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Dead Zero

Dead Zero

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Dead Zero

111 pages
1 hour
Mar 26, 2021


She's a promising recruit. He's a senior agent. Their growing attraction breaks agency rules.


A "zero" in the parlance of the counterterrorism agency that recruited her, Anika Washington is training hard to succeed at her first mission and avoid becoming a "dead zero."  Or, even worse for her, to avoid being kicked out of the agency. Anika wants—no, needs—a place to belong. Growing up in an orphanage has left its scar that she was never good enough to be chosen. She will do whatever it takes to make the agency choose her, keep her.


Complicating matters is Gianni Brambilla, the gorgeous and enigmatic senior agent who has taken a special interest in Anika. His attention risks breaking agency rules against emotional entanglements. If only Anika could stop thinking about him....


When a fellow recruit makes a fatal mistake during a mission, Anika is called up prematurely to complete the assignment. It's "go time" for her and Gianni in an undercover operation at a black-tie gala. Armed with high-tech spy gadgets and quick thinking, the two of them will need to rely on each other to ensure mission success, or else.


This book has previously been published under the title Ready or Dead by Crimson Romance.

Mar 26, 2021

About the author

Ever since she was a kid playing “spy” with her older sisters, PM Kavanaugh has loved a potent mix of intrigue, danger, and adventure. Now a writer of romantic thrillers, she lives in the Bay Area, California with her clever-enough-to-be-a-spy husband and their aptly named rescue cat, Dash.

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Dead Zero - PM Kavanaugh

Chapter 1


Anika’s inner voice shouted the command. Her opponent’s kick slammed into her and sent her flying. A somersault roll onto her back and a duck of her chin stopped her skull from smacking the cement floor. At least she’d remembered how to land.

Why hadn’t she blocked the attack or side-stepped and parried? Maybe she was exhausted from four hours of hand-to-hand fight training. Maybe her defensive instincts needed work. Or maybe she had been distracted by a glimpse of broad male shoulders and dark-blond hair in the observation room on the upper level.

She lay still, trying to quiet her gasps, and studied the man through half-closed eyes. He had shed his customary dark-gray suit jacket for a close-fitting T-shirt that hugged his chest and revealed sinewy forearms. She hadn’t met him but knew his name. Gianni Brambilla. A luscious Italian name with consonants that rumbled in her jaw and across her lips. And that rolling r in his surname tickled her tongue. He was a Level 3 operative, way above her Level 0 recruit status. The few times she had seen him inside the subterranean complex he had been speaking with the petite but intimidating assistant commander of the agency, known simply as Second.

Anika wished she could read the expression in his penetrating eyes as they stared down at the training arena. A zing of excitement ran up her spine when she saw his gaze rest on her. Was he wondering if she was hurt? More likely, he was questioning why she hadn’t blocked or dodged her opponent’s foot. Her excitement fizzled like a punctured pouch of sparkling water.

She should get back up. Show Gianni and Saito-san, her instructor, she could take a hit and return for more. She would get back up. She just needed another second. Or three.

Get up, zero. Saito-san’s face jumped into her field of vision. You can stop training your baby-blues on me. I’m not one of your marks. A light kick landed near her ankle. Graduation’s in two months. You want to be ready, don’t you? Or, would you rather become a ‘dead zero’ during your first mission?

Panic, sharp as a steel blade, sliced through Anika. Graduation. She had to be ready. She rolled to her knees, planted one foot, and pushed to standing.

Remember, he said, you’ve got the most power in those long legs of yours. Use them.

A shrill beep bounced off the circular walls and signaled the end of the session.

Anika sagged forward and rested her hands on her thighs. Thank God.

Hit the showers, and then report to your interrogation tactics seminar, Saito-san said. And next time, stay focused on your opponent. Forget about everything—and everyone—else. He turned away and separated two recruits who were still going at each other.

Her gaze shot up to the observation room. Empty. Gianni was gone.

Anika headed toward the nearest exit, each breath a painful inhale and exhale. Her lower ribs had taken some of the impact of that last kick and were chanting their protest. A twinge in her right ankle forced her to slow down and walk with a slight limp. Saito-san hadn’t kicked her that hard. When had she hurt it?

Anger over her poor performance during the fight training bubbled through her and intensified the physical pain. Why did I let myself get distracted by him? I can’t screw this up. The hot emotion mixed with a colder one. Fear crawled down her insides like icy tentacles and settled in her gut. If they kick me out of here, it will be like the orphanage all over again. She tried to push the thoughts away, but they hammered at her. The orphanage, where I never got picked. Where the hopeful-looking couples always passed me over for someone else. The sting of those countless rejections lay buried deep inside her. But every reminder was like a knife pricking an old wound. Anika blinked back sudden tears. I can’t let that happen to me here.

She stepped across the threshold, kneading the tight spots in her shoulder.

I’d suggest relaxers for that. Gianni stood in the middle of the corridor, facing her. And freeze tape for your ankle.

Embarrassment glued Anika in place, like an ant stuck in quick-dry cement. She had never been this close to him before. He hadn’t noticed the tears, had he? She prayed the sweat beading her face provided cover for her show of weakness. He looked even more gorgeous up close, with his soulful eyes and muscular frame. A poet-warrior.

Her face grew warm. She visualized ugly patches of red spreading across her cheeks, mixing with the bumps and bruises every fight-training session produced. She probably looked like crap.

You should have cross-blocked that last kick. What happened? he asked, a tantalizing hint of Italy in his voice.

You happened. The response ricocheted through her mind. She fought for calm. Get it together. I...I’m not sure. Tension raked across her shoulders, hitching them up. Was he going to reprimand her? Report her? It was only one kick, for God’s sake. She lifted her chin and forced herself to meet his gaze. It won’t happen again.

Don’t worry, he said, as if reading her mind. I’m only here to offer advice. Your opponent always leads with his left. Both punches and kicks. If you stay on his right side, he won’t be as effective.

Relief fluttered through her, easing her shoulders back down. So, no reprimand. Good to know. Thanks.

She expected him to leave. Go do whatever Level Three’s did when they weren’t watching or talking to recruits.

A male operative hurried down the corridor in their direction, checking his handheld. As he drew closer, Gianni stepped toward Anika to give the man room to pass. Once they were alone again, Gianni stayed in place, only an arm’s distance away.

Another observation, he said. You lean too far back when you side-kick with your left leg. Stay more upright. You’ll be harder to put off-balance.

Anika nodded. Got it.

His gaze remained steady on her as his lips twisted in consideration.

Full upper lip. Shallow cleft in chin. Stop!

Show me, he said.

Her mind stuttered. Now?

Gianni moved around to her right side. Give it a try.

Anika shifted her weight onto her right leg, bent her left at the knee and raised it, preparing to strike.

Gianni placed his palms on her upper arm and waist. The warmth from his hands penetrated the flex-fabric of her workout shirt. He pushed lightly forward. Her torso lifted upright a fraction. Better. Feel the difference?

Her skin hummed from the close contact. Y-yes. She cleared her throat. I’ll work on that.

Gianni dropped his hands and returned to his previous stance in front of her. I have no doubt. He adjusted a silver chain that peeked out from the shallow V-neck of his T-shirt.

Curious. Jewelry was discouraged inside the complex due to its impracticality.

Gianni noticed her gaze. Family heirloom, he said softly.

She stared into his eyes. God, his eyes... They were a beautiful shade of brown, like coffee with cream. His hair was snugged back

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