Last Hope

Last Hope


In the explosive new Hitman novel from the bestselling authors of Last Kiss andLast Hit a jungle mercenary and a female target find love on the run…

Mendoza: I grew up in the slums and lost everything I loved to poverty, illness, and death. I had only one skill to leverage myself out of my circumstances—violence. Being hired out as a mercenary hitman brought me money and built an empire. I’m the king, owner of an entire island, leader and protector of people. But I’m alone, and alone I must remain—because of my terrible scars and secret shame. My next job: Bring down a rival hiding in the Amazon. Find my target. Destroy it. But then, I meet her.

Ava: Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m famous for having bad luck. Karma hates me, and when the day job got ugly, I figured I could use a vacation. I should have known that bad luck tends to cling. So there’s no way I’m surprised that my plane was shot out of the sky. That I survived a crash-landing was a sweet twist. My jungle rescuer isn’t so bad either.  Hot, sexy, dangerous—Mendoza’s just what the libido ordered. The thing is, he says I wasn’t some unlucky part of a larger plot. In fact, I was the target. So what does he know that I don’t know? I guess I’m going to find out. If I have to be on the run with someone, I could do much worse than Mendoza. Now if I could only get the stubborn man to touch me…


Chapter One


“How come it’s always the pretty ones that end up working for these fuckups?” Bennito Vasquez is twenty-five years old. He has a head full of dark curls and no problems with the ladies but he still takes it as a personal insult when there is a beautiful woman out of his reach, and they don’t get more inaccessible than Ava Samson.

“Because they’re dumb.” This conclusion is from Rodrigo. At thirty-two he’s practically the old man of our group. But they all look up to me, which makes me feel far older than my thirty-five years of age.

“She’s not dumb,” Garcia mutters. He’s my right-hand man. We’ve been through hell and more hell together.

Heaven is always two steps ahead of us and just out of reach. Miss Ava is heaven and sex wrapped up into one tempting package. Every man with a pulse has thought about what it would be like to climb into bed with Ava and get lost in her big eyes and tangled up in her dark brown hair.

“If she had any brains, she’d have stayed away from Louis Duval and his crew. Instead, she’s sitting in a hotel in Lima with an ugly purse in her lap. That spells dumber than a box of rocks,” Bennito declares.

Garcia shakes his head in disagreement. “She’s smart. Look at how she acts. She knows she’s being watched because she undresses under the covers. She sleeps close to an escape route but has her head toward the door to watch for intruders. Those are better preservation instincts than ninety-five percent of the population.”

“Why doesn’t she ditch the bag? I’d pitch that sucker and be out of that room in a heartbeat.”

“It’s clear there’s something important there and she can’t,” Garcia replies with annoyance.

Garcia is right. Ava’s smart. When she arrived at the hotel, she looked for listening devices, cameras, sensors. She found a couple of them but not all. Devices are so tiny these days that it takes an electronic sweep to discover all of them and even then some can be missed.

“Still . . . why’d she even come here with Duval?” Bennito asks sourly. He knows it all—or at least thinks he does.

“Because of Rose.” I break my silence with a concept that Bennito can understand. “She’s there because of her friend . . . her family.”

The lightbulb turns on for him. Bennito’s research for this current mission resulted in thousands of pictures of Rose Waverly aka Rose Wastkowski. Currently a middle-tier runway model, Rose has social media accounts filled with photos of her lying on the beach, out in nightclubs, and more recently, on the arm of Louis Duval. Duval is a French businessman who makes most of his money on the black market selling information. He has a fondness for blond models and Burgundy wine. His one true love is money.

Of Ava, Bennito found almost nothing. At the age of eighteen, she moved to New York City with Rose. There are no Internet hits with pictures of Ava, and her background check revealed a shared lease with Rose, two credit cards with low balances, and a modest checking account. Her parents are still alive but their connection seems tenuous. There are no phone calls or emails or text messages exchanged between them.

After reading the one-page dossier on Ava that Bennito had compiled, it was clear to me that Rose is not only her friend, but the only person in the world Ava has to call her own.

All of us standing in this room can understand Ava’s desire to save her friend because that’s why we’re here. One of our own is being held as ransom. Our charge is to steal whatever it is that Louis Duval is trying to sell to various criminal factions. If we do that, we get Davidson back. If we fail, Davidson dies.

“Every one of us would strap dynamite to our bodies if we thought it’d save Davidson,” I say quietly. “Stupid or not, we’d do it just like Ava’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep Rose safe.”

Chastened, Bennito returns to his duties. Despite his brash words and lack of thinking, he’s a good kid with a gift for coding and computers. He has a feel for it that can’t be taught. I pulled him out from under a prosecution in the United States after he’d hacked into a big computer website to impress a girl. Now he does more productive things that are far more dangerous.

But we back him.

Because that’s how family works. Bennito is part of our brotherhood, the one Davidson, Garcia, and I formed when we realized that only by relying on each other would we survive the hell that the army was putting us through.

The smart thing for Ava to do would have been to walk away. When she came home with her arms full of groceries and saw Duval and one of his goons sitting in her small apartment instead of Rose, she should have dropped her bags and ran. Instead, she marched in and placed her bags on the counter and demanded to know what was going on.

Duval told her, quietly, that she was to help Rose carry out a task or Rose would be hurt. Ava resisted at first. Which is smart.

But then Duval pulled out his phone, swiped his finger through a few pictures that our secretly placed cameras couldn’t pick up, and things got real quiet. Next thing we knew, Duval was telling Ava that she needed to fly to Lima. And Ava?

Ava packed her bag and went.

In the seven days she’s been here in Lima, she’s had one visitor—Redoine Fouquet. Fouquet is rumored to be Louis Duval’s younger brother. Whatever family resemblance there once was has been eliminated by countless plastic surgeries as both Duval and Fouquet attempt to evade the law.

No, Ava wasn’t dumb. Whatever her mistakes are, I don’t think lack of intelligence is one of them. She’s beautiful. That can often be a problem. Maybe she’s too trusting or too kind but not dumb.

I walk over to the floor-to-ceiling windows in our hotel and look across the way at Ava’s room. Clad in a tank top and yoga pants, she climbs into bed. The other men crowd around the table of monitors to watch. I fist my hands in my pocket.

I hate that they watch her.

I hate that she’s in danger.

And most of all I hate that I care.

When Norse, the fifth man of my detail arrives, I tear myself away from the window and from Ava. “What’s happening?”

“The object, whatever it is, is up for auction. It will close in forty-eight hours.” Norse runs a hand over his shorn hair. It’s winter in Lima, which in most places means cold. Here it means wet, humid, and foggy. Norse’s cotton shirt is plastered against his chest. As he unbuttons it, Garcia throws him a replacement T-shirt.

Garcia was a sergeant in the army, responsible for making sure that the troops were all properly outfitted and armed. A good sergeant can mean the difference between everyone getting out with all their limbs attached and some newbie losing his toes to gangrene. Garcia was the best that there was. Now he’s mine because the army doesn’t handle its toys well.

They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars training them, making them into cold, unfeeling machines, but they lose interest in the older soldiers because they have this never-ending flood of new recruits. The nonstop supply makes us all disposable. Use them up and toss them out was the unstated motto. I’ve been gathering up the army’s trash for the last ten years or so. Norse, Garcia, Davidson, are all army discards. We take our skills and guns and hire them out. Ironically, the U.S. government is one of our best customers.

Except this time, our payment for a completed mission is Davidson.

“Do we know who the buyers are?”

“Two bids—one from North Korea and one from Libya.”

“There’ll be more,” Garcia says.

I nod. There will be many more because what is being sold are secrets. Secrets big enough that the government felt compelled to kidnap and hold hostage one of my own instead of offering money.

Would we have taken the mission if there was only money on the other end? Probably. The mercenary jobs my men and I carry out are lucrative but not to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s what Duval’s auction will command. It would take us ten years of killing high-priced targets to be able to play in Duval’s pool.

“Ava has a visitor!” Bennito calls out.

We all rush to the monitor bank. The left one shows her rising from her bed. She is nearly fully clothed. About the only thing she doesn’t wear to bed are her shoes. Sometimes during the day she will wear a belt and before bed will remove it.

She slips on her shoes—another sign of her intelligence. She won’t be caught barefoot by a surprise guest. The door opens to reveal Fouquet. He speaks rapidly, backing her into the apartment and then slamming the door shut behind him. He has a hand around her wrist. Ava shakes her head and gestures at the ever-present purse. Fouquet raises a hand and Ava flinches back.

A low rumble sounds in my throat and I’m halfway to the door when Garcia grabs me. “Don’t do it.”

“I’m not going to stand here and watch her get beat by that fuckstick Fouquet,” I growl.

“And if you go busting over there, then what? What happens to the auction? What happens to Davidson?”

Over Garcia’s shoulder I see the men all standing and watching. Bennito looks frightened and Norse and Rodrigo resigned as if they knew the life that they were building was too good to be true for men like them. Killers. Forgotten. The refuse of humanity.

I wipe a hand down my face. Responsibility for them all weighs heavily but it’s a burden I gladly carry. This is my family now. These men would die for me and I’m not going to put them in harm’s way for a woman—not even one as smart, clever, and beautiful as Ava Samson. Because really, what would be the use? My fantasies about Ava are just that—fantasies. No woman would touch me. No woman would have me. Especially not one as fine as her.

And even if she did, I’d have to turn away.

I give Garcia an abrupt nod and turn away from the door.

“Update?” I ask Bennito.

“Yeah, um, Fouquet left. He didn’t hit her . . . hard. It was more like a love tap.” He tries to smile but it fades quickly when none of us laugh. No one here is on board with a woman getting struck—ever. “Okay, yeah he hit her like a fucking asshole and she’s in the kitchen putting ice on it.”

He slumps into his chair. The tension is high in the room as Fouquet is still present. I imagine he was telling her that the sale was going to happen and what her next tasks are.

“We need sound,” I say for the hundredth time. Ordinarily we’d get sound but there’s a low constant hum that interferes with any vocal noise. Duval has something inside the hotel room that blocks any radio frequency collectors. “Norse, you and Bennito keep track of the bids. Rodrigo and Garcia, I want you to start tailing Fouquet. He’s fresh from a two-year prison sentence. No doubt he’s fucking his way across Lima. Since he hasn’t raped Ava yet, we can only presume that his brother is keeping him away for some reason.”

“What will you be doing?” Garcia asks.

By his grim, unhappy tone, it’s clear he already knows but for the benefit of everyone else in the room, I answer. “I’m going to find out what’s in that bag of hers.”

He follows me out into the hallway. “You like her.”

“She’s beautiful. Who wouldn’t like her?” I walk down the hallway, the dingy wall sconces leaving deep shadows on the purple and green carpet. Garcia follows.

“It is more than that.” His dark gaze is searching. I tug my ball cap lower, unwilling to confirm his suspicions. “You think she’s brave, loyal.”

“And?” My tone is impatient, signaling he should move off this topic.

“Just remember why we are here,” he cautions. We stop at the elevator bank and I press the down button.

“I haven’t forgotten.” Are any of the four elevators going to stop on this floor? I jab the button again. Huffing out a sigh, I respond because Garcia and I go way back and he doesn’t deserve a shitty rebuff. “How many people would put themselves in danger for someone else? Even someone that they love? Not everyone. Most people in Ava’s situation would get the hell out of Dodge and never look back.”

“Most people are smart,” he counters. “Fight or flight, most people are choosing the flight option. Those who run today, live to fight another day.”

“But not Ava,” I say quietly. The doors to an elevator slide open. I step in but turn around to face one of my oldest friends. “I know I’m cursed, but shit man, so long as I don’t touch, who the hell is going to blame me for looking?” I give him a crooked smile and as the doors slide shut, I see a reluctant grin break out in return. I don’t have any plans to lay my hands on Ava Samson but damn if I’m not going to try to get close enough to see her smile at me.

© 2015 Jen Frederick

Last Hope

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