Grave Peril
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Grave Peril

Stealth Security Book 4


Can The Navy SEAL Find Redemption Through Love?

SHE BARELY ESCAPES

Lela Cabelo discovers evidence that could get her killed. Her boss is a Texas senator in the cartel’s pocket. She will testify at his criminal trial. But before she is safe in witness protection, disaster strikes. Alone and on the run, she is forced to trust a bodyguard, the Navy SEAL she is falling in love with.

ONLY ONE MAN CAN SAVE HER

Ripley McConnell is the security analyst for Stealth Security. A media story from his home town of Houston alerts him to an innocent woman’s peril. He is the only man with a hope of finding Lela before the cartel tortures and interrogates her. Will she live to testify against the criminal senator?

CAN HE FIND REDEMPTION THROUGH LOVE?

Rip falls for Lela, and his worst fear is failing to protect her. Long ago, he lost a woman he loved. He can’t lose another. But can he save her from the deadly cartel?

Fans of Kaylea Cross, Katie Reus, and Misty Evans will enjoy this book! Grave Peril (Stealth Security Book 4) is a standalone romance with no cliffhanger. Stealth Security Series: Cold Peril (Garrett and Marlene) Lethal Peril (Wyatt and Beth) Ruthless Peril (Hunter and Tessa) Grave Peril (Rip and Lela) And More Coming! Stealth Security is a Military Romantic Suspense series with ex-Navy SEAL heroes employed as bodyguards to celebrity and VIP clients. Each novel is a standalone romance with no cliffhangers, but the characters you love make appearances in future stories.
 

Reviews


This was my first time reading Ms. Trent. Her writing is phenomenal. She had me on page one. The tension in the plot and between H and h continues throughout the book. And the HEAT between Lela and Rip…OFF THE CHARTS good. Linda Reads

The more books I read in the Stealth Security series, the more I want!!! There is angst and suspense as soon as you dive into this story and it will keep you glued to the pages until the very end!!! Great character development and phenomenal story line that will leave you wanting more!! Tami C.

Excerpt


Chapter 1

Lela Cabelo leaned against the window of her upper-level apartment in downtown Houston. She placed her palms on the glass. It would be the last time she’d see the city for a while. Her life was about to change in a major way. She’d lived in Houston her entire life, and came from a large family. Leaving those she loved was going to be the toughest part. And she couldn’t tell anyone where she was going, or give a contact number. It was eerie. One day, she’d been one of many paralegals working for the law firm of Raimundo M. Ortiz, a prestigious employer, and the next day her whole world had changed. Accustomed to the daily routine, she hadn’t expected to make a shocking discovery—but she had. State Senator Raimundo M. Ortiz was dirty. Most of the year, he dealt with matters at his office, including representing a few high-profile clients. On the surface, it was an admirable career. Yet the senator had been fattening his bank accounts illegally. Lela gazed longingly at the city below. Houston was her home, where she belonged. The Metro ran through the central business district, where she lived and worked. At street level, a train sped by, and she wished she was on it—going anywhere but where she was actually going. The sight of early morning activity only made the ache in her gut worse, so Lela turned away. The apartment was quiet and empty. It was as though she’d already left, and mentally she had. Yet her emotions were tied to home. Resisting this turn of events had done no good. Lela was scheduled to testify against the senator, a man she’d formerly admired. The prospect still made her sick to her stomach. Her life was in danger, and although she might have been expendable, her testimony wasn’t. The only consolation was that the trial was just a few months away. Lela had attempted to divert fate by assuring the feds that she was safe. If no one had come after her so far, then hiding her away wasn’t necessary. She could take care of herself. That last part was true. But those with power over her had refused to be persuaded. Lela flopped onto her sofa, leaned back against the cushion, and closed her eyes. This situation was untenable. There was no painless way to step away from her life, even for a while. Yet she didn’t regret turning the senator in for his misdeeds. She opened her eyes, prepared to face an unknown destiny. No stranger to dangerous situations, she accepted that the next months would be unpredictable. It was the sacrifice she had to make. The moment she’d turned over evidence, she’d committed to the outcome. Lela had packed the night before, and her baggage sat on the hardwood floor in front of her. She kicked her suitcase, but it didn’t budge. Her foot stung, providing no satisfaction for her act of rebellion. Fighting this was futile. She stood up for a last look around. If all went well, her apartment would still be here when she returned. But there wasn’t much hope to be gleaned from that. It was anyone’s guess what would transpire between today and a court date that seemed too far in the future for comfort. Lela lifted her satchel and draped the strap over her shoulder, then grabbed the handle of her suitcase to roll it out. She was smart enough not to carry a purse. Transporting her items in the drab pack would attract less attention. Lela had tried to think of everything, yet it was difficult to know what to take for so long a period. She’d been assured that her needs would be provided for, but it wasn’t her nature to blindly trust. And it was the feds she was expected to rely on. Why didn’t that make her feel secure? Since Lela wasn’t permitted to take her cell phone, she tossed it onto the granite countertop. Glancing at the clock over the stove, she saw that it was nearly time, so she rolled her suitcase closer to the door. The cover story to her family was that she was away on a business trip, and due to the sensitive nature of the assignment, she wouldn’t be in contact for a couple of months. Whether that story was believable, Lela couldn’t say. Her family had accepted it, but her friend Ashlee—not so much. Ash was her best friend, and they worked at the law firm together. Mostly, Lela’s situation was no secret. It had been impossible to hide it from such a close friend. Yet Ashley didn’t know about the witness protection. She couldn’t. No one could. Lela shuddered. She’d be out of contact with every person she cared about. There was a chance she wouldn’t make it back. Although she didn’t want to be the pessimist, it was only logical that, if she had to be guarded in an undisclosed location, the threat had to be taken seriously. Lela zipped up her jacket, since autumn mornings could be cool. Her stomach rumbled, but eating would have to wait. Breakfast had consisted of coffee and toast, since a case of nerves had ruined her appetite. When the buzzer sounded, her pulse quickened. She stepped into the hallway, and the door shut behind her. She didn’t have a key. That was the least of her worries. When she got home, the building manager could let her in. For now, she’d been careful about what she’d taken with her. New identification and a credit card had been provided, plus Lela had a wad of cash, just in case. She took the elevator to the lobby to find her escorts. The agents had spoken to her several times before, so she was familiar with the guys. The idea was to appear like friends. During the transport, it was important not to attract attention or raise questions. Leaving so early was part of the plan. Lela was taking a short trip with a couple of buddies. Or so it was supposed to appear to any onlooker. The two agents sauntered toward her, an effort at appearing casual. Lela stepped out of the elevator to greet them. It was difficult to smile when she was so nervous. But she managed. The guys seemed able to get away with a more somber demeanor. She guessed it was a guy thing, so no one would give that a second thought. She walked between them, like she knew where she was going. Her suitcase rolled along behind her, making her feel like she was headed on vacation. But that reprieve from anxiety was momentary. Around the corner in a loading zone was an older-model Chevy, but not too old. It was anything but flashy, which was the point. Lela took the front passenger seat, since that was expected. Her suitcase was loaded into the trunk, but she kept her bag with her. One agent hopped in the driver’s seat, and the other slid into the back. After she buckled in, the car pulled away from the curb. She looked out the window, at the beauty of early morning downtown, admiring the majesty of the skyscrapers. Lela had misgivings about this trip to the train station. The organizers of this ordeal had opted for the train, as it was low profile, a better choice than the airlines. She shifted in her seat and looked over at Agent Simmons. He hadn’t worn dark wraparound sunglasses, the trademark look for a federal agent. But even in polo shirts, he and the other agent in the back seat still looked like feds. She guessed their weapons were under the casual blazers they wore. Commuters traveled the highway, not paying attention to the Chevy on the way to the train station. From the back seat, Agent Robertson said, “Traffic isn’t bad this morning. We should be on schedule.” Simmons and his partner bantered for a bit, about the distance to the train station, the weather, and other innocuous topics. The idea was to appear normal, just friends on their way out of town. The nondescript Chevy fit with that image. The FBI had chosen this vehicle to transport her. It wouldn’t attract attention like an armored car would have. Lela couldn’t argue with that theory. The goal was to blend in, and traveling by car to a train station was about as innocuous as it got. But the federal agents had an attitude that wasn’t easily disguised. Even dressed in different clothes, the vibe both of them exuded was government agent. Lela would have preferred driving on her own or catching a cab. Certainly, she would have been able to come up with a better cover than this. Yet it hadn’t been her decision, as so much wasn’t anymore. Robertson leaned forward, gripping the sides of her seat. “You seem nervous, Lela.” His stiff grin didn’t make her any more relaxed. “You shouldn’t be. This is routine. You’re safe with us protecting you.” For some reason, Lela wasn’t reassured that the poster boys for the FBI would get her safely on the train. It was pretty simple, and since her life hadn’t been threatened so far, only two agents comprised her entourage. It wasn’t like in the movies, where backup was nearby, or a surveillance vehicle kept them under watch to make sure they weren’t followed. But then, Lela wasn’t that important. It wasn’t like she was a senator, or a movie star, or another valuable commodity. That was kind of ironic, that the guilty senator likely had better protection and got more attention than she did. Lela didn’t mind. The sooner she got away from the cloying presence of these two, the better. She was used to being on her own, and had learned that she was often safer that way. When Simmons took the Washington exit, and Lela spotted the train station up ahead, she breathed a sigh of relief. Once she was on her way, things would be better. Simmons pulled into the lot and found a spot to park, then killed the engine. “We should talk a bit when we’re in there. We’re supposed to look like friends.” Lela looked at him then got out. Agent Robertson stood beside her and nonchalantly scanned the area. Apparently confident that the coast was clear, he retrieved her suitcase from the trunk. With an agent on each side, Lela headed toward the terminal, feeling more like a criminal than a valuable witness. Lela had the urge to bolt, leaving her luggage and escorts behind. It was a silly idea. She was just freaking out. With conscious effort, she took a calming breath. This was routine, normal. There was no reason to be worried. The FBI put citizens under protection every day of the week, didn’t they? There was no cause for alarm. It was useless. Lela was a wreck, and probably would be until she reached her destination. And that was another thing. She hadn’t been told what her location would be. The train would take her someplace, then another agent would greet her and give her instructions. The feds had watched too many spy films; that was the only explanation for this cat-and-mouse routine. Out of habit, Lela put the strap of her bag over her head so it crossed her midsection. Securing it that way deterred any purse snatcher. Anyone taking the bag would have to take her right along with it. Noise emanated from the tracks, breaking the silence. It seemed that Robertson couldn’t think of anything to say after all. And Lela was in no mood for idle conversation. A person leaving early in the morning for a trip was allowed to be quiet, especially one leaving her life behind. The automatic doors opened, and the agents stepped in first, glancing back to indicate that she should follow. Inside, Lela was dwarfed by the station. She craned her neck to look up at the high ceiling, and took in the paned windows running the entire length of the massive walls. The polished floors shone under the pendant lighting hanging in rows from above. The space was reminiscent of a courthouse, with its massive structure and cold décor. Crowds of people milled about, probably focused on their plans for the day. There was a family with three kids, a businessman in a suit, and many assorted passengers soon to be on their way. The cavernous space was noisy and drafty. “I have to use the bathroom,” Lela said, motioning toward the sign to the restrooms. Simmons nodded, then they both followed her. “We’ll wait out here,” he said. Lela went in and discovered there was a line. She waited, glad for a moment alone, or as alone as she could be in a crowd of women. When she was done, she readjusted her bag and straightened her shoulders. She could do this, really she could. But she couldn’t wait to get to her final destination, if for no other reason than to know where she was going. If only she could have told Ashlee why she’d be gone so long, it would have minimized the aloneness. Or even better, if she’d been authorized to call from a safe phone, she could look forward to that conversation. But that was impossible. It would endanger her friend, so it wasn’t worth the risk. As it was, none of her loved ones were in peril. Since no confidential information had been shared, there was none to pass on. Keeping those close to her in the dark was best, even though it was agony to face months without contact.

*****

As promised, the agents had waited outside. Robertson had his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. Simmons stood at attention and nodded at her when she came out. The mood was intense, or maybe it was just Lela. She walked back to the main area with them, and the agents continued to surreptitiously check for any sign of threat. The constant vigilance was stressful. It made it seem as though there was something to worry about. But Lela reminded herself that there was no cause for concern. If someone had wanted to nab her, they’d have done it before now, without waiting for her to be in the company of the feds. She looked around the terminal, finding solace in the buzz of activity. “I’ll get your ticket,” Robertson said, leaving his partner with Lela. She’d been told it was safer to buy the ticket just before departure. That way, the passenger list couldn’t be scanned ahead of time. Simmons managed a tight smile. “You’ll be on your way shortly.” “Can’t wait.” Lela wouldn’t be solo even after boarding. She’d been assured that an undercover agent would be on the train to keep an eye on her. She supposed that was something she’d have to get used to. Although once she was relocated, the pressure should be off. The whole idea was to hide her, so maybe that wouldn’t involve dealing with guards—probably false hope on her part. Robertson strolled back, a poor imitation of casual boredom. He handed the ticket over. “We have a little time before you leave.” Simmons motioned to some empty seats, and Lela took her position between her two “pals.” She looked at the ticket, noting the destination was Los Angeles. There was a lot between Houston and LA. She’d go to San Antonio, then via lots of small towns, passing mountains and crossing desert before reaching the end of the line. The mystery remained. Lela still had no idea where she’d end up. The plan could be to hop off at any one of the stops, and she wouldn’t be informed of where in advance. She was already suffocating in the company of the two agents sitting stiffly by her sides. Lela stood up. “I need to stretch my legs. I’ll be doing way too much sitting for the rest of the day.” The agents stayed put. It would look odd if they milled about her like caged tigers. This was supposed to be a relaxed departure, but it sure didn’t feel like it. Staying seated was a concession, but the feds kept watch on the surroundings—as did Lela. Her father had been a cop with the Houston PD. When she’d been a young girl, he’d taught her about vigilance, and the value of self-defense. “I don’t want to have to worry about my little girl,” he’d said. And he’d done his part to make sure of that. Lela didn’t go far. She paced the polished floor in front of the row of seating, the agents’ eyes flicking toward her. Hefting her bag, she adjusted the shoulder strap across her midsection. The few items of importance to her were stashed inside, along with her cash. She hugged the bag close. Looking around the station, Lela noted the other waiting passengers. A couple of kids wrestled over a cherished toy, until their mother handed over treats to distract them. A business type tapped on his laptop, his eyebrows drawn together in concentration. Then new faces appeared. Three men entered, no luggage in tow, and walked toward the seating area. Their arrogant saunter and baggy clothes marked them as gang members. Each sported similar menacing tattoos, which meant trouble. The tats were on the face, plus covered the neck and arms. The tallest one had a goatee and bushy hair. He walked shoulder to shoulder with a shorter, squat guy with a wide face. The third man was a step behind, his eyes searching the waiting area. He was narrow, with a thin face, but his lighter build didn’t fool Lela. The way the thin guy held his shoulders telegraphed a message that he was meaner than he might appear. He gave off clear don’t-fuck-with-me vibes. Lela kept the men in her peripheral view, but didn’t stare. To challenge the rough trio would mean risking her life. Despite the feds close by to protect her, Lela wasn’t isolated from the gang threat. She was all too familiar with the drug gangs that had proliferated in Houston. Any one of their members would kill, with little provocation and no remorse. And members were often armed with high-powered weapons. Simmons nodded to his partner, who took a more attentive pose. Neither one looked directly at the gang, as doing so could be considered an insult. It was best to avoid provocation, and Lela was relieved to see that the feds were savvy about gang mentality. The gang appeared to be on premises with a purpose. Their matching scowls conveyed that whatever their reason for being there, it wasn’t recreational—unless murder and mayhem was considered sport. Other passengers glanced at the gang, but minded their own business. Lela doubted any citizen would get involved. Even without the insight she had about vicious gangs, the men’s demeanor was frightening. So far, the men hadn’t actively threatened, but their presence was alarming enough. The mother pulled her kids closer, and the businessman squinted at his computer screen. The room seemed quieter, as though each waiting passenger held their breath, praying for the gangsters to leave, and quickly. Lela tried to stay calm. She had enough happening without any unwelcome encounter with the drug purveyors of the city. But she wasn’t naïve enough to assign the gang member’s appearance to mere coincidence. The reason she was being ushered onto a train, headed toward protective custody, was because she was scheduled to testify in a drug-related case. Could these thugs have any connection to that case? The feds were on alert, though outwardly staying cool. Robertson stood up and positioned his body in front of hers. He said in a low voice, “We’ve got our eyes on them.” Why didn’t that make Lela feel any better? If she’d been the only one perceiving a threat, she could have brushed it aside. It was a nerve-racking day to start with; she was worrying without cause. But if the feds were on high alert, there was a greater chance that trouble was about to find them. A group of passengers stood up and grabbed their luggage, momentarily blocking Lela’s view. Then they moved toward the gate, leaving the three gang members in full view. The gangsters were too close for comfort. Lela’s heart raced. The gangsters were within smelling distance when they made their move. The tall one shouted, “Grab her!” The thin guy had his arms around Lela before she could move. The feds engaged with the other two gangsters. A glimmer of a gun barrel caught her eye. Then the first shot was fired.