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Final Exit (EXIT Inc. #3)

By:Lena Diaz

ce of a battering ram, sending her crashing toward the ground.

Kade clasped Bailey against him, twisting in midair to spare her the brunt of their fall. He landed on his back, Bailey's chin snapping against his chest. Blinding pain lanced through his bum leg, making him hiss with pain.

Bailey's surprised, wide-eyed gaze stared into his as she lay on top of him, his arms tightly clasped around her waist. A shout sounded in the distance, and Bailey exploded like a firecracker, twisting and shoving, trying to break Kade's hold. Clenching his teeth against the pain in his leg, he rolled on top of her, pinning her to the ground.

"Let me go." She pushed at him, squirming like an oiled snake, trying to get away.

"Stop fighting me." The awkward angle of his left leg was cutting off the circulation, starting to make it go blessedly numb. Without the fog of pain, he was able to better focus on the squirming woman in his grasp.

And damned if the breath didn't wheeze out of him as he stared into her beautiful green eyes, just like it always did.

As he'd feared, Bailey in person was far more devastating than Bailey on paper. The feel of her soft skin, the feminine scent of roses in her glorious red hair, had his heart hammering and his pulse buzzing in his ears. All of the lectures he'd given himself as he'd worked his way through the woods to try to cut her off were useless. He was useless, an equal mixture of lust and fury coursing through him.

What was it about this woman that made him so damned confused?

Even as he silently berated himself for wanting her, he couldn't stop himself from wanting to protect her. It was those shadows in her eyes. They had him thinking of her as a comrade in arms, someone who'd fought through some of life's harshest lessons as he had, a fellow survivor. And no matter how much he wanted to think of her as his enemy, he couldn't.

But that didn't mean he was going to let her go.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he assured her.

"I'll bet that's what you tell all the women you murder." She bucked beneath him, jarring his hip again.

He gritted his teeth and shoved her wrists against the ground, plastering the full weight of his body against hers. What he hadn't been able to accomplish himself, she'd just taken care of with one single word, murder. That word, uttered accusingly by an Enforcer of all people, had jolted the sympathy and even the lust straight out of him.

"Funny you should talk about murder when you're an assassin by trade. How many people have you killed while working for EXIT? Ten? Twenty? More?"

She stilled and studied him intently. "You're not wearing a flak jacket like the others. Who are you?"

"The man in charge of stopping you, and your peers, from hurting anyone else ever again."

Her eyes went wide, and an answering anger flashed in their depths. "You're their leader, aren't you? The one the government sent to destroy us. The Ghost."

"Ghost?" He laughed harshly, but he wasn't amused. Maybe because her moniker struck so close to the truth. Much of the past year was a dull fog of bleak, barely remembered images he struggled daily to hold on to. The accident had stolen so much from him, leaving him like the wraith she accused him of being.

"Ghost or not," he told her, "I'm about justice, not vigilantism. My men and I are set to destroy EXIT's legacy, not its people. Haven't you received the dispatches we've sent through the Enforcer network? We're trying to help you, not hurt you."

The sneer on her face told him she didn't believe anything that he'd said. She opened her mouth to respond when a shout sounded from one of his men. They were much closer now.

Kade turned his head to call out to them. Bailey bucked beneath him, jarring his leg and sending a fresh new wave of white-hot pain sizzling across his nerve endings. He sucked in a breath, shaking his head to clear the spots swimming in front of his eyes.

"Be still," he gasped through clenched teeth.

She suddenly twisted and jerked a hand free.


Her fist cracked against his jaw, the force of the blow knocking him back several inches. Before he could recover, she slammed her kneecap against his left thigh, right where the bullet and twisted metal had torn into muscle and bone all those months ago. An explosion of heat burned through him like lava, scorching everything in its wake. He fell back in agony, clutching his leg.

Bailey scrambled out from beneath him. He made a desperate, one-handed grab for her, but she easily jerked out of his reach. He'd been such a fool. And he couldn't even blame it on alcohol, or the heavy painkillers he'd once been so dependent upon. Because tonight he was stone-cold sober.

"Bailey, wait."

She hesitated, glancing toward the woods, then eying him with suspicion. He hated showing weakness in front of her, in front of anyone, but the pain was too raw to ignore. He could barely breathe.

"Don't go. Please," he gasped, sucking in another breath. "I want to help you."

Her lips curled with contempt. "Like you helped Sebastian? And Amber? I see your kind of help every time I bury one of my friends."

She grabbed for her right hip, as if going for a gun. Then she shook her head in disgust when she realized she didn't have one.

"What are you talking about?" He squeezed his eyes shut against another wave of agony. One breath, two. He should go for his gun. But his whole body was shaking, his hands clutching his thigh.

Damn, he really needed a drink. Or a Vicodin. Or ten.

Finally, the burning bands around his thigh began to ease. The fog of pain cleared, leaving him weak, spent. He drew a shaky breath, another.

"Special Agent Quinn, are you all right, sir?"

Kade's eyes flew open. Cord was crouching in front of him, the camouflage grease smeared across his face wrinkling with concern.

And Bailey Stark was nowhere to be seen.