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Dead Run

Dead Run

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Dead Run

334 pages
4 hours
May 17, 2021


Operative Anika Washington has had enough!


She's fed up with the demands of the counterterrorism agency, U.N.I.T., to follow orders at all costs, even when innocent people are put in the crossfire. When she's led to believe her fellow operative and lover, Gianni Brambilla, has chosen another to build a future with, Anika finally decides to break free. But it's not that simple to leave the agency that owns her. So, she fakes her death and goes on the run. Then she discovers she was tricked into believing Gianni no longer wants her. And she realizes her break for freedom has endangered his life. She battles time, former enemies, and the agency itself to stay alive and save the man she loves.


This book has previously been published under the title Die Run Hide by Crimson Romance.

May 17, 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 Run - PM Kavanaugh

Chapter 1

They’ve arrived.

The words shot through Anika Washington’s ear comm. Her pulse jumped and she sipped in a breath to steady herself. Copy that.

Facedown inside the blast-proof container, the operative wriggled her arm forward until it reached the switch. She pressed the glowing green button. The short end of the rectangular box slid open.

A light breeze carried in the urban perfume of asphalt, diesel, and cut grass. Straight ahead, a crosshatch of blue beams indicated the access point into the museum. The beams emitted a low buzz, like a swarm of drowsy flies.

Anika tugged the laser out from under her and set the barrel, coiled in a tight circle, in front of the beams. She was careful not to touch them and set off the museum’s alarm system. Then she activated her wrist monitor.

A hologram of the top floor boardroom appeared. Five men and two women in business suits sat at a large oval table cluttered with handhelds, disposable news discs, and coffee tumblers. On the surface, nothing suggested a gathering of two different terrorist cells. Except for the man at the head of the table.

His erect posture and unblinking gaze telegraphed military training. Now the director of Columbus, Ohio’s New Museum, the ex-army general used the art institution as a front for terrorist operations. No one would question his use of this room for a meeting with the museum’s biggest fundraisers. Not even today, when the building was closed to the public.

A fair-skinned woman, blond hair knotted at her neck, removed an e-pad from her purse. A founding member of First Aryan, her icy blue eyes had witnessed half a dozen lethal attacks in the past two years. The museum director and the men on either side of her belonged to the same cell.

Opposite them sat the other woman and her compatriots from Syria Free.

Both organizations had vowed the total destruction of Israel. The first one specialized in attacks against the Jewish nation’s allies while the second targeted synagogues during holy days.

Two more men entered and took up positions at opposite ends of the room. Padded all- black uniforms signaled their status as bomber bodyguards, the deadly new twist on security measures adopted by the most zealous cells. At the first sign of a breach, the director would give the order to detonate. Any chance of capture and interrogation would be destroyed along with everyone inside the kill zone.

All accounted for. Gianni Brambilla’s faint northern Italian accent threaded through his words.

It startled Anika, how the timbre of his voice reverberated through her body. It was as if he were lying right beside her instead of sitting in the transport vehicle two blocks away. Lying here, with his lips pressed to her ear, like when they were...but no, they hadn’t been together like that in ages. Ever since he had been promoted to Level 5, Gianni had shown greater reluctance to be alone with her outside the agency. Had prioritized a professional relationship over a personal one.

She jerked her mind back to the mission. Told herself that her elevated heart rate wasn’t caused by the sound of his voice, but by its message. Go time was fast approaching.

She flexed her toe against the endorphin patch in the inner sole of her boot. After one slow breath, she was calmer, like a warm wave had rolled through her. The effect wouldn’t last long, just a few minutes, just until she needed adrenaline back in her system to rev her through the mission.

The bomber guards trained their eyes on the surveillance monitors. The visual sweeps displayed only what U.N.I.T., the global counterterrorist agency, wanted them to see—a closed building and lightly trafficked streets. The alley where Anika lay in her container appeared empty except for recycling bins.

She studied her target, the guard on the right. Taking him out would trigger the other bodyguard. The resulting blast would look like an accident by one of their own.

Deactivating entry point, Gianni said. The blue beams preventing access into the museum flickered and disappeared. Begin weapon prep. His voice had evened out, the accent almost undetectable.

Had he used his endorphin patch, too? Anika smiled. Unlikely.

She aimed the silver tip of the laser at the now-open vent and pressed the button on the weapon’s handle. The barrel uncoiled like a snake and slithered its way inside the narrow tunnel. The plastic silicone sheath, no thicker than two fingers, slid without a sound along the tunnel floor and up two levels.

Her lips curved in admiration. The latest pride-and-joy of the agency’s weapons group was working without a hitch. When it neared the vent overlooking the boardroom, she pressed another button. The laser stilled and settled, like an animal waiting to strike.

Weapon in place.

Copy that, Gianni replied. Downloading in progress. Wait for my signal.

Anika eased back from the opening. At least the midmorning temperature still registered in the mild range. She flattened her arms and legs against the hard surface and sought the welcome sensation of cool metal against warm skin. Her heart thudded like steady drumbeats against the bottom of the box.

The endorphin was starting to wear off. How much longer?

She had to wait for the ops team to finish downloading the logistics for the group’s planned attack against the supporters of the state senator who had negotiated the latest Mideast peace agreement. Then she would take her shot.

This was one mission Anika had no qualms about executing. Taking out terrorists in order to save civilians appealed to her sense of rightness. She wished more missions were so black and white.

She started to re-scan the museum’s interior. The front door flew open and a jumble of arms, legs, and youthful energy streamed inside. First schoolers by the looks of them, six- to ten-year-olds. They weren’t part of the mission scenario.


I see them. His voice thickened with the cadence of his native language.

The children jostled one another and the adult chaperones kept circling them, trying to maintain order. A museum guide began to address the group and motioned for them to move to the right.

Anika held steady. The endorphin continued to fizzle away. She wished she had agreed to a second patch.

A little boy ran behind a pillar and an adult chaperone chased after him.

Team B will intercept. Gianni came back in. ETA three minutes. Until then, stand down.

Anika suppressed a sigh of impatience. She hated in-between time, when doubts and questions and what-ifs hit like bursts of laser fire.

She switched back to the boardroom. The museum director sketched a pattern of x’s and o’s on the wall board.

How much longer will the meeting last? How much longer before I have to take the shot? Will the kids be far enough away by then?

She pressed the wrist monitor again. Boredom had settled on the young faces as the guide talked. Anika sympathized. She, too, had been dragged to plenty of museums on national holidays.

The uniforms on the kids hadn’t changed in the five years since she had worn one. Although she had been raised in a different federal orphanage, the square-cut tops and pants were the same dirt brown color she had lived in for eighteen long years. She was willing to bet they were made of the same indestructible synthetic that had scratched her skin and left a constant rash on the back of her neck.

Her own forced museum trips had almost killed Anika’s interest in art. It hadn’t become important to her until high school drawing classes.

She spotted one girl, a head taller than the rest, just like she had been at that age. The girl wore the same bowl-shaped haircut the orphanage had given her, with the dumb fringe two short millimeters below the hairline.

Anika wore her hair long now, a silky black curtain of rebellion that hung well past her shoulders, usually cinched in a low braid when she was in the field.

The girl stood apart from the others, one arm wrapped across her waist, hand cupped in her chin. She had angled her face toward the guide as if paying close attention to every word.

Anika zoomed in on her. The girl’s eyes flicked from place to place, taking in the other kids, the adults, the artwork, the surveillance cams. Be careful, Anika wanted to warn her. They’re watching you. Don’t let them see how clever you are.

She switched back to the boardroom. The museum director jabbed his finger at the wall board. He glared at one of the Syria Free men who slouched in his chair, arms crossed behind his head. The expression on the younger man’s face mirrored the blankness of some of the kids. Except in his case, Anika speculated, the boredom masked darker emotions.

Team B has arrived. Gianni’s tone had evened out.

One of the operatives approached the adults standing together in a corner. Another one shut off the interactive display of the Second Battle of Fallujah, setting off protests from the kids. The tall girl Anika had noticed earlier crouched low. Her eyes darted from the operatives to the kids to the security cams.

In the boardroom, the director turned off the wall board and the blond slipped the e-pad back into her purse.

Come on. Anika switched back to the gallery. The operatives were herding everyone through the high archway and back to the first floor. Move.

The museum director stood at the head of the table, his back ramrod straight, issuing final orders.

Downloading complete, Gianni said. Get ready.

Anika reached for the laser, re-checked her grip. Still dry.

She took a final look at her monitor. Saw the departing backs of the kids and the operatives. Started to ease out a breath, then stopped. Where’s the girl?

On my count, Gianni said.

Wait. Anika pressed the buttons on her wristband and scanned the galleries. There’s a kid missing.


A girl. She didn’t make it out.

Team B has cleared everyone. Proceed.

No, Anika said, still scanning.

In the boardroom, the two sides were pushing back chairs. The bomber guards took their exit positions, hands inside their pockets where the detonators were kept. Anika’s target stood closest to the door.

She changed visual again. In the corridor outside the boardroom, a tall slender figure stood against the wall.

I found her. Top floor.

I can’t confirm visual.

She’s in the corridor. East wall.

No time, Gianni said, his accent back.

The girl inched forward, her gaze fixed on a spot above the boardroom door. A yellow light glowed a warning to stay away from the closed session inside.

Get her out. Anika tried to swallow, but her mouth was bone dry.

Drop the bomber, Gianni commanded. Do it.

Anika switched back to the boardroom. She sighted the bomber, inhaled, held her breath and positioned her finger over the trigger.

Chapter 2

Tell them the laser jammed.

Gianni stopped Anika outside the final security checkpoint of the agency’s subterranean complex. A strand of his dark-blond hair had escaped from the band secured low on his neck.

The other team members had already filed past and were moving through a narrow passageway toward the guarded entrance.

Anika stared at the receding backs of the two men who had retrieved her and the container, then avoided all eye contact during the tense journey back to New Angeles.

Did you hear me? Gianni’s brown eyes hardened.

She was a kid, Anika shot back. I did the right thing.

They won’t see it that way.

I don’t care.

I do. His hands gripped her shoulders, held her in place.

I’ll take the discipline. Even Isolation, if it comes to that. Her mind cringed at the possibility.

Isolation rooms were tiny spaces composed of four bare walls, a gel floor mat, and a squat hole. Two tubes dangled from the ceiling, one for water and the other for food pellets. Lights were turned on and off at random intervals to cause temporal disorientation. It was like being in a perpetual state of limbo, suspended between living and dying.

It won’t be Isolation. It will be worse. Gianni’s fingers tightened. Tell them.

The mission discs won’t back me up. Neither will the weapons techs. And what about them? She nodded in the direction of the men who had passed through the entrance and were heading to the debriefing rooms.

I’ll take care of it.

You can’t keep covering for me. Not like you did in Budapest. Anika pulled his hands off her. This, she said and her gaze swept the area around them, isn’t what I want anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time now. She pushed past him, tugging at the neckline of her bodysuit.

Inside the safe zone, Gianni swung her around to face him, but before he could say anything, before she could cut him off, another operative called out.

Gianni, there you are. I’ve been looking for you. Jewel Sheridan’s heels clicked along the cement floor. With her dark-rimmed eyes and rosy cheeks, the petite curvy blond looked like she had just come from Make-up. The smell of orange blossom hovered around her like a citrus-scented cloud. She flicked a glance at Anika.

Every streak of dirt darkened, every drop of sweat itched under Jewel’s appraising stare. Anika’s hands curled into fists.

Jewel tilted her head up at Gianni, her glossy lips parting in a private smile. Our mission’s been moved up. Briefing in three minutes. Shall we? She slid her hand down his arm and wrapped her fingers around his.

Anika couldn’t take her eyes off those fingers, their nails coated in pale lilac. Give me a minute, Jules, Gianni said.

Anika stiffened. Jules? Was she the reason for Gianni’s recent aloofness? Heat flared inside her, igniting a fireball in her chest.

Remember. Gianni turned back to her, his eyes unreadable in the flat artificial light. The laser jammed.

Anika glanced from him to Jewel. You’d better get going. She took two strides, then stopped.

The second most powerful person in the agency blocked her path. Even in ultra-heels, Second only reached Anika’s shoulder. Despite her diminutive size, she exuded the power of a much bigger woman. Power that came as much from her mental prowess as from her position.

Before Anika could say anything, Gianni spoke. Weapon malfunction.

Second switched her laser-beam intensity to him. Where are the discs?

Tech has them.

You can go. Second included Jewel in her gaze. Then, returning to Anika, she said, Command’s office. Now.

Anika bit down on the inside of her cheek. She hadn’t expected the rip to come from Command herself.

Nodding, she turned on her heel and headed down the corridor. After a few steps, she risked a backward glance. Jewel had tucked her arm into Gianni’s and was laughing up at him. Anika’s stomach turned a slow sickening somersault.

She continued toward Hub, the complex’s center around which all of the other departments radiated like the spokes in a giant wheel, until she reached the elevator to Command’s office.

Small round holes the size of her fingernail patterned the inside walls of the circular tube. They would hiss out lethal gas at the first sign of danger. On the way up, sensors verified her identity, operative status, and security clearance. Because she was still conscious when she reached the top, she knew she hadn’t been tagged as a security breach. Not yet anyway.

The doors opened. Floor-to-ceiling safety windows offered a 180-degree view of the agency’s honeycomb of rooms. Come.

Command had her back to Anika. The head of U.N.I.T. 605 faced the wall of monitors that dominated the north side of the room. Flashes, pulses, and colors raced across the three dozen screens and provided a visual status of agency missions around the world. To Anika, the wall looked like a vast display of random flickerings.

She took two steps forward and stopped. Her booted feet sank into the gel-padded carpet. The effect unnerved her almost as much as the sight of Command’s desk, a legless rectangular surface that hung suspended in space at waist height.


Anika directed her feet to move, one after the other, until she sat in a creamy white leather chair directly in front of the desk. The seat and back of the chair pulsed with warm currents that tried to lull her muscles into relaxation. She kept both feet flat on the floor, ready to jump up at a moment’s notice.

Command finally turned away from the window. Her calf-length tunic and matching pants in midnight blue accentuated her six-foot frame, made even more imposing when she stepped up to the platform where the desk hovered.

Anika gripped the chair arms to keep herself from shifting around.

Command lowered herself into the high-backed chair behind the desk. Dark unblinking eyes bore into Anika. Well? Her husky tone, sandpaper on satin, contrasted with her delicate features, smooth oval head and swan-like neck. Rumor had it that Command had surgically altered her voice to achieve the deep register.

I couldn’t do it, Anika said. I couldn’t carry out the order.

I’m told the weapon malfunctioned. Is that true?

Is that what the discs show? Anika asked.

I’m not asking the discs. Command’s voice hardened. I’m asking you. For the truth.

Anika considered her next words carefully. Without knowing if the discs had been changed, she didn’t know which truth to tell.

I chose not to fire, she said.


There were kids in the museum.

Team B evacuated them.

They missed one. A girl.

You disobeyed a direct order.

I don’t kill innocents. Anika’s fingers dug deeper into the plush leather.

How many innocents will be killed if First Aryan and Syria Free carry out their attack?

The intel was bad. There weren’t supposed to be visitors in the building. I made a judgment call.

You’re not here to make judgments. You’re here to obey orders.

Anika didn’t say anything. Her gaze fell on the lone exotic flower standing erect as a soldier on guard duty in the corner of the desk.

Command leaned forward and pulled the flower’s box-shaped vase toward her. It made a shushing sound as it moved. She reached up and pinched off a drooping leaf.

How long have you been in U.N.I.T., Anika? Command kept her eyes on the flower. Seconds passed. Another leaf severed.

Three years, five months, seven days. Anika answered without hesitation. 

Did you know that most operatives stop counting after their first year? Command asked. When Anika didn’t respond, Command said, On balance, you’ve been an asset to us. You’re smart, strong, a superior shot. We had high hopes for you. But you lack commitment. That lack has been your undoing. It can’t continue. Command paused in her pruning and locked eyes with Anika. Your psych sessions reveal a strong desire to leave U.N.I.T. We’ve decided to give you that chance.

Anika’s eyes narrowed. She half expected the floor to open up and swallow her.

Your skepticism is understandable, Command said. Perhaps you’ll be reassured to know that your release is conditional. It involves Gianni.

Anika’s mind exploded with questions, but she held back.

We want you to persuade Gianni to help you escape from a solo.

A solo was a one-way mission assigned either to a knowing operative as an honorable way out of U.N.I.T. or to an unknowing one as a deadly surprise. Either way, the outcome was the same. No one made it through a solo alive.

Command leaned back in her chair. "U.N.I.T. twelve-oh-five in northern zone needs a new Second. Gianni is under consideration. But they—and we—are concerned about his loyalty to the agency. We need to be certain that U.N.I.T. is his first priority. Above everything else. Above everyone else."

I don’t understand.

Don’t play with me. Command’s words scraped across Anika’s skin. We are not blind to his feelings for you.

They don’t outweigh his feelings for U.N.I.T. Bitterness, strong as black ginseng, coated her tongue. How many times had she tried, and failed, to convince Gianni to find a way out for both of them?

We need more proof than your word.

So if he refuses me...that will be your proof? Anika asked. That’s your loyalty test?


And if he does help me survive the solo?

He’ll forfeit the promotion.

Is that all?

That’s all you need to know.

What if that’s not good enough for me?

You’re not in a position to bargain. Command interlocked her fingers in a tight weave.

What happens to me if he refuses to help? I’ll die in the solo?

If he refuses, there won’t be a solo. Command inclined her head. But you will have failed your assignment. As with any failure, there will be discipline. And you’ll remain in U.N.I.T. for as long as you live. As your contract specifies.

And if I say ‘no’ to this assignment? ‘No’ to your loyalty test?

You will face disciplinary action for your behavior today. Command’s voice became granite. D zone or exile.

Anika swallowed back the bile that surged from her stomach. She knew what exile meant. Execution.

What’s D zone? she asked. Trust me. You’d prefer exile.

Command raised her hand to the silver star attached to her earlobe and fixed her eyes on one of the wall monitors. I see it. I’ll be right there. Lowering her hand, she stared at Anika. Do we have an agreement?

I’d like some time.

Command’s lips tightened. After your debriefing, go to detention chamber four. You’re confined there for the night. Report back here at oh-six-thirty hours. I’ll expect your answer then.

Chapter 3

Twelve steps forward, pivot, twelve steps back. Anika paced the length of the detention chamber, her cloth wraparounds soundless on the padded floor.

Images of the young girl, Gianni’s dark eyes, Jewel’s lilac nails, Command’s compressed lips played over and over in her mind.

She paused to rub at the muscle knotted between her neck and shoulder. Maybe she shouldn’t have told Command the truth. Maybe she should have followed Gianni’s instruction and given him a chance to cover for her. At the beginning of their relationship, she would have. Once, she had believed she could have a future that included both Gianni and the agency. But that was many years and many missions ago. Recently, all she had thought about, all she had dreamt about was getting out. Alive.

Twelve more steps, pivot, twelve steps back.


The door slid open and Gianni stepped over the threshold. He had cleaned up from the mission, too. His olive skin gleamed and his hair hung straight and loose to his shoulders. He looked loose and relaxed, with a post-mission ease to his movements.  

Anika’s breath caught in her throat. Relief crashed through her. His presence interrupted the repetitive loop of dark thoughts and images running through her mind. They let you in here? she asked.

You’re not in Isolation.

I might as well be. She

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