Book 3.5 in the SSU Series
A change of conscience leads a cold-hearted spy to risk his life for the woman he loves...
Ruthless and arrogant, CIA agent Mark Tonelli has always been driven by two things. The need to avenge his father’s death, and the need to protect his country at any cost. But when he joins the top secret organization Kerberos, Mark discovers that there are some lines even he won’t cross. He decides to bring down Kerberos from within.
Investigative reporter Faith Andrews believes that Kerberos agents have kidnapped her brother and forced him into an experimental scientific program aimed at creating super human soldiers. Running for her life from the men who will kill to keep their program a secret, Faith finds an unexpected ally in Mark. Together they work to stop an upcoming attack to be carried out by Kerberos’s enhanced soldiers, including her brother. If the attack is successful, thousands of innocent people will die.
Then Mark discovers that his boss is the one who ordered the death of his father and he’s faced with a shattering dilemma. Move forward with his revenge? Or protect the woman he loves?
Note: Payback takes place at the same time as Retribution, book three of the Surgical Strike Unit series and therefore contains spoilers for Retribution. I suggest that readers read Retribution before reading Payback.
“I’m sorry, Faith.”
Faith Andrews raised her shoulder in order to pin her cell phone closer to her ear and tightened her grip on her grocery bags. She’d broken another Bluetooth headset, dammit, and hadn’t gotten around to replacing it yet.
“I haven’t found any reference to your brother Toby during my investigation,” Siobahn Murphy added.
Faith grimaced as she climbed the front steps to her house. She’d really hoped her friend and former colleague would have good news for her. Siobahn’s skills as an investigative journalist were legendary. Her ability to ferret out information no one wanted to reveal was nothing short of spooky. So once Faith had seen the article Siobahn had written about missing military and law enforcement personnel, she’d contacted her friend and asked for help locating her brother. Toby, an officer with military intelligence, had been missing for a month. “Thanks, anyway, Siobahn.”
“Are you going to tell me what’s really going on?”
“I don’t know much more than we’ve already discussed.” Faith used her body to trap the grocery bags against the door as she fumbled for her house keys in her purse. “Toby was on a long-term, ultra secret assignment. Before he left, he promised to check in at least every two weeks via our secure email account.”
The grocery bags slipped and threatened to break free of her one-handed grip. Where were her blasted keys? “But he missed his last two check-ins. I’ve called all his friends and coworkers that I had contact info for and no one has seen or heard from him. I’m worried.”
Worried was putting it mildly. Despite his job often taking him away for long periods of time, Toby never failed to check in. He knew how paranoid Faith was about losing him—her best friend and last living family member.
The grocery bags slipped another few inches toward the ground, forcing Faith to bend her knees and shove her hips closer to the door to prevent the bags from falling to the wet porch. She shoved her free hand deeper into her purse and her fingers touched cool metal. “Ah! Finally.”
“Faith?” Siobahn’s voice held a hint of amused exasperation. Something Faith had heard all too often during the years they’d worked together. Siobahn expected to receive your full attention and didn’t appreciate knowing you were multi-tasking while talking to her.
“Sorry. I’m trying to get the groceries inside and finally found my keys.”
Siobahn sighed. “I don’t see how small town life can possibly suit you. Let someone else teach those snarky high schoolers and over privileged college students about journalism and come back to work for me.” Siobahn was a senior investigative reporter with one of the most prominent national newspapers. She headed a team of journalists known for their in-depth, hard-hitting reporting and Faith had once been proud to call herself a member of the team. But that life of constantly chasing down the truth to the exclusion of all else no longer appealed to her.
“You know you’re missing the adrenaline rush of investigating a hot story,” Siobahn cajoled.
“Actually, you’d be surprised at how much trouble a group of hormonal teenagers can cause. I get plenty of excitement.” Faith yanked the keys out of her purse, shoved the house key into the lock, and snatched her grocery bags with both hands as the door swung open.
Unfortunately, her action caused her shoulder to lower. The phone dropped, landing on top of the stack of mail on the hardwood floor. Faith settled the grocery bags out of the way as she picked up her phone.
“Faith? Are you okay?”
“Ugh. Yes. Just dropped the phone. Listen, I—”
“No Faith, you listen. You’re one of the best journalists I’ve ever trained. You’re wasting your talent with that high school newspaper and those Intro to Journalism classes you’re teaching at the college. You need to stop punishing yourself for what happened and get on with your life.”
Faith sucked in a breath, the pain still sharp even after more than a year. Trust Siobahn to be the one person who confronted her head-on about her decision to quit journalism.
“I really appreciate your support, Siobahn. You’re a good friend. But…” Faith closed the front door and dumped her keys back in her purse, then bent down to pick up her mail. A large manila envelope sticking out from the bottom of the stack caught her attention. Curious, she turned it over.
The return address was for an unfamiliar lawyer’s office, but Faith’s address was written in Toby’s precise handwriting. She froze. The room spun and she closed her eyes until the dizziness passed.
Toby, who’d been missing for a month, had sent her a package from New York City two days ago?
“I’ve got to go, Siobahn. Thanks again for trying to find Toby,” she said woodenly. She eyed the envelope warily. What if something terrible had happened to her brother? What if this envelope contained Toby’s last will and testament?
Ignoring Siobahn’s protest, Faith thumbed off the phone and tossed it onto the small table containing her landline phone. Then she walked to her office at the back of the house, set the envelope on her desk and just stood there with the letter opener in her hand. Unable to act. Unable to face the possibility that her brother might really be gone.
Just open it. Since when have you become such a coward?
Here is a short playlist of songs that are connected to Payback:
- "I Am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel. Because Mark is pretty much a loner at the start of the book.
- "Searchin'" by The Coasters. Change out the "her" for "him" and you've got Faith's determination to find her brother.
- "Superman" by Barbra Streisand. This is how Faith affects Mark.