When You Dare

By: Lori Foster


CHAPTER ONE



MIDNIGHT CAME AND went with only the quiet buzz of meager traffic along the beach. An occasional horn blew or tires squealed. Two people exited a bar nearby, laughing too loud before piling into an SUV and steering drunkenly onto the road.

In the shadows of a weed-ridden parking lot at the back of the rundown motel, no one noticed them. Avoiding the glow of the full yellow moon, they stood behind the south wall beneath a broken security lamp.

A lamp Dare Macintosh had broken.

Ocean breezes stirred the air and heightened his senses. While scanning the area and repeatedly peering at the black van he’d rented when first arriving in San Diego, Dare waited. His friend, Trace Rivers, embraced his younger sister with choking emotion.

It had been a long two days filled with frantic preparation, little sleep, less food and loads of pumping adrenaline: the conditions in which Dare operated best.

With the job done, and then some, he desperately wanted something to eat and a place to sleep. Even more than that, he wanted to check on the skinny, abused woman still out cold in the backseat of the van.

“Tell me,” Trace said, not to Alani, whom he kept crushed close, but to Dare.

After again glancing at the van, Dare nodded. He’d found Alani and returned her to Trace as he’d sworn to, but neither man knew yet what she had suffered.

“She was in Tijuana, as you said. Locked in a trailer with some other women in an isolated area.”

“Heavily guarded?”

“Yes.”

Trace drew a strained breath, and uttered what they both had known: “Human traffickers.”

Dare nodded. “Not much in the way of food or drinks. Dirty, airless with the windows screwed shut. They had the women…” He hesitated, knowing how Trace would take it, but he needed to know. “They were leashed, chained to grommets in the floor, with just enough chain to reach a toilet. No sink.”

“Fuckers.” Overcome with rage, Trace knotted his hand in his sister’s hair and squeezed her tighter, protectively.

She didn’t complain.

Trace never used coarse language in front of his sister, which meant he was on the ragged edge, barely aware of what he said or did. Dare looked away from them, understanding the lack of control.

He focused on the rented van. “I had to go through several lookouts and a few armed guards to get her out of there.”

“Quietly.” Trace made it a statement, not a question.

“There wasn’t much fuss.” Dare always worked in efficient silence; an alarm would have brought more armed guards, possibly too many for him to combat. As much as he wanted to kill them all, he hadn’t.

Only those most responsible.

By the time the empty trailer was discovered, Dare was already heading over the border into San Diego—where Trace waited. Over the years he’d built up alliances everywhere, and sometimes worked with the coyotes who made a living taking people back and forth over the border.

Thanks to those contacts, even with the extra cargo slumped in his backseat, no one had stopped him as he went through the border checkpoint. The van had been given only a cursory inspection, his weapons ignored, and the excuse of the women being tired—never mind that one was beaten and haggard, only half-dressed—had satisfied all questions.

Both men were damn good at what they did. But Trace couldn’t go after his sister himself as he’d wanted, because the men holding her knew what he looked like. Before he’d have even gotten close to Tijuana, Trace would have been spotted by lookouts.

So Dare had gone—and come back with more than he’d bargained for.

Making a small sound, Alani tucked her face in closer to her brother’s shoulder. The siblings shared blond hair and light brown eyes, but that’s where the physical similarities ended. Trace was thirty, of an age with Dare, eight years older than his sister. He stood six foot three and weighed over two hundred pounds—all of it muscle.

Next to him, Alani looked tiny and fragile and, presently, wounded. Even since Dare had removed her from the trailer, fresh bruises continued to show on her arms and around her narrow wrists. Because the bastards had planned to sell her, they hadn’t harmed her face.

Innocence was a huge commodity, and at twenty-two, having led a sheltered life, Alani gave off a definite vibe of innocence. Blond-haired, blue-eyed women brought the most profit, but he had a feeling that Alani’s golden-brown eyes, in contrast to her very fair hair, would have fascinated the sick pricks.

Dare prayed they hadn’t raped her, knowing a woman ill-used would bring less, but he left that uncomfortable discussion for Trace.

Hearing a noise like a soft moan, Dare zeroed in on the van with his senses on alert. He’d left the rear door open so he’d hear her if she moved, if she awoke…. But she did no more than readjust.

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