Colorado Springs.
The executive terminal, where he’d made arrangements for a hanger to store the plane, was a log building furnished with brown leather sofas, photos of the surrounding snow-capped mountains, and bronze sculptures of wildlife, a place perfectly suited to its location in the Rockies.
Bran had a rental car waiting, a big dark gray metallic Ford Expedition. He grabbed the handle of his carryon, tossed the black canvas duffle that held his gear over one shoulder, and urged Jessie, towing her own carryon, toward the parking lot.
“I booked two rooms for us at the Holiday Inn,” she said as he loaded their luggage into the back of the vehicle. “I hope that works for you.”
He paused to take the Glock out of his canvas duffle, clipped the holster to his belt and pulled his Henley out to cover it, then loaded the bag into the back.
“Call and cancel,” he said. “I’ve got a suite for us at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. It’s up in the hills not far from Fort Carson.” Apparently she hadn’t figured out that separate hotel rooms weren’t an option. People had been shooting at her. He wasn’t letting her get that far away.
“It’s an hour drive from there to the Depot,” he said, opening the passenger door. “But we’ll also be spending time at the base, which is fairly close, so we might as well stay somewhere nice.”
“You’re spending a lot of money. I didn’t expect that. I’ll find a way to repay you.”
He stopped walking and turned back. “I told you before–I owe your brother my life. You don’t owe me anything and especially not money. I’ve got plenty of it, far more than we’ll need.” He stared down at her. “All right?”
She shrugged. “I guess so.” She was a foot shorter than he was, petite, with a trim figure, but she wasn’t frail. He usually went for tall, buxom women. They just seemed less fragile, a better fit for a guy his size. But there was something about Jessie that drew him.
“No more talk about money,” he said to make the point. “Okay?”
Her chin went up. “Fine.”
He bit back a smile. She was really cute. Too bad she didn’t look more like her silver-haired father and less like her brother, whose good-looks appealed to women around the world.
They belted themselves into their seats and he started the engine.
“You don’t want to talk about the money you’re spending,” she said. “So what do you want to talk about? The case, I hope.”
He grinned. “Why don’t we talk about why you don’t have a serious boyfriend. That should be interesting.”
Instead of the snarky remark he expected, Jessie’s face went pale. She glanced out the window. “It’s not a good story.”
Bran silently cursed. Dammit, he hadn’t intended to make her uncomfortable and it was really none of his business. “Hey, I’m sorry. I was just kidding around. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Excerpt 3 From The Ultimate Betrayal
She yawned as she closed the door, more exhausted than she had expected. She fell asleep quickly and slept far better than she had the night before, then rose at the first gray light of dawn. She went in to shower and get ready for the day, dressed in a conservative dark brown skirt suit and heeled pumps, then quietly cracked open the door to the living room.
Bran was already up, standing with his back to her, one hand on his hip, the other pressing his cell phone against his ear. A pair of white cotton briefs that hugged his round behind was all he had on.
Jessie’s mouth went dry. His suntanned back was smooth, except for a jagged scar on one side, and ridged with solid muscle. Bands of muscle defined his shoulders and arms, and long sinewy legs tapered down to narrow feet.
She told herself to close the door before Bran caught her staring at him like a juicy piece of meat, but instead she just stood there, her heart pounding, her breathing a little ragged.
She was just pulling herself under control when he turned, the phone still pressed to his ear. Jessie froze. Her gaze shot to the heavy bulge at the front of his briefs and she felt a rush of heat so hot it made her dizzy. Muscular pecs and six-pack abs. A lean, hard-muscled chest and amazing biceps. Desire hit her so hard she swayed on her feet.
She didn’t move till Bran jerked the blanket off his make-shift bed and wrapped it around his waist, knocking her out of her self-imposed trance and flushing her face with embarrassment.
“Sorry,” she managed to breathlessly whisper, stepped back and slammed the door. Ohmygod, ohmygod. She hadn’t felt the least attraction to a man for so long she’d forgotten what it was like. Correction, she had never felt the jolt of desire she had felt looking at Brandon Garrett. Ohmygod.
She told herself he was probably used to that kind of reaction from a woman, or at least the women who had seen him nearly naked. Jessie sank down on the bed. What could she possibly say to him? How could she explain?
But no words of explanation popped into her head.
Since she couldn’t hide in the bedroom all day, and because Bran undoubtedly wanted to take a shower, she inhaled a deep breath, opened the door, and walked out into the living room.
“Sorry about that,” she said.
He had pulled on his jeans but the rest of him was still gloriously bare. “No problem. I should have grabbed one of those terrycloth robes in the bathroom.”
She just nodded. “Yeah.” Her fingers curled into the palms of her hands as she walked past him toward the counter where he had brewed a pot of coffee.
“Mind if I use the shower?” he asked.
“Of course not. You’re paying for the room.” When he opened his mouth, she held up a hand. “Sorry, no more talk about money.”
She took a mug down from the cabinet above the sink and filled it with coffee, her hands still a bit unsteady.
“Why don’t you order us something to eat?” Bran suggested as he crossed the room toward the bedroom. “I won’t be too long.”
“Bacon and eggs?” she asked.
“Sounds great.” As he disappeared through the door and closed it behind him, Jessie sank down on one of the chairs at the dining table, coffee mug gripped tightly in her hands. At least now she knew the abduction hadn’t completely destroyed her desire for the opposite sex.
Or at least one member of the opposite sex. She grimaced. She just wished the man who had rekindled her long-dead fire wasn’t Brandon Garrett.
Bran turned on the shower, set the nozzle to cold, and climbed in beneath the icy spray. He clenched his jaw, fighting to block a memory of the look on Jessie’s pretty face when he had spotted her in the bedroom doorway. Trying to block the erection he got every time the image reappeared in his head.
Bran knew women. He knew when a woman wanted him. He swore softly, cursing the fate that had brought the two of them together, putting them both in a situation that could only get worse.
So far he had managed to suppress the desire he’d felt from the moment Jessie had walked into his office. With her fire-touched blond hair and fine features, she was beautiful. He liked her body and admired her brain. In a softly feminine way, she was sexy as hell, and he wanted her–no doubt about it.
But aside from the erotic dream he’d had about her last night, he’d been doing an admirable job of controlling his lust.
Until this morning. When the flush in her cheeks and the heat in her eyes had made it clear that the desire he felt was returned. She wanted him. Which meant he had to be the strong one because no way could he have her and just walk away.
Jessie wasn’t the type he usually slept with, women who didn’t require exclusivity and didn’t expect to give it in return.
He was fairly sure Jessie hadn’t been with a man since she was abducted. He sure as hell didn’t want to be the first, didn’t want to deal with whatever trauma she had experienced, maybe make it worse.
Excerpt 4 From The Ultimate Betrayal
They ordered-in Chinese and Bran turned the TV on in the living room, but neither of them were in the mood to watch. Jessie knew exactly what she was in the mood for. She hadn’t thought about sex this much in the last three years. Now, every time she looked at Bran, having sex with him was all she could think of.
Everything about him turned her on. The cadence of his voice, the way he laughed, the way he moved. Just watching him amble across the living room sent a curl of heat into the pit of her stomach.
What would it be like to kiss him? Run her hands over all the lean, hard muscles she had seen and couldn’t get out of her head? What would it be like if he made love to her?
Would she ruin it the way she had when she had tried before? Start thinking about Ray Cummings and the intimate way he had touched her? Conjure images of the rape he had planned to carry out the third night if she hadn’t managed to escape?
Fidgety and unable to relax, she headed for the pool, Bran reluctantly accompanying her. Exercising in the warm water was the perfect stress reliever. She glanced over to where he paced the deck at the opposite end of the pool, tall and lean-muscled, blue-eyed, and built. Nothing better than swimming–except for hours of erotic sex with the man of her fantasies.
It seemed so outrageous she found herself grinning as she stroked to the far end of the pool. She was still smiling when she came up out of the water, dripping and adjusting her swimsuit, just a few feet away from him.
“What’s so funny?” Bran asked, as grumpy tonight as he had been the night before.
She looked into his hard, handsome face and some little devil made her say it. “If you really want to know, I was thinking what it might be like to have wild, uninhibited sex with you.”
Hunger flashed in his eyes so quickly she took a step back. “Is that so,” he drawled, his gaze running over her, assessing every curve her orange-striped bikini displayed.
Her whole body flushed with heat as she realized she wasn’t the only one who’d been thinking about sex.
She swallowed. “I was imagining what it might be like, but I… I know if we tried, I’d screw it up. After Ray, I’ve got, you know, hang-ups.”
His gaze grew more intense. “What kind of hang-ups?”
She picked her towel up off the mesh table next to a lounge chair and quickly dried off, then slipped on her white terrycloth robe. Fortunately, the overhead lights began to flash, signaling it was time for the pool to close.
“Time to leave.” She started walking back to the room, wishing she’d kept her mouth shut. By the time Bran opened the door and checked inside to be sure it was safe, she was starting to relax.
“What hang-ups?” Bran he as he closed the door behind them.
Jessie’s stomach instantly knotted. What had possessed her to mention it? But Bran had opened up to her yesterday, which meant she owed him the same courtesy today.
Trying to appear nonchalant, she shrugged. “You know, kissing’s okay, but if a guy starts touching me, my mind flashes back to Ray Cummings and I-I start thinking about the way he touched me, where he touched me, and pretty soon sex is the last thing I want to happen.”
Bran’s jaw looked iron hard. “He rape you?”
She swallowed and shook her head. “On the third day, just before he got home, I managed to get loose. I couldn’t get out of the basement, so I searched for a weapon.” Her lips trembled as the memory became all too clear. “I found a wooden box and pried a board loose. The board had a nail in the end so I held it like a bat, and I-I waited till he came down the stairs.”
“Go on,” Bran said so softly she felt a chill.
“He always wore this black knit ski mask with a red ring around the mouth, which made him look even more terrifying. Knowing what he planned to do gave me courage. The minute he stepped off the bottom step, I swung the board as hard as I could and smashed him in the side of the head. As soon as he hit the floor, I starting whacking him over and over with the nail in the end of the board. He was unconscious and bleeding when I took off running.”
“Finish it,” Bran said when she paused, more a demand than a request.
Her voice trembled. “The woman in the house next door let me in and called the police. Ray was still unconscious when they got there. Turned out he was a serial rapist. He had abducted four other women and locked them up just like me. Eventually, he released them somewhere, but they couldn’t identify him or the place he had taken them. I was the only one who escaped.”
She was shaking. She didn’t realize she had tears in her eyes till Bran pulled her into his arms.
Excerpt 5 From The Ultimate Betrayal
Bran stepped on the gas. “Well, we aren’t going back to the motel. If we did, they’d find us and we’d just have to move again. Wouldn’t want to do that.” He grinned. “Not when we both enjoy the pool so much.”
Both? She couldn’t miss the implication or the flash of heat that burned in his eyes. Her breath hitched and her mind shot straight to sex. Then the Expedition sharply swerved, straightened abruptly, and all she could think of were the men trying to kill them.
The chase continued through the outskirts of town into the desert, the pickup headlights getting closer. Bran was letting the truck close the distance on purpose, she realized, and her pulse shot up another notch.
“Hold on,” Bran commanded, as if she weren’t already clinging to her seat with a death grip. The Expedition accelerated, swerved, bounced over a drop off at the edge of the road and shot out into a field, careening down a dirt track into the pitch-black darkness.
The headlights followed their route, the Expedition leading them farther and farther into the desert, both vehicles flying down the dirt road at a breakneck pace for about a mile. A shot of fear hit her when their lights went off, Bran slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel, and the SUV did a one-eighty so it now faced the opposite direction.
“Get ready,” he said, his gaze riveted on the oncoming vehicle racing toward them. Every cell in her body burned with nerves as they waited, the SUV idling like a predator, the truck getting closer, thundering toward them, but in the deep, powdery dirt not able to travel as fast as it had on the highway.
Suddenly the SUV’s lights went on, the high-beam hitting the pickup windshield dead center as Bran gunned the engine and the Expedition leaped forward. The pickup slammed on its brakes and veered off the road to avoid a collision at the same time Bran hit the brakes, and the SUV skidded to a halt just a few feet away.
“Get down!” Bran shouted, as his door flew open and he leaped out of into the darkness. She expected the overhead light to go on but it didn’t. She should have known he would have thought of that.
She crept up in the seat enough to watch events unfolding, illuminated by the headlights. Bran had already reached the passenger side of the truck and jerked open the door. The man inside flew out like a ball on the end of an elastic band, his gun soaring into the air, his body landing in an unmoving heap on the ground beneath the open truck door. Gunfire erupted, the driver firing wildly, but his target had already disappeared into the darkness.
Jessie recognized the huge bearded bald man running toward her, his pistol pointed directly at the window where she sat. She clamped down on a jolt of fear, ducked down below the seat, reached up and locked the door, though it wouldn’t do much good against a bullet.
Crouching in the footwell, her insides trembling, she eased up enough to see Bran run up behind the bearded bald man, grab him by the back of the neck, and spin him around. A brief scuffle ensued, the sound of fists connecting and the bald man’s heavy grunts of pain. The next minute the man was sprawled on the ground, moaning.
Jessie opened the door and got out as Bran pulled a zip tie from the pocket of his bomber jacket. He bound the man’s wrists behind his back, used another tie to bind his ankles. Then Bran walked back to the pickup to secure the man who lay unconscious on the passenger side of the truck. Jessie caught a flash of light as he used his phone to snap the guy’s picture.
A few feet away, the bald man began squirming and shouting, trying to get free, his gaze furious in a face filled with hostility. “You’re gonna pay for this, you bitch!” A string of swear words followed and fury burned through her.
“You think so?” Pulling the cashmere scarf from around her neck, she wound it around the bald man’s head several times, till his face was completely covered, his vulgar tirade reduced to a torrent of mumbled words.
Bran walked up grinning. “Nice work.”
Her gaze went from the bound man thrashing around on the ground, back to Bran. “Same goes.”
His smile faded as he knelt and rolled the man onto his back. “We need answers–and you’re going to give them to us.”
Bran just smiled. “You’ve got two choices. You can tell us who hired you, or I can shoot you and bury you right here. I really don’t care which you choose. If I kill you, your friend over there is going to realize he’s next in line and decide it’d be a good idea to cooperate. Either way, I’ll find out what I need to know.”
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- Series: Maximum Security (Book 3)
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: HQN; Original edition (July 28, 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1335080600
- ISBN-13: 978-1335080608
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
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