by Lena Diaz
Series: EXIT Inc. #2
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
As an agent of the Equalizers, Jace Atwell will risk everything to destroy EXIT Inc., the corrupt antiterrorist group, before more innocent lives are lost. The only way to infiltrate EXIT is by getting close to the CEO's beautiful daughter, but when they get a little too close, Jace finds himself falling for the woman he is duty-bound to deceive. Whatever clandestine activities EXIT is involved in, Melissa Cardenas refuses to believe that her father is responsible and is determined to prove it. So when sexy, smooth-talking Jace comes clean about his motives, Melissa drops a bombshell of her own: she's been investigating too—and she wants to help him find the truth. The chemistry between Melissa and Jace is undeniable, but their opposing views of justice make teamwork tricky. With their lives on the line—and the truth something neither of them expected—the only way to survive will be to trust their hearts and each other . . . if they can.
No Exit by Lena Diaz is the second novel in her romantic suspense series Exit Inc. As agent Jace Atwell attempts to infiltrate the company EXIT Inc. a front for a corrupt anti terrorism group with its own political agenda, he finds himself falling for the CEO’s daughter. Intense and action-packed No Exit delivered exactly the escape I needed.
Diaz begins the No Exit with an intense scene that does not play out at all like Equalizer, Jace Atwell expected. Jace is trying to infiltrate EXIT Inc. and the team decided the CEO’s daughter Melissa Cardenas is the perfect way to gain entry. He is to save her after his teammate runs her off the side of the road. Only things go terribly wrong and gunshots are exchanged. From that, moment on Diaz kept up the intense thrills.
I enjoyed watching Melissa and Jace get to know each other. Neither trusts the other, but Jace quickly realizes that Melissa is beginning to suspect her father is up to something nefarious. Their interactions felt genuine and the constant danger may have sped up the emotional aspects of their relationship but Diaz made me believe.
I love ex-military, special OPS men and Jace was adorable. While his basic instinct is to protect, I appreciated the respect he had for Melissa and the way he engaged her. Melissa is strong, but definitely lonely. She was well on her way to discovering her father’s secrets, but it is hard to accept that your father is a cold-hearted killer. A twist at the end almost made me pity the man.
Jace and Melissa are leaders and it created some fun banter, a little danger and some heat. Characters from Exit Strategy are present, and we get updates on the Council and overall story arc. Each book features a different member of the Equalizers and their love interest. Diaz does a nice job of bringing the reader up to speed enabling No Exit, to work as a standalone. The overall story arc continues and I am anxious to discover which teammate will be featured next.
If you are looking for an intense, action-packed, romantic suspense with strong characters, you will enjoy the banter and plot of No Exit.
Read Chapter One
Sabrina crept into her moonlit living room and grabbed the arm of the couch for support. Her right hand, slippery with blood, slid across the cloth and she fell to her knees on the hardwood floor. A gasp of pain escaped between her clenched teeth before she could stop it.
She froze, searching the dark recesses of the room, squinting to try to bring everything into focus. If the intruder was within ten feet of her, no problem, she could make out every little detail. But any farther than that and he might as well be a fuzzy blob on the wallpaper.
Had he heard her? She listened intently for the echo of footsteps in the hall outside, or the squeak of a shoe, the rasp of cloth against cloth. But all she heard was silence. In a fair world, that might mean the stranger had given up and left the house. But in her world, especially the nightmarish last six months, it probably meant he was lying in wait around the next corner, ready to attack.
The throbbing burn in her right biceps had her angling her arm toward the moonlight filtering through the plantation shutters to see if the damage was as bad as it felt. Nope. It was worse. Blood ran down her arm from a jagged, two-inch gash and dripped to the floor.
She clasped her left hand over the cut, applying pressure and clenching her mouth shut to keep from hissing at the white-hot flash of pain. She had to stop the bleeding. But there wasn’t any point in looking for something here in the living room to bind the wound. Only the couch and a wing chair remained of the antiques that she’d brought with her halfway across the country from Boulder, Colorado, to Asheville, North Carolina. She’d sold the other furniture, and even some of her sketches, to pay the exorbitant fees of the private investigators searching for her grandfather and the even more exorbitant fees of the lawyers.
She supposed the Carolina Panthers nightshirt that she was wearing might be useful as a tourniquet. But she didn’t relish the possibility of facing an intruder in nothing but her panties. The nightshirt was definitely staying on.
If only she still had a shotgun. Even halfblind, she was bound to at least wing her target with the spray of pellets. But convicted felons couldn’t own guns. And thanks to her lovingcousin’s schemes, that’s exactly what she was—a felon who’d brought shame to the great Hightower legacy. A felon who’d been forced through her plea bargain agreement to sell the gun collection that she and her grandfather had worked years to build.
Sabrina squinted again. She should have grabbed her glasses before fleeing her bedroom. But she’d been startled from sleep by a sound downstairs and had flailed blindly in the dark, knocking everything off the bedside table: her glasses, her cell phone, and the lamp. It had broken into pieces and one of the shards had ricocheted off the floor, cutting her arm—probably the lamp’s way of getting back at her for breaking it.
Still, she’d managed to make it downstairs without being caught, by sneaking down the front staircase while he went up the back stairs. But she hadn’t even made it to the foyer before she’d heard him in the dark, and knew he was on the first floor again. So far she’d won the deadly game of cat and mouse. But she was running out of places to hide. It was time to make a run for it.
Easing to the doorway, she peered down the long hall. Was that dark shape against the wall just a decorative table? Or a man, hunched down, waiting? When no one pounced at her, she decided to chance it and took off, running on the balls of her feet to make as little noise as possible. The dark opening to the foyer beckoned on her right. She dashed around the corner and pressed against the wall, her pulse slamming so hard it buzzed in her ears.
Had he seen her? Where was he? In one of the guest rooms? The study? Keeping her left hand clamped over her wound, she hurried down the marble-tiled foyer.
The useless security panel mocked her as she passed it. For what she’d paid for the thing, it should have come with armed guards. But it hadn’t gone off tonight, not even when she’d slammed her hand on the panic button in her bedroom.
A dull thump from somewhere around the corner had her stomach clenching with dread. When had he gotten so close?
She hurried to the door, flipped the dead bolt, and yanked the doorknob. The door didn’t budge! She pulled harder.
Nothing. She looked over her shoulder before double-checking the lock and trying again. The front door was stuck, jammed, as if nailed shut from the outside. A moan of frustration and fear bubbled up inside her but she ruthlessly tamped it down.
Think, Sabrina. Think.
She could run to the kitchen. It wasn’t far, just on the other side of the foyer wall. There was a butcher block of knives on the marble-topped island. But the man she’d glimpsed from the upstairs railing when she ran out of her bedroom was built like one of those bodyguards her alarm system should have come with. What chance did she have against him in hand-to-hand combat? Especially with the cut on her arm? He’d probably end up turning the knife on her. The thought of being stabbed had bile rising in her throat. No thank you. Scratch the kitchen off her list.
The garage. Her Mercedes was inside. But her keys were in her purse. Could she sneak upstairs, get her keys, and make it all the way back to the garage without him hearing or seeing her? Even if she could, the garage door was slow and noisy—one of those irritating things she’d discovered shortly after moving in. Cross the garage off the list too. That was a small list. What other choices did she have?
She ran to the other end of the foyer and stood looking across the hall to the dining room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows. Heavy windows that would be hard to raise even when she wasn’t hurt. Her shoulders slumped as she accepted what she hadn’t wanted to admit—the only way out was through a door, and the only other door was in the family room, which meant going toward that thump she’d heard moments ago.
Before she could think too hard and become frozen by fear, she took off down the long hallway toward the back of the house and didn’t slow down until she reached the family room. She felt the rush of warm air a moment before she saw the broken pane in the French door. That must have been the sound that had awakened her. Glass littered the floor in a wide arc like a lethal moat. But if getting cut again was the price of escape, so be it.
Bracing herself against the imminent pain, she raised her foot.
Strong arms clamped around her waist, jerking her into the air. She let out a startled yelp, kicking and flailing her arms. “Put me down! Let me go!”
Ignoring her struggles, the stranger effortlessly tossed her onto his shoulder in a fireman’s hold, his forearm clamped over her thighs like a band of steel. Good grief, he was strong.
Clasping her nightshirt with her good hand to keep it from falling down over her head, she tried to beat his back with her other hand. But with it throbbing and weak, her efforts were puny and laughable at best. Using the only other weapon she had, she bit him, right through his shirt. Or tried to. The cloth was thin, but he was wearing a thicker material beneath it. Kevlar. She blinked in surprise. Growing up with a team of armed guards as reluctant babysitters had taught her exactly what he was wearing beneath his shirt, even if it was thinner than what her guards had worn. Why was this man wearing a bulletproof vest?
Sabrina twisted sideways to see what he was doing. “What do you want?”
“I want you to be quiet.” The slight Southern drawl in his deep voice did nothing to dull its edge of authority, as if he was used to giving orders, and used to having them followed.
He crunched through the broken glass to the door and reached up with his free hand. A wood shim was wedged between it and the frame. Was that why the front door hadn’t opened either? Had he wedged both doors shut? What was going on?
The wood shim creaked as he worked it loose.
“Please, please, let me go.” She was shamelessly considering offering anything if he’d just set her down. But the shim popped free and he yanked the door open. Her breath left her with a whoosh as he jogged down the brick steps with her bouncing against his shoulder. He skirted the long, rectangular pool, then sprinted across the lawn toward the woods that bordered her yard and led into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
She clutched his shirt during the wild dash to keep her jaw from snapping against his spine. Every jarring step shoved his shoulder against her belly, forcing the air out of her lungs. Just breathing was a challenge. She couldn’t have screamed if her life depended on it, and it probably did.
Her shirt slipped down farther to expose her thong underwear to the humid air. Her face flooded with heat as she realized her nearly naked bottom was bouncing on his shoulder just inches from his face. Tears of humiliation stung her eyes. No. She blinked them back, refusing to let them fall. If she acted liked a victim, she would become a victim. No matter how much she was shaking on the inside, she couldn’t let him see her as weak.
When they entered the woods, he didn’t slow down. She expected the low-hanging pine tree branches to scrape against her exposed skin. But somehow, nothing did. When he finally stopped in a clearing, they were deeper in the woods than she’d ever been. She wasn’t even sure whether they were still on her property or if they’d crossed into the nature preserve behind her rental. And now that she could finally draw a deep breath, there was no point in screaming for help. They were too far away for any of her neighbors to hear her.
Suddenly he stood her up and let her go. The blood that had rushed to her head while she’d dangled over his back now rushed to her feet, making everything spin around her. She staggered like a drunk. He grabbed her hips in a firm but surprisingly gentle grip, steadying her.
The feel of this stranger’s hands on her bare skin sent a jolt of panic through her. Sabrina shoved him away, wobbling backward. A warm breeze against her belly had her sucking in a startled breath and looking down to see her nightshirt bunched around her waist. She jerked it down to hang mid-thigh and cast an anxious glance up at him. Thankfully he didn’t seem interested in her state of undress. He was too busy checking what appeared to be a rather large watch on his wrist.
He towered over her. But then again, most people did. Dressed in black pants and a black T-shirt—like any good burglar or kidnapper should be—he had a solid, muscular frame she’d become intimately familiar with while plastered against him. His dark hair hung like a ragged mane to his shoulders and framed an angular jaw and cheekbones a camera would love. He’d probably look quite handsome in his mug shot. And thanks to the sometimes curse–sometimes gift of a photographic memory, she’d be able to pick him out of a future lineup without any trouble at all. She would even be able to draw his likeness to almost perfectly match the picture in her head. Her artistic skills were rusty, but she’d be happy to polish them up if it meant putting this man in jail.
That was the moniker that immediately popped into her mind to describe him. It fit perfectly, especially considering the bulky pistol holstered at his waist—a Glock 22, from the looks of it. She was a Sig Sauer girl herself, preferring the solid feel of steel over the “combat Tupperware” of a mostly plastic Glock. Just one more thing to hold against her kidnapper—his lousy taste in firearms.
“You’re bleeding,” he announced, snapping her attention back to his face.
He reached for her but she quickly stepped back and clamped her hand over her cut again. “Don’t touch me,” she ordered, trying to sound brave and unafraid in spite of the hysteria bubbling up inside her. If she was going to survive, she had to keep her wits about her.
Impatience etched itself on his forehead but he didn’t move toward her. Instead, he checked his watch again, his mouth twisting with displeasure. “We need to get moving. We’re behind schedule. If they suspect the mission has been compromised, they’ll send someone else to kill you.”
The blood drained from her face, leaving her cold. Mission? Kill her? Wait, he’d said “they” and “someone else.” And he’d seemed concerned, if only for a moment, about her cut. Did that mean that he wasn’t here to hurt her? Then he was, what, protecting her?
A shaky breath escaped between her clenched teeth as hope flared inside her. If this man wasn’t the real threat, then who was? The only person that she knew of who hated her was her cousin, Brian. But kill her? No. That would only delay him from getting what he really wanted—their grandfather’s money.
What then? Was Brian planning a worse stunt than his last one? Now that she could believe. Had her sister-in-law, Angela, found out that Brian was up to something and sent this man to warn her? Had this stranger misunderstood and thought she was in physical danger, and completely overreacted?
“You said they. Who are they?” she asked, trying to fit the puzzle pieces together.
He shrugged. Either he didn’t know, or he didn’t want to waste his precious time explaining.
“Did Angela send you? To warn me about Brian?” She gave a nervous laugh. “He’d love for me to stop fighting him in court, but kill me?” She shook her head. “You’ve got this all wrong. He doesn’t want me dead. That would just complicate things.”
She couldn’t help the bitterness and hurt that had crept into her tone. All her life she’d thought Brian loved their grandfather as much as she did. But instead of helping her find Grampy after he went missing, Brian was fighting to have him declared dead so he could cash in on the estate.
“I don’t know any Brian or Angela. But someone is definitely after you.” Tall-Dark-and-Deadly closed the distance between them and leaned down as if to pick her up again.
She jumped back and clenched her fists in front of her, steeling herself against the throbbing in her right arm. “Touch me and I’ll kick your balls all the way up to your throat.”
This time it was his turn to blink in surprise. His mouth tightened into a hard line, making her immediately regret her rash words. Angering a man with a gun was never a good idea.
Rushing to fill the tense silence, she said, “You keep saying ‘they’ and ‘someone.’ You’re here to protect me, right? Someone other than my family is after me? They want to hurt me? Or maybe you got the wrong house, the wrong person.” She latched onto that last thought with the desperation of a skydiver clawing for the secondary chute when the primary failed.
He shook his head as if she were daft. “They don’t want to hurt you, Miss Hightower. They want you dead.”
She sucked in a sharp breath, the certainty in his voice and the emphasis on her name telling her there had been no mistake. A renewed stab of fear shot straight to her gut. “Why are you so sure?” she whispered.
“Because I’m the one they hired to kill you.
The Bibliophile Babe
Sounds like a good book! I’ve been looking for a new romantic suspense book.
This is a fun series 🙂
I’ve been trying new romantic suspense authors. I’ll have to keep this one in mind. The series sounds good.
Me too Sophia, which is how I started this series 🙂
I like your description of Jace, not so much the “cover” representation of Jace. I like smart banter between your book loves and the guy on the cover does not look like he’s up for banter. I’m probably just being picky. The story does sound good, though!!!
Agreed, I never pay too close attention since so often the descriptions don’t match.
Lover Of Romance
It can be refreshing to have a hero that isn’t over the top alpha male. Now don’t get me wrong I love those alpha’s, but they can be overwhelming. This sounds pretty great…looking forward to reading it.
I agree on both counts…LOL
Poor guy looks weird
Bwahaha..you always make me scroll back up and take a closer look at the cover.
The cover does nothing for the book. I woulnd’t have guessed that it was action packed and suspenseful based on the cover. Never judge a book by the cover right?
While not a favorite, I do think the gun gives you a clue.
It’s been a while since I read a romantic suspense but this story line and characters seem to be interesting.
Glad I piqued your interest Mary 🙂
I love the last line of your review Kim about a good mystery and strong characters!
Thanks Ali. Those are always welcome.
It’s always nice to hear about authors I’m not so familiar with. I’m glad you enjoyed this!
I can’t believe I have never heard of this author with all though awards. This kind of read is all I used to read until I got back into paranormal reads a few years ago. I still read them occasionally. I know each is a different couple, but not standalone right? I may have to add this to my wish list as well 🙂
I use to do stretches of one genre, now I mix it up 🙂
He’s trying to stop an anti-terrorist group? They must be pretty bad.
It is an interesting premise. This is a group contracted by the government but not public.
Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf
That cover makes me laugh for some reason! lol
Sounds like a good read though…and the MC names…Melissa and Jace….hmmm..I used to know a Jace…lol
Was he hot? LOL
Chapter one was awesomesauce. Can’t wait for more. 😉
Anna from elements of emaginette
Enjoy Anna 🙂
You can never go wrong with a action packed romance suspense! I like the sound of No Exit 🙂
Agreed. Thanks Sarah!
“Jace and Melissa are leaders and it created some fun banter, a little danger and some heat” — ingredients for a good read. Thanks for the post!
I love when there’s good chemistry and banter.
Quinn's Book Nook
In general, I don’t read a lot of romantic suspense. I’m glad you enjoyed this. Jake seems very sexy. 🙂
I tend to favor romance wrapped in suspense, mystery etc, but totally understand as I also love small-town, historical and straight up rom-com. Drama is my least favorite, but there are some authors like Emma Chase who get me everytime 🙂
ex-military check, deceit before romance check, alpha couple check, great banter check. Well it looks like I’ll be getting to know Exit Inc. Kim 😉 Thanks
Yep..so many elements I love in a story 🙂
I’m happy No Exit provided a much needed escape, Kimberly. It sounds like a good read. I like the premise with Jace working at infiltrating Exit Inc, and the danger that creates. And I like the sound of Jace and Melissa…it seems Jace is one of those alpha males who can let his lady ‘do what she does’ because he respects her and her abilities…even when they’re in danger. I’ll have to check out this series. 😀
I like the overall arc too Brandee and this was a fun couple
You’re on a romantic suspense roll these days! This is an author I haven’t read before, but because you said that the characters feel genuine, and that the story is well done, with quite a bit of danger, I think I’m going to pick it up 🙂
Great review, Kim.
Yes, that and mysteries.
I like that despite Jace being very protective, he wasn’t overly alpha with her and he respects her as well. Wohoo for banter and heat! I’ll have to consider this series when I’m in the mood for romantic suspense.
Lovely review, Kim!
I like reasonable alphas..the man had a real soft side.