Fatal Truth: Shadow Force International (10 page)

He liked that.

The faint burn of being manipulated prickled under his skin, but the woman was good at her job. Reluctant respect set up shop in his skull.

Sounds of running water and Savanna humming filtered through the walls. He still had to play it cool. The second she figured out who he was, all bets were off. He couldn’t—wouldn’t—go back to Witcher. They’d have to kill him first.

The bathroom door opened and she padded past him with a yawn and went into the kitchen. She was wearing another set of yoga pants and a tank top. These pants had a beach scene imprinted on the ass that flowed down both legs.

He heard the sound of a grinder, then a motor noise as she stood in front of a black espresso machine. A minute later, she shuffled into the living room where he stood and handed him a travel mug. Her hair was down and combed straight and her eyes were tired. Either she wasn’t a morning person or she hadn’t slept despite the fact he had agreed not to stand in the hall all night.

Without a word, she returned to the kitchen. He sniffed deep, the smell of freshly ground coffee beans making his nose happy. The espresso was steaming so he watched the sweet beach scene back at the machine for a minute while he blew on the liquid to cool it.

Another round and Savanna had a second travel cup in hand. The doorman downstairs rang her and announced her car was here.

Still not speaking, she grabbed a coat and motioned him to follow.

Definitely not a morning person
.

She locked up the apartment and he unlocked the elevator. On the way down, she took a big sip of coffee, sighed as if in heaven, and leaned back against the elevator wall.

He liked this quiet side of her. It fit with the early morning and his thoughts. He should have called Beatrice while Savanna was in the bathroom to tell her time was up and he wanted a new assignment. Instead, here he was, drinking her damn good espresso and following her to work.

Once he landed her safely at the studio, he’d call Beatrice, get Savanna a new bodyguard. Didn’t mean he couldn’t make some calls like he’d promised her last night. He could help from behind the scenes.

Yeah, that was it. Keep his distance but still help her find her sister. He was good at keeping his distance and still getting a job done.

He chanced a glance at her. Her eyes were closed, her full lips forming a sexy pout. For half a second, his libido gave a lurch and his mind went sideways before he could stop it, wondering what it would be like to touch those lips. Taste the coffee on them.

He put his head down and took a drink. A big drink that scalded the back of his tongue and his throat. He nearly choked, his windpipe seizing up.

“Are you okay?” Savanna said.

Her eyes were now open, the big blue orbs wide.

“Fine,” he spluttered. “Swallowed wrong.”

“It’s micro-roasted Guatemalan. Organic, fair-trade. Not everyone likes the intensity, but I need high-octane fuel this early in the morning.”

The elevator hit the first floor and dinged. Trace stepped in front of Savanna and hit the hold button to keep the doors from opening. “Wait here until I clear the area.”

Her lips formed a condescending smile. “It’s four-forty-five. No one’s up except Cori at the front desk and Randy the doorman.”

He gave her a look, long and patient. She sighed and leaned back against the elevator wall. “Wait here. Yes, sir. Got it.”

A minute later, Trace had her secured in the backseat of the limo that the studio apparently sent every morning to pick her up. Savanna’s assistant was already in the backseat, looking at him like he was Santa Claus and she had a long list of wishes.

He pegged her to be early twenties. The dark rimmed glasses and ponytail made her look even younger, like a kid playing grown up. She grinned like the Cheshire cat and fiddled with her phone. “So you’re the new bodyguard.”

“Coldplay,” Savanna said, staring out the window as the driver pulled away from the curb. “This is Lindsey, my studio-assigned personal assistant who is also the assistant to the assistant director. She keeps me on schedule. Lindsey, this is Coldplay.”

Savanna didn’t sound too pleased. Trace simply nodded at the girl.

“Coldplay,” she said, tapping the edge of her smart phone against her chin. “I love that group. I’ve been telling Savanna for months she needs to take those death threats seriously, so when she told me she’d hired you yesterday, I was so relieved.”

Trace looked at Savanna. “Death threats?”

She waved a hand in the air. “Nothing more than the usual whackos who threaten every person on TV. I piss off a few people. Some more than others. It’s no big deal. I’ve been getting them for years. Lindsey, he’ll need a badge.”

Trace disagreed about the potential importance of the threats but he sensed he wouldn’t get anywhere on this topic with her. He turned back to Lindsey who interrupted him before he could even speak. “Got it right here.” She handed him a lanyard with a studio access visitor pass.

“I’d like a complete list of the threats against Ms. Bunkett,” he said, taking the lanyard. “Where they initiated from and from whom. Who deals with this kind of stuff at the studio? I’ll need to speak with him or her.”

Lindsey sat back, her smile fading. “Human resources probably has a file of them, you know…” She lowered her voice and shot a glance at Savanna. “Just in case.”

A file? That was it? “Is anyone investigating the threats? Have they been turned over to the police? The FBI?”

Shadows played across the interior of the limo as they passed under streetlights. The girl shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Coldplay.” Savanna had zoned in on him, a frown tugging at her lips.
Ease up
, her eyes seemed to say. “We’ll get you the list. Lindsey, put that on today’s schedule.”

“Right.” The girl made a note on her smart phone. “I’ll schedule that after the morning meeting.”

“Read me the schedule,” Savanna said, closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the leather headrest.

Lindsey scrolled through her phone. “Hair and makeup like usual. Then wardrobe—you’re going to love the sweater Tessy picked for you—”

“No sweaters,” Savanna interjected. “They make me look pudgy on camera.”

She could never look pudgy, Trace thought. In fact, while he enjoyed her beautifully buff and lean physique, she could stand to put on a few pounds.

He caught himself staring at her tranquil face, highlighted here and there under the passing streetlights. Her flawless skin, her full lips…

As if she felt his gaze on her, her lids fluttered open, her dark blue eyes nearly black in the shadows.

He jerked his eyes away, staring out the window and mentally cursing himself for getting caught by her. Too many months without female contact made him suddenly feel like a starving man in front of a juicy prime rib dinner.

Needing to keep his hands busy so he didn’t reach across the backseat and touch Savanna, Trace retrieved his phone out of his pocket and texted Beatrice.

How soon will F3 be installed?

F3 Home was the Rock Stars’ top of the line home security system that included multi-directional cameras. When they returned to the penthouse later today, he would speak to the building manager about the lack of security around the service door entrance in the basement.

Beatrice’s reply was short.
Crew and I are there now. I’ll oversee the install. Ninety minutes to completion.

B and crew must have been waiting on them to leave. Fast. Efficient. Yep, Beatrice Reese was like her husband. No wasted effort. No wasted anything.

Need a list of Parker Jeffries’ aliases
and if any of them have recently been used,
he typed.

Copy that
.
Give me two hours.

Emit Petit had deep resources but Beatrice had the contacts.

Lindsey was much more at home talking work than death threats. She continued listing the day’s schedule. “Nine-fifteen is your five minute lead-in on the morning show about Friday night’s Westmeyer investigation. Are you sure you still want to move forward with that one?”

Savanna didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

“Two days ago you said to scrap it, then yesterday, you said to put it back on the schedule. Just checking to make sure you haven’t changed your mind again. Production has whiplash and Mariah isn’t too happy about the flip-flopping.”

Her voice was low, determined. “We’re running it.”

“Okay then.” Lindsey rolled her eyes at Trace. Superstars. What was an assistant to do? “Morning meeting is at ten. Then you’re scheduled to do the primetime special commercials at one o’clock. Where are we on the Hopland interview? Did you speak to her?”

Savanna opened her eyes and took a sip of coffee. “I have the research data from her study and a couple of examples of supersurvivors, as she terms them, but I need more specific details on the parameters of the study itself and how she determined successful outcomes.”

“I thought you were getting that information last night. We’re presenting the idea to Scott at the morning meeting.”

“Yeah, well…” Savanna looked out the window and bit her bottom lip. “I got distracted and had to cut the call with Dr. Hopland short. I’ll get the info before the meeting and help you flesh out the script. If Scott gives us any heat, I’ll take it.”

Lindsey’s gaze cut over to Trace as if accusing him of being the distraction. A dramatic sigh left her lips.

It
was
his fault in some ways. “What’s a supersurvivor?”

Both women looked at him. Savanna shifted, crossing one of her long legs over the other. “You’ve heard of people who’ve experienced a traumatic event in their life, but instead of ending up with debilitating depression and anxiety, they’ve found a way to turn the experience around and find good out of it? Like the mother who sets up a 5k race to raise money for cancer research after she loses her young child to leukemia. Or the army vet who comes home with PTSD and missing a couple limbs from an IED but sets up a support group for other vets, giving the men back a sense of belonging. These people suffer greatly but they turn it around. They’re not just resilient, they grow from experiencing tragedy. They take the worst thing that’s happened to them and turn it into the best. It’s called post-traumatic growth or PTG. Dr. Hopland has a PhD in psychology and is running scientific experiments to prove PTG’s validity.”

“But there are naysayers,” Lindsey said. “Other psychologists say PTG is bunk. That you can’t simply overcome a traumatic event or PTSD by trying to find a bright side. So we’re investigating.”

Trace knew a thing or two about PTSD. Dr. Hopland’s study sounded like bunk to him.

Yet, here he was, trying to turn his life around in a similar way to what Savanna had described. Finding a new way to live with the past.

Or was he? If he left Savanna alone, pawned her off on another bodyguard who didn’t have his personal experience with the man stalking her, wasn’t he simply running away again? All that bullshit about helping her from a distance was just that. Bullshit. She needed someone like him, with his insider information on Linc Norman and his special skills to keep her alive.

He put his phone away as the car pulled into the studio lot. If he could take the worst thing that had happened to him and use it to save a life this time, instead of take one, he could stop a monster from killing more innocent people. He might still have a future.

Sure he could have run away once Petit broke him out of Witcher, gone to ground never to be heard from again. Instead he’d joined Shadow Force International, working as a bodyguard, and helping keep someone safe while he searched for her missing sister.

He almost laughed at how pathetic his argument sounded as he helped Savanna from the car. Post-traumatic growth sounded like a nice bedtime story, but in reality, what he was doing was not some deep psychological bullshit.

It was simply survival. With a little revenge thrown in for good measure.

Chapter Seven

_____________________

______________________________________________________

T
RACE HAD SEEN
chaos in war, but nothing prepared him for the chaos of a TV studio in full production mode.

Few people took notice of him as he followed on Savanna’s heels to her dressing room. Her name was on the door, and the moment he opened it to do his security check, his nose was greeted with the smells of fresh coffee, eggs, toast, and bacon.

A mini-buffet sat on a table against the far wall, silver domes of covered food being kept warm for the star. The room was done in soft ocean blues and held a couch, chair, coffee table, and large flat screen. On one wall hung photographs of Savanna with famous men and women she’d interviewed or done celebrity fundraisers with.

“You don’t have to worry about Savanna’s safety here,” Lindsey quipped from the doorway. “Everyone loves her.”

There had to be at least a hundred people milling around the studio. Yeah, they all had lanyards but it wasn’t difficult to forge an ID badge and sneak onto the lot, especially for trained operatives working for the president.

But would they take a chance and go after her in front of so many witnesses?

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