Exchange of Fire
by P.A. DePaul
Faking her death was easy, living with her past is harder, but nothing is more dangerous than falling in love…
Sandra Walsh was a deadly sniper for the Sweet Briar Group, a covert agency with assassins for hire, until her last mission went horribly wrong, accidentally killing an innocent girl. Knowing she’s a danger to her team, Sandra goes off the grid, becoming a Shade—an agent declared dead but secretly hiding among the living. She intends to honor her vow never to pull another trigger or have contact with the spy world again. Until she meets Casper Grady…
Grady is a former Marine with a troubled past and a debt to pay. His life mission has gone from protecting the nation to helping local children and their families. The moment he meets Sandra, he knows there’s more to her than meets the eye, but he can’t help but be drawn to the mysterious femme fatale. And when Sandra’s past suddenly catches up to her, Grady is determined to protect her at all costs, no matter how dark and dangerous her secrets are.
As the danger increases, so does their intense attraction. But when they’re forced to choose between each other and the people they’ve sworn to protect, their growing love might not be enough to keep them together—or alive…
Introduction from the author:Exchange of Fire’s gone through quite a few changes since I typed the first draft. Some of them major. This scene was one of the first ones to be changed. As I wrote it, the storyline started shifting to be more about Cappy and his wound then about an assassin coming after Wraith by invading Grady’s home. Not good and too much time was being wasted trying to bring it back on track. As I brainstormed, I realized this scene could be so much more suspenseful and really dive into both Grady and Wraith’s personal storylines if I didn’t include Cappy and shifted Mars outside, trying to pick them off. Ultimately, this one scene developed into multiple chapters of high action and personal suspense (Chapters 39-41 to be exact). Hope you enjoy a peek at an earlier version!
Exclusive Alternative Scene:Grady crouched and squeezed off two shots down the hall to give Cappy a chance to find cover. Suddenly, the C.O. gripped his left side, toppled over, and pull himself behind the couch, leaving behind a grisly trail of blood.
Grady whipped his head over to make sure Sandra was still with him. She wasn’t. Sonofabitch. He peered around the edge of the fireplace acting as a patrician between the living and dining rooms, and his heart stopped. She crept along the perimeter of the room, ducking behind chairs toward Cappy. Her whole body was silhouetted by the light coming in from the floor-to-ceiling windows that comprised the back wall of the living room. She was a Goddamn moving target.
Grady brought his gun up and stepped from behind the fireplace. He ran to the corner of the hallway, placing his shoulder blades flat against the drywall. Where had that bastard gone? His former military training roared through his veins as he assessed his house’s layout. One of the most dangerous, yet rewarding, directives he’d experienced when he was a Marine was being a part of a unit that kicked down doors and cleared insurgents out in Baghdad. Except then, he had about seven other guys and snipers on the roofs as they leap-frogged through rooms taking out bad guys.
He now had a team of two. Himself and Sandra. But he knew the terrain since it was his Goddamn house acting as a warzone. When Mars dove down the hall, he had to choose between three bedrooms and a bathroom. Based on logic, the guy had probably been creeping forward, so that meant he was most likely in the first guest bedroom.
The one Grady rested against. Shit. He rolled.
Two bullets pierced the drywall where he had just stood and traveled until they slammed into the side of the kitchen island. Pots and pans clattered as the bullets expended their energy.
Grady continued his momentum and rolled to his feet, keeping low to the ground. He flicked on his throat-mic and whispered, “Talk to me, Sandra. How’s he doing?”
“It’s bad. I’ve slowed the bleeding, but he needs a hospital.”
Shit. Exactly what he was afraid of when he saw the gut shot.
“He keeps saying he won’t go,” she continued. “But we’ll see about that.”
“Did you get a hold of the others?”
“Yeah. I used Cappy’s phone and sent a text warning them away.”
Grady breathed out. While that was great news, it also sucked, knowing you just told back-up to grab a beer while you fought a psycho alone.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they showed up anyway.”
His gut clenched. That was his other fear. Talon was just bull-headed enough to come barging in even though they needed their asset, the inside man, to stay safe.
“Roger.” He flicked his mic off and took a step forward. A large, dark shape emerged from the bedroom, racing toward him. Grady pulled his gun up and squeezed off a round. The shape didn’t slow. He didn’t have time for another shot. Mars ran right into him, literally. Grady fell on his ass in the most ungraceful position.
The assassin kept running.
“Heads up,” Grady shouted, scrambling into a shooting position. He fired at the man’s back. The bullet pierced the guy’s coat, but Mars still didn’t slow down. “He’s got armor on.”
Sandra! Grady jumped up and started running.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Grady dropped and crab-walked forward out of Cappy’s line of fire. He placed his shoulder against a high-backed chair and edged his gun around. With no lights or moonlight, Grady couldn’t see many details but even he could figure out Cappy was gone when he peered behind the couch. Only a large pool of blood now stained the oriental let him know where he had lain.
Mars stalked toward the windows, giving Grady the advantage of seeing the man’s outline.
Where was Sandra?
Grady pulled the trigger. Blood spurted from the assassin’s left shoulder and the guy jerked, whirling toward him. Sandra jumped from her spot behind the couch, her knife catching the little bit of dull light as she thrust it forward and slashed down.
Mars cried out as his right leg buckled.
“Everyone, back off,” Sandra yelled, circling the assassin.
Screw that. Grady raced forward.
Mars raised his right hand, the gun just seconds from sighting on her head. Sandra dropped onto his stomach and punched him in the face with her silver knuckles. His head snapped to the side as a tooth flew from his mouth. The gun paused then resumed its deadly aim.
Grady raised his arm and sighted.
“I swear to God, Grady, if you pull that trigger,” she said as she slammed her knuckles into Mars’ face again, shredding the skin on his cheek. “I will make your life a living hell. This bastard’s mine.”
In one deft move, she switched the knife from her right to her left hand and sliced the tendon on Mars’ forearm.
The assassin screamed as the silenced gun flopped to the rug with a dull thud. He curled his bleeding arm into his chest.
Cappy pulled himself around the couch’s corner and Sandra glanced up at the movement. Mars used that moment to slam his left fist into her face. She jerked back, dropping off his stomach.
Sonofabitch. Grady shot the man in the leg.
Mars screamed and twitched, but he couldn’t do much more since Grady had aimed for the leg Sandra had already crippled.
She righted herself, holding the right side of her head. She bucked with the man as if she were riding a bull in a rodeo. Her knife switched back to her right hand and she sliced through the bastard’s shirt. Mars drew back to punch her again but Cappy caught the man’s arm and held it down.
“Go ahead,” he wheezed, using what had to be the last of his reserves to keep Mars from hitting her again. “Finish it.”
Riiiiiipppppp. She pulled the fabric apart and released the binding on the armor vest. Mars’ chest rose and fell as he sucked in air.
“Let him go, Cappy. Give him a fighting chance to stop me.”
Grady’s heart filled with something he’d be hard pressed not to call love. He was also scared and pissed as hell at her taking this risk, but proud of her not ending the man in cold-blood either.
Cappy held her eyes a moment then dipped his chin. He let go and rolled to his back panting.
Mars swung at her head but she dodged back. He regrouped and clamped onto her leg, trying to push her off as he squeezed and flailed. She held on. He let go and wormed his hand under his body. He fumbled a moment, then whipped out a switchblade.
“Look out,” Grady shouted, lunging forward.
Sandra sprang off his body.
The switchblade in Mars’ hand hung suspended as his eyes bugged, staring at her face. He tried to breathe in once, but gurgled on blood seeping out of the corner of his mouth.
Sandra’s aim had been true.
Grady slammed her body to his. She wrenched her head to watch as Mars’ face reddened, then his body gave out. He sagged, his head drooping to the side as he died staring at Sandra.
“Are you hurt?” He clutched the sides of her head and she whimpered. “Christ. I’m sorry. I forgot he hit you. Let me see.”
She jerked her head out of hands. “Cappy first.”
Shit. She was right. His inner caveman didn’t give a shit about the other man though. It only knew his woman was injured and demanded he take care of her. Pipe down, he told it and let her go. She raced to Cappy’s side and dropped to her knees.
“Oh God,” she cried. “He’s barely breathing.”
“I’m calling 911.”
“No,” Cappy’s voice wheezed, stilling Grady’s hand from reaching for his cellphone. “No hospital.”
“You have to go,” Sandra snapped.
“No.” Cappy shook his head. “Gunshot.” His chest rose and fell as he tried to catch his breath. “Required.” Breath. “To report.” Huge breath. “Police.”
“Shit. He’s right,” Grady said.
“I’ll call Talon back.” Sandra fumbled for the phone.
The garage door opening caught Grady’s attention. “Someone’s here.” He ran to the kitchen door and waited, his gun at the ready to nail anyone other than the team.
The door squeaked open and Grady put the barrel to the intruder’s temple. “Freeze, asshole.” The man stopped.
“Geez, Casper. I knew we didn’t get along, but this is a little extreme,” Talon’s voice said dryly.
“Oh thank God,” Sandra called. “Talon, get your ass in here.”
The prick shot him a look as he tore past, Romeo and Magician following a step behind.
“What happened?” Talon barked as he rounded the fireplace.
“Mars shot him.”
A late twenty-something, thin man stepped through the door. His hair standing up in the back and he seemed as if he was frayed around the edges. His blue-checked, button down and khaki pants should have looked nice but they were ill-fitting. Grady put his hand out, stopping him from moving further in the kitchen.
He leaned forward and whispered, “I don’t know you. You stay right here with me.”
“He won’t go to the hospital,” Sandra continued to explain.
Mystery Boy’s eyes widened. “Wraith. She’s still safe.” His shoulder sagged.
Connect with P.A. DePaul