Mettle (Spartan Riders #2) - J.C. Valentine

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

What to say…So much has happened since I typed END on this book. Life threw me one hell of a curveball, and even now, I am having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But I will say this, I am so grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve received. For those in the know—my editor, my assistant, my friends old and new—THANK YOU will never be enough for all of your encouragement and support. I struggle every day, but every message and every kind word you send my way helps a little more toward making me feel better than I did the day before. This book wouldn’t even be available right now if it wasn’t for the hard work of my assistant and friend, Mia, who has seriously stepped up and done the hard work in making sure everything is where it needs to be to take those final few steps. I would be lost without you, lady. Truly.

PROLOGUE

Several weeks ago…

“One of our agents in the field has gone dark. We suspect they’ve been compromised.”

“When was the last time they were heard from?”

“It’s been more than a week without a check-in, but that’s not the concern,” the special agent in charge added when he read the look on his agent’s face.

“How do we know the agent isn’t dead? What if their cover was blown?”

The SAC ran stubby fingers through his oily hair, cringing at the feeling. He’d been at it for two straight days, fielding calls and pushing papers, all concerning the disappearance of one of his workers. This wasn’t good. Worse, they suspected a leak. Didn’t take much of a leap to know who might be behind it.

“The cover wasn’t blown, that’s one thing we’re sure on.”

The agent sat forward, interest in their eyes. “Surveillance?”

“Better. We placed a second agent on the ground, and they’re in deep enough to have a finger on the pulse of the operations. Says the agent in question is fully enmeshed in the club. Doesn’t go anywhere alone. Coupled with the radio silence, we can only assume the worst.”

The agent nodded. Rubbing their hands on their pant legs, they looked at the SAC with an eagerness to please that he was proud to see. “Send me in.”

“It’s not that easy—”

“Sir, send me in. I can do this.”

“This is a tough case. It’s going to take you far from home. I’m not sure if you’re ready—”

“Sir, this is what I have been training for. My whole career had been building up to this moment, and I’ve got nothing to lose. There’s nothing tying me here. Let me at least try. I want to make a difference, and these women that are being kidnapped right off the street, torn away from their families, need me. Please, let me prove that I can do this.”

Human trafficking. It wasn’t anything new in the world, to be sure, but it was new to their community. A plague that he intended to see wiped off the map, if he had anything to say about it. If the agent could pull this off, if they could get the lead they needed to shut down the operations and get those women home, it would be something for the record books. It was a career-making case, which was why everyone wanted in on it. Half the department had come begging on his doorstep when the case file had first landed on his desk nine months ago, making it difficult to know who to choose, who was right for the job.

He’d thought he’d made the perfect choice: young, fresh, good-looking. Exactly what the Spartan Riders club looked for when they were recruiting fresh blood.

Apparently, he’d been wrong.

Now he was interviewing replacements, looking to send in yet another innocent soul that would likely get chewed up and spit out by that group of hooligans. But what else could he do? Getting personally involved wasn’t an option. This was his job, these people weren’t his friends, and he wasn’t going to play favorites.

“This could very well be the last case you ever work, do you understand that?”

“I understand the dangers, sir. Send me in.”

He considered it for the span of another heartbeat. A second. Third. Then sighed deeply, resigned. “We’ll do everything in our power to keep eyes and ears on you at all times, but,” he said, raising his voice when the agent’s entire face lit with excitement, “there are no guarantees. The hard work is going to fall on