No one knows what they’re made of until they’re broken. At the tender age of twenty-two, Hope Ali has finally joined the organization of her dreams, the Agency, an elite group of attorneys who go undercover to right wrongs the law can’t. The requirements are stringent, the training exhausting.
After seeking asylum in the United States when she was sixteen, Hope and her father, Sheikh Harun Ali, settled in a quiet Wisconsin town, hiding from those who had placed a price on their heads. Still, she excelled, finishing her university and law school education by the time she was twenty-one.
Now, after breezing through the Agency training program, Hope appears to be indestructible—until she is assigned a simple task during the rescue of an author among the disappeared in the UAE. The task? To distract the woman’s captors until she can be spirited out of the country.
Unfortunately, a member of MISix has other plans. In an attempt to disrupt the Agency’s mission, she tips off one of Hope’s enemies, alerting them to her location. Hope manages to lead the author’s captors on a merry dance, freeing others to rescue her, until she is unexpectedly confronted with a violent angry mob intent on harm.
She is left bloody and broken. No one knows whether Hope’s body or her mind will heal. Suddenly Hope is no longer just her name. It is also the one thing she must embrace to find her new normal.
Agent Dianna Murphy glared at the stopwatch she held in her hand.
“Dammit,” she murmured into her Bluetooth. “She broke the speed record again, Boyd. We need to shake things up. Shake her up. Our obstacles are simply too easy for her. Hope is too light on her feet. She flies through the course as if she’s sprouted wings.
“But when she comes up against some three-hundred-pound gorilla, twice her height and three times her weight, she’s gonna have a fight on her hands. We aren’t doing her any favors by making this too easy. She needs a challenge. A big challenge.”
Boyd muttered an obscenity. “You’re right, of course. What do you suggest?”
“We need a tougher course, something so hard it leaves her dirty, exhausted, and pissed. Something she can’t conquer in a single try. Something that forces her to utilize every ounce of her training. I want to see her cry in frustration, sulk in despair. We can’t mess with this course, not when others are using it, but we can create something of our own.”
“And what if she complains? Makes that age-old cry of gender discrimination?”
Dianna chuckled. “That’s not Hope’s way. The Ali’s have taught her well. She’s tougher than anyone on this base. Hell, she’s even better trained in self-defense than anyone on this base. And smarter, so much smarter. But she’s book smart, not street smart. We have to challenge her to overcome the deficits she does have in the real world—her size, her strength, her lack of cynicism.”
Boyd groaned. “I’m so glad you’re training her. Most of the guys around here are afraid of her. She’s so sneaky, she’s lethal. She took every guy to the mat in the self-defense class, not because she was bigger or stronger, but because she’s smart. Those bodyguards she had taught her every single dirty trick. Any way you look at it, she’s going to be a superstar.”
Dianna grunted. “Well, a dead superstar is still dead. It’s my job to make sure she survives, no matter the situation.” She flipped through the pages on her clipboard. “I was given information on a course that is more challenging, but it’s been sitting in mothballs. No one has used it for a few years. Something called The Ballbuster.”
Boyd remained silent for a moment. “Damn, Dianna. Only a few people have gotten through that course successfully, and your husband, Anders, was one of them. Even he had to run it a few times before he mastered it. That thing is brutal. What if Hope fails? What if she breaks?”
“This is Hope Ali we’re talking about. At the ripe old age of twenty-two, the best recruit the Agency has ever had. She will not break. And if she fails, she will pick herself up and keep on trying. I guarantee it.”
“God, I am so glad you’re her trainer. When that kid gets pissed, no one wants to be in her line of fire.”
Dianna laughed. “Speaking of which, how’d she do with the assault weapons? Were they too heavy for her?”
Boyd snickered. “Of course they were. She could barely pick one up, but that didn’t stop her. She still managed to best everyone else in her class. Grabbed a bale of hay, dragged the gun over, and used the hay for arm support. Figured out how to handle the blowback and just started shooting. Half the men walked away looking like they had been forced to feast on their balls for breakfast. Some of them were actually tossed on their asses from the recoil action. Not Hope Ali. She punched the bull’s eye repeatedly and did a dainty little happy dance. At least we don’t have to worry about her hooking up with any of the other recruits. They’ve all been emasculated.”
“Good. She doesn’t need the distraction.”
“Well, except for Agent Jeffries, that is. Man has it bad, though he’ll never admit it. He stares at her with those sad puppy dog eyes. Can’t take his eyes off her. She doesn’t even notice. Practically ignores him. Poor guy.”
“Do I need to speak with Jeffries?”
“His superiors are well aware of his interest. If he takes it any further, all of her protectors are ready to swoop in and bat him away.”
Dianna laughed. “That’s what happens when you grow up surrounded by the Agency. You get your own built-in cockblocking squad, whether you want it or not.”
* * * *
Hope Ali stormed into her dorm room and threw herself down on the narrow twin bed that awaited her. She groaned, rolled over, and stared up at the ceiling. “Dammit, dammit, dammit,” she cursed. “This is not fair. I passed all of their damn tests. What more do they want?”
Cate Creighton, her assigned Agency mentor and roommate, rolled over and pushed her long blonde hair out of her big blue eyes. She sighed dramatically. “They want you to prove that you can best the men and women you’re going to meet out in the field. Face it, Hope. In here, you’re mighty. But that really doesn’t prove anything.
“When you’re hunkered down in Russia or the Middle East, confronted by four-hundred-pound enforcers who can crush you with their boot, you’re going to be in trouble unless you can get past them. To the enemy, you’re going to be a butterfly waiting to be scooped up in a net. You need to be faster, smarter, more lethal than your opponents. It’s the Agency’s job to make sure you’re prepared—for anything. They put me through hell, too, but I survived. And so will you.”
Hope scowled. “You’ve only got a few inches on me, yet you breezed right through training. We have similar backgrounds. Both of us grew up with bodyguards and excessive defense training because of who our parents are. Why is this so much easier for you?”