IAD Agency, Book 2
by Laurie Roma
eBook ISBN: Unknown
Tara Toshi is a woman on the edge. Code name “T-rex,” Tara is one of the elite agents of the IAD Agency, modern-day warriors tasked with taking down terrorists and keeping the world safe. She doesn’t believe that happily ever after exists for her, until her world collides with corporate tycoon Julian King.
Someone needed to shoot her.
If her friends didn’t stop talking about flowers, color schemes, and, oh god, bridesmaid dresses soon she was going to scream.
Or more likely, she would hurt one of them…badly.
Tara Toshi was seated with her friends Bella, Liz, and Mikayla around the large antique table in Bella’s dining room in the penthouse suite of their building. A light fall of snow obstructed the view of the Chicago skyline that was usually seen out of the large windows, making Tara feel even more closed in. Just back from South Africa, Tara now found herself precariously at the mercy of her girlfriends and their excruciating wedding planning.
Tara didn’t give a shit about weddings. Just tell her where and when to show up and that was all she needed to know. Sighing, she tried to shake the glazed look off her face, to focus back on the conversation going on around her, but the truth was she would rather be fighting a group of hostile terrorists than sitting here with her three friends dealing with the current conversation.
In just under three weeks Bella Moretti was marrying the man of her dreams, Jason MacBain, who also happened to be Tara’s boss.
Almost a year ago Bella had been terrorized by a crazy stalker, Victor Dane, who had snapped and tried to kill her. Although she had survived the attack, Bella had been badly injured and traumatized from what he had done to her. Once she was released from the hospital Bella had moved back to Chicago, where she was closer to her family.
A few months back Bella had decided not to let what happened to her control the rest of her life. She couldn’t let one monster keep her from living. It was while she had been attending a charity event, one of her first public appearances since the attack, that she met Jason MacBain. From the way Tara heard it, it had only taken one look and they had fallen madly in love.
Shortly after, a picture of Bella and Liz had appeared in an article about the benefit. Even though Bella’s name had not been mentioned, the picture had allowed anyone with access to the Internet to know where Bella was currently living. That was when Victor Dane had come out of hiding. Victor made one final attempt on Bella’s life but Jason had killed the madman, ending the threat to Bella for good.
Now Bella had her life back and everything she had ever wanted was falling into place. She was also planning on opening a restaurant in the city with one of her best friends, world famous chef extraordinaire Giovanni Cossi. Both Bella and Gio were brilliant chefs, and with the help of Bella’s teaching assistant, Jenna Markham, coming on as their pastry chef, Bella Gio’s would be one of the hottest restaurants in the city.
But first, there was the wedding.
Jason hadn’t been happy about waiting to get married. If it were up to him, they would have gotten married months ago. He had all but begged her to elope the very day he had killed Victor and freed her from her past. But Bella wanted a big Christmas wedding and anything Bella wanted, Jason would give her. He would move heaven and earth if he could just to make her happy, but he put his foot down at waiting any longer than a few months for the wedding, especially now since they were expecting a baby. They were building a family together. A future.
Jason and Bella both exuded a contentment and happiness that few people actually achieved. It was almost difficult to remain in a room with them as it seemed practically voyeuristic when Jason was anywhere near Bella. Tara was happy for them, truly, deeply happy for the love they had found together, although it somehow made the loneliness she felt even more pronounced.
Tara wasn’t like her girlfriends. She had no idea how to be the type of female that men wanted to be with long term. Hell, who was she kidding, she didn’t know how to be in a real relationship at all. She had tried, really she did, but every time the subject of commitment came up she got…itchy.
Among her friends Tara was known as a man-eater. Her colleagues had named her T-rex, a name she was amused by most of the time, but what no one knew was that she secretly wanted the kind of love that Bella and Jason had found. To have a man who loved her as completely as she loved him.
A real partner.
Tara knew better, though. Her life was not the stuff of fairy tales and she was so far from anyone’s idea of a princess that it was laughable. Sadly to say, settling down just didn’t seem to be in the cards for her, so she told herself she was better off alone.
Half Japanese and half Italian, Tara was an exotically beautiful woman. She was petite and almost delicate looking. Her deep, dark-brown eyes held secrets and gave little away as to what she was thinking or feeling. Most people didn’t know the lethal strength that her small frame held until it was too late. She wore her straight, shoulder-length black hair in a razor cut with unique angles around her face. Tara had a way of wearing her hair in funky styles, but still made it look elegant.
But despite her beautiful features, Tara was a warrior.
Growing up in a volatile home, Tara learned at a very young age to protect herself. She was an army brat, always moving from base to base when her father had been restationed. Life had been better when he was away on a mission or when he was on tour. Her father had been abusive when he had been home and her mother had been no help. She was a meek, quiet woman who had lost her will to live years ago.
Looking back, Tara could never understand why her mother had stayed with him. Her mother always made excuses for her father’s behavior, even taking the blame for his actions and over the years Tara had learned to resent her almost as much as her father. When he had started to hit Tara, it had been casual slaps. Back then it seemed like he enjoyed the challenge of her defiance, but Tara had refused to be like her mother, letting him hit her and apologizing for him. As she got older, he got less tolerant of her refusal to conform to his rules. And so she began to live in terror of her father’s fists.
Until the day he tried to kill her.
It wasn’t anything particular that set him off that night long ago. In fact, with a man like that, it never took much to ignite his madness. He had come home drunk, like he did so often, and started in on her mother for not cleaning the house. He yelled and belittled her, throwing things around the room. When he stumbled upon some of the debris, he flew into a rage and started to hit her mother. Tara jumped in and tried to stop him, earning a beating so bad that it had almost killed her.
Her mother had turned a blind eye, meekly following Tara’s father into their bedroom while Tara had been left on the floor, so bloody and bruised she could barely move. Barely able to see out of her eyes, Tara watched them leave the room together, and felt the last scrap of feelings she had for the two people who had created her die.
And it was on that day she learned how to hate.
It took her precious minutes to try and drag her broken body up off the floor and to make it to the front door. Once she got herself upright she walked with no direction in mind, the pain so overwhelming she could barely think. Thankfully a few military police officers saw her limping on the road, took one look at her bruised, bleeding body and immediately took her to the hospital. When the doctor asked what happened, Tara never hesitated. She told them everything. The military police immediately went after her father, but they came back with the shocking news that he had killed her mother and then shot himself.
Tara had been nine years old.
That was the day Tara Russo died and Tara Toshi had been born. When she healed enough to be released from the hospital, Tara moved in with her only living relatives, her aunt and uncle in Chicago. But they had taken her in out of necessity, not desire. Her relatives were cold, barely speaking to her or acknowledging her presence. They made it clear that she wasn’t wanted. Her uncle was her mother’s brother who had shunned her years ago for marrying a white man, and Tara reminded him of everything he had turned away from. He blamed her for her mother’s death and made sure she knew it every second of every day.
Thankfully Tara’s luck changed when she met Bella and Liz shortly after moving in with her relatives. Her new friends had allowed her the escape from the icy disdain of her guardians whenever she needed it. She tried to remain aloof but Bella and Liz had decided to befriend her and wouldn’t leave her alone until she finally gave in. Bella and Liz became the sisters she never had and Bella’s three older brothers had nagged and watched out for her as only older brothers could. For the first time Tara felt close to people and learned how life was supposed to be, even though deep down she still held herself apart from the others.
It was safer that way.
When they grew older, Bella had gone off to culinary school in France and Tara left for college. Always a bright student, Tara’s photographic memory allowed her the opportunity to go anywhere she wanted. She had chosen California to get as far away from her relatives as possible and it was there that she had been recruited by the CIA.
To someone like Tara, spy craft came easy. She had focused all of her rage and aggression into her training to become one of the best agents the Company had ever seen. Determined never to be a victim again, Tara had excelled in martial arts all her life, and within the Company, she had honed her skills to become a lethal fighting machine. She was also an expert with codes and with her small, nimble fingers could dismantle almost any bomb with time to spare.
She believed in what she did, but hated the bureaucracy that went along with the job. Tara had no problem killing a man who was planning a terrorist attack on a city or someone who sold guns to profit from war. She slept just fine. It was the men who sat in their comfy offices and sent soldiers into harm’s way without regard for their safety that were her problem.
Burnt out from the bullshit life of bureaucratic espionage, Tara sought something else. Leaving the Company for the private sector, Tara now worked for a company that specialized in security. Mac Securities provided defense assistance and installed security systems in high-risk facilities around the world using the latest technology and military precision.
Mac Securities was the top in the field. Part of that was because Jason MacBain only hired the best and brightest for his company. The other part was due to the fact that Mac Securities was also a front for IAD, a specialized intelligence agency and counterterrorist taskforce that very few people even knew existed. The International Alliance of Defense was an extremely covert branch in the intelligence community, more like a transnational agency.
They were the ultimate warriors of global warfare with agents stationed all over the world. The members of NATO had formed IAD with a policy of “get it done, no matter the cost.’” IAD handled their own problems and discourses internally, and that was just the way they liked it. They were the elite and only the best were chosen to serve.
For the highly skilled select members of IAD it was a dream come true, since most of the agents had been disillusioned with the rules, regulations, and red tape of the regular intelligence branches. Only the highest, most qualified candidates were chosen for IAD, given a kind of worldwide immunity for their actions. Government agencies around the world looked at the members of IAD with awe, not to mention a great amount of envy. Not that it didn’t piss off other agencies when they had to defer to IAD agents if the situation called for it.
When Jason had offered Tara a position with IAD and Mac Securities she had jumped at the chance, never once regretting her decision. Tara was one of them now and she was one of the best. Finally she had found the place where she belonged.
Now if only she could be as lucky in her personal life…
Bella and Jason lived in the top floor of the luxury apartment complex that housed most of the members of IAD and Mac Securities. Tara lived on the third floor in the building. She was happy that she lived so close to her friends, not that she was home much. Tara kept herself out on assignment, keeping busy because that’s the way she liked it. But now that she was back in Chicago where she made her home, she still couldn’t find a sense of peace. One of her greatest strengths she’d always depended on was how she could finish the job then leave it behind, but lately, lately it wasn’t working.
The restless feeling she sought to keep at bay just wouldn’t go away. She had been on several back-to-back missions, volunteering for the most dangerous assignments.
But inside she still felt numb, disassociated from everything.
Tara knew she was worrying people, but she simply couldn’t make herself care. No, it wasn’t that she didn’t care, she just didn’t know what to do about it. When she was out on a mission it was the only time she felt anything anymore, but doing what she did and seeing the things she’d seen had a price…
Shaking off her disgustingly pitiful mood, Tara looked around and saw all four of her friends staring at her expectantly.
“Well, what do you think?” Bella asked, trying to hide a smile.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Bella, it’s your wedding. Pick whatever you want.” Damn. Tara immediately felt sorry for her outburst.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Not insulted in the least, Bella shook her head and laughed out loud. “The wedding is pretty much planned. Less than three weeks to go. You don’t even know what we were talking about, do you?”
Tara’s blank face made all the women laugh.
“We were talking about bachelorette parties,” Liz explained. “Obviously you weren’t listening to us.”
Okay, now that she could get into.
Feeling slightly guilty, Tara tried to relax. “Look, Bella, I’m just not good at this planning stuff. Your bachelorette party I can do, I can plan that for you no problem. All this other stuff…I’m sorry, I’ll try to pay attention. I know this is important to you.”
She pressed her fingertips to her temple to try to relieve the pressure lurking there. Her recent excursion to Cape Town had been a tough one. Although the debriefing was finished, memories of the mission stayed with her like a bad hangover. Christ, she needed a vacation. Only, people like her didn’t take vacations. Perhaps she just needed to stay busy and go on another assignment, pronto.
“Sorry, I’m just tired,” Tara murmured absently.
A look of concern crossed Bella’s face as she reached a hand out to touch Tara’s arm. “Are you okay? I’m sorry, sweetie. You just got back from god knows where, and here I am forcing you to deal with my wedding crap. You should be in bed getting some sleep or relaxing.”
That was one of the perks of having your best friends know your darkest secret. Tara didn’t have to hide from them, or lie about what she did. On the other hand, having people care was a bitch.
Tara didn’t want anyone’s freaking sympathy.
She was a counterterrorist agent for Christ’s sake, she could damn well handle some wedding plans. Son of a bitch, she needed to be alone when she was in this kind of mood. Not fit for human consumption on any level, she needed something to keep her busy. Something hard, something dangerous. She needed to get away from her friends who were looking at her with all that compassion in their eyes before she screamed.
Tara waved a hand dismissively. “I’m fine, Bell. Don’t worry about me.” She managed a smile for her friends. “You know, just had a little too much fun in the sun and all that. Gotta love South Africa. I must be depressed being back here with all this snow.”
“Is that where you were?” Liz asked, truly intrigued. “I always wanted to go cage diving with the great white sharks down there, but I don’t think I have enough courage to do it in reality.” Although Bella knew about IAD, Liz still thought they were all agents of Mac Securities, still a dangerous job, but nothing compared to the truth. They tried to keep any information as vague as possible, but Tara wondered how much Liz actually knew.
Tara held her easygoing expression by force of sheer will and determination. Deep down she was screaming inside. At the very mention of sharks her blood froze. She had been part of a task force working in conjunction with CIA operatives to retrieve three canisters of stolen biological agents in Cape Town. During the joint operation, the team had been forced to find cover in the water before the charges they had placed up on a bluff blew them all to high hell.
Local authorities had screwed with their case big-time and the situation had gone FUBAR pretty damn quick. They had been able to recover two of the canisters, but the surviving Tango had been able to get away with one. Needing immediate extraction and unable to wait for airtranspo, Tara’s team had been forced to swim miles to safety amidst the hazardous rocks falling from above. With a few of the agents wounded, that was never a good situation and Tara had watched in horror as sharks drawn to the scent of blood in the water had ripped two members of their team to pieces.
No words could describe what that had been like.
Tara tried to be flippant and winked at Liz. “Yeah, it’s been snowing here for weeks now and I thought a little sun might cheer me up.”
Bella and Liz had quickly learned that the trips that all of them took were never just for fun but they smiled just as Tara had intended. They didn’t know what happened and, by god, she would keep it that way. No one should have to deal with that shit, but Mikayla as a fellow agent knew better.
Tara wasn’t fooling her.
As a sniper, Mikayla “Lynx” Lincoln had been on her own share of dangerous missions. She had eyes like a hawk and never missed what she was aiming at. Mikayla had read the brief on the mission and knew exactly what Tara had been doing in South Africa. The sympathy in her striking violet eyes was almost more than Tara could bear at the moment.
Unable to stand the conversation any longer, Tara tried diversionary tactics. “What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the bachelorette party.”
“I’m not having one.”
Tara gasped. “Not having a bachelorette party? Well, crap…that’s the only fun part about a wedding!”
Bella laughed at her friend. “Jason and I decided not to follow that little tradition. He doesn’t want to go out and see a bunch of strippers and I don’t want him killing whatever poor soul you would hire to dance for us.”
Tara took a moment to think about that one. Yeah, Jason would kill any other man Bella saw naked, but she still had to pout a little. “I guess you’re right. Damn it, I was looking forward to that part, though.”
The women all laughed.
Mikayla looked out of the apartment window with a grimace. “If it keeps snowing like this, you’re sure going to get that winter white wedding you wanted.”
Bella gave a happy sigh of contentment. “I know.”
“I think it’s so romantic that you’re getting married on Christmas Day,” Liz sighed.
“At least Jason won’t ever forget your anniversary,” Tara added.
Like he ever would. Jason MacBain would forget his own name before he forgot something as important as the day he married the woman he loved.
Tara’s phone pinged an incoming text, cutting off further conversation. Mikayla’s phone issued a similar sound. They quickly read their messages and Mikayla rose from her chair, smiling in apology.
“Sorry, B.” Tara tried for a look of reticence but knew she failed as Bella laughed.
“No, you’re not but that’s okay.” Bella giggled. “I’m not trying to torture you and believe me I know this is torture for you. Go ahead. Come back up for dinner if you can.”
“Are you cooking?” Tara asked hopefully.
Bella laughed. “You know it.”
“Then hell yeah, we’ll be back. Thanks. See you guys later.” Tara squeezed Bella’s shoulder as she passed by her chair. As she and Mikayla made their way out of the apartment, Tara hoped that no one heard the sigh of relief that escaped.