A smooth billionaire winemaker.
A compassionate bidder with a loving heart.
With just one sip, it all gets a little WICKED.
As head winemaker of the Los Caballeros winery, I like to keep it cool, collected, and smooth. Knowing my weakness, my sister sends in a secret weapon—Addison Reagan—to convince me to be in the bachelor auction. There’s no way I can turn her down. After all, she’s everything I’ve been missing. With her unassuming and kind nature, I am bowing down to her every need, and measuring every moment.
I have one mission: get Brix into the bachelor auction. Easier said than done. Brix is stubborn and distant. I’m beyond shocked when he agrees. Of course there’s a catch. There always is with a man like him. I have to be the winning bidder. Not a problem. After all, he’s sexy, charming, and irresistible. He sets me on fire. With Brix, things are about to heat up. And just when it does, my demons come barreling back. But can I count on a WICKED WINEMAKER to save me from the past?
The last thing I expected when Vex requested a meeting was that he wouldn’t come alone. When I saw a woman I didn’t recognize in the front passenger seat of his SUV, I was even more baffled.
“Who is that?” I asked when I got out of my truck and met him in between where we’d both parked on the bottom floor of the underground parking structure.
“A complication.” He looked over his shoulder as if to make sure she hadn’t gotten out of the vehicle. “Her name is Pearl Fischer.”
“Any relation to—”
He responded before I’d even finished the question. “Yeah, according to her, John Fischer was her father.”
Fischer and his accomplice, both members of the Aryan Brother of Texas—the ABT—had been shot and killed a year ago after kidnapping a woman the people Vex and I worked for were hired to rescue.
Then as now, Vex was undercover on a CIA-backed mission to infiltrate both the ABT and their parent organization, the Aryan Nation. His role, and mine, was focused primarily on the Texas chapter, while there was another team undercover at the national level.
“Why is she with you?” I asked. And why the fuck was I here, but he would get to that—I hoped sooner rather than later.
“As you know, the ABT has essentially split into two factions. Fischer was on the side that supports an ABT more in-line with the Nation.”
Okay, so this wasn’t going to be quick. “Your mandate.”
“Exactly. I’m supposed to be ‘cleaning up’ the Texas chapter, particularly the assholes in the splinter group.”
I chuckled silently. The Aryan Nation were a prison gang made up of street thugs, which meant their definition of “cleaning up” was subject to interpretation
Vex’s official cover was that he’d been the former leader of the Nazi Freedom Riders. In his role, he’d facilitated its merging with the Aryan Nation. After the merger took place, he was given the rank of colonel above the usual highest of major at any state chapter.
“You still haven’t answered the question about why Fischer’s daughter is with you.”
“Scottie picked up on some chatter about Pearl we don’t quite understand.”
McKenna Walsh, code name Scottie, was an agent with the Department of Homeland Security, on loan to the CIA and working undercover as Vex’s common-law wife.
“What was the chatter?”
“Seems the splinter group has it in for the young woman—”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m getting to that, Rip. What Scottie overheard suggests Pearl wasn’t actually Fischer’s biological daughter.”
That explained why he’d started out saying “according to her” she was John Fischer’s daughter. However, I was getting really impatient really fast. “And?”
“Scottie heard one of them say that now that Fischer is out of the picture, they could use her to get what they want from the Aryan Nation.”
Now that he was out of the picture? He’d been dead over a year. “What do they want?”
“No idea, but evidently, she’s valuable to someone in Idaho.”
“Are you following up with the Nation?”
“Got my contacts inside seeing what they can find, but so far, neither John Fischer nor Pearl are on anyone’s radar as being significant. I’m headed to their headquarters now to see what I can figure out myself.”
While this wasn’t making much sense, Vex did start out by saying he and Scottie didn’t understand the chatter she’d heard. “So, what? The ‘splinters’ planned to kidnap her? Ask for some kind of ransom?”
“Initially, at least. Scottie said they planned to have their ‘fun’ with her first.”
“Before they kill her.”
“So you transported her off the compound? Risky.”
“The cover is that ‘Ms. Shay’ and I have been called back to Idaho for a council meeting and took Pearl with us.”
“Where is Scottie?”
“She had to rendezvous with DHS, so I took her by the safe house to get her car. We’re meeting up at Austin-Bergstrom in about an hour.”
“If the splinters think this Pearl is of value, what do they think of you delivering her right into the hands of whoever they think wants her?”
“I’m hoping it stirs them up.”
“You got anybody on the inside of this group?”
“Negative, but I’m workin’ it.”
“All right. Keep me informed.” I took another look over at the SUV.
“Who does this woman think I am?” I asked.
“I know you from the Nazi Freedom Riders.”
“Someone who didn’t come over when you did?”
“That’s right. You left gang life, but you’re someone I trust to keep her safe.”
“Does she know her life is in danger?”
“What am I supposed to do with her?”
“For now, take her back with you to the safe house.” Vex spoke as if he was in charge of this mission rather than the other way around. However, I had asked.
“If she isn’t Fischer’s kid and the splinters believe she’s of some value to the Nation, who the hell is she?”
“Good fucking question.”
“All right. Anything else I need to know tonight?”
Vex shook his head. “Negative.”
“I’ll contact Money in the morning and make him aware of this development—see how he wants us to proceed.”
Kellen “Money” McTiernan was the current director of the CIA. McTiernan used the firm Vex and I worked for—the Invincible Intelligence and Security Group—for jobs that fell outside what he could make happen within the agency itself—like the infiltration of a national terrorist organization.
“Who is this woman’s mother?”
“Says she never knew anything about her. She’s lived on the compound as far back as she can remember.”
If that was the case, it meant her existence, at least for the most part, was entirely “off the grid.” She’d have no identification, no money, and no way to get any. The ABT would’ve provided everything—no different than any other cult.
“I gotta be on my way,” Vex said, looking at his phone. “She has some of her things with her. Oh, and her bear.”
“You know, a stuffed bear.”
As in taxidermy stuffed or Teddy-bear stuffed? I guess I’d find out soon enough. “Hey, Vex, how old is she?”
He shrugged. “Maybe late twenties.”