Authors: Misty Evans
She had to find a way to stop her own assassination and the man inside held the key.
The door opened and she stepped across the threshold, unsure of exactly how she was going to get Trace Hunter to cooperate.
And then she pulled up short.
The man behind the table wasn’t the man she’d come for.
“I heard you were looking for one of my inmates,” the prison warden said, whirling to face her with his hands in the pockets of his camouflage pants.
“Commander Polonsky.” She nodded in respect although she felt none. “I’m here to see Lt. Trace Hunter.”
“Hunter’s in solitary confinement.” His hard stare held no emotion. “No visitors.”
“I’m not a visitor. This a matter of national security.”
“These prisoners are all a matter of national security. They’re Americans who turned against their own country. Violent, dangerous men who’d just as soon kill you as talk to you.”
A pissing match? This was taking too much time. “Take me to solitary. I’ll question him there.”
“On whose orders are you here?”
“Whose do you think? You know who I report to.”
He was silent for a moment, assessing. “Take her to Hunter’s cell,” he told the nearby guard. “I need to make a phone call.”
He brushed past her on his way to call her boss.
She was quickly down to a few minutes. Good thing she had an exit strategy if things went to hell. They were about to. “Lead the way,” she said to the guard.
Solitary was off by itself, a long walk down more halls that once more lost the yellow paint and carpeting. The pungent smell of sweat and excrement filled her nostrils, making bile rise in her throat.
They arrived at the end of the building. A row of concrete-enclosed cells formed the wall. Each cell was no more than six by four. There was no sound here, little light. She doubted a man could even lie flat and fully stretch out.
The guard pointed at the last cell. “That one.”
A slit in the concrete for food trays was the only way to communicate. She leaned down, tried to peer inside.
Dark, dank, horrible. She could see nothing past the slender beam of light falling on the floor. She listened for movement, breathing, anything. Heard nothing. Her senses went on high alert.
The man was a SEAL. A SEAL with enhanced abilities. He could make himself invisible, stay completely immobile for hours waiting for his prey.
But she knew without a doubt that Hunter wasn’t inside.
“He’s not in there,” she said.
The guard, who had moseyed away, gave a snort. “He’s in there. Trust me.”
“Open the door.”
“I can’t do that.”
She whirled on him. “On orders of the president, open this door. Now.”
“Lady, this guy put two of my coworkers in the emergency room last week.”
“It’s doctor, not lady.” Feeling all of her pent-up nerves come crashing down, she fought the urge to send the guard to the ER with his friends. Trace Hunter had been her only hope, and now…
Overhead, an alarm went off, causing the guard to look up. His walkie-talkie crackled to life.
Time for her to go.
“He’s escaped,” she said, blowing past the guard and kicking her exit strategy into high gear. “You have nothing to worry about from him.”
Three days later
AVANNA SAT IN
an office inside Rock Star Security that made her dressing room on
The Bunk Stops Here
look like a rathole. Hardwood floor, marble fireplace, a sleek, black desk and matching zebra-stripe upholstered chairs. The woman in charge of Rock Star Security even had a window seat looking out over a beautiful English garden below.
Who had a formal garden in DC?
Taking her feet out of her three-inch Louboutins, Savanna sank her toes into the plush rug under her. The coffee provided by the male office manager, Connor, —a James Franco look-alike—was the best tasting stuff she’d ever had.
The bodyguard business must be profitable. Rock Star Security Services consisted of an East Coast and a West Coast division. A brochure on the desk stated they were expanding soon to Chicago. All run by the reclusive Emit Petit.
Savanna had done her due diligence and researched him. Even with his success—he was in the top ten multi-millionaires under 30—he led a low-key, private life. Had done a stint in the Navy, never achieving pilot like he’d planned. Entered the SEAL program and rang out after a couple of days. But he’d finished his enlistment, then gone into private security.
He was a good guy from all reports. He provided jobs to veterans, retraining them to provide security and protection services to the rich and famous. He was married and had a son.
After seeing the office manager, Savanna toyed with the idea of hiring a bodyguard of her own. Connor could check under her bed anytime.
But she wasn’t here for herself. She was here for Parker.
The door opened and a beautiful blonde in a red skirt and a white blouse swept in, carrying a file folder and a pink drink that looked like a fruit smoothie. The woman wore dark framed glasses and had piled her hair on top of her head in a smooth bun. A black Lab with a pink studded collar padded along at her side.
Setting the drink on the desk, she said, “Maggie, lay.” The dog took up a spot next to the desk, her dark brown eyes steady on Savanna.
Then the woman offered a hand. “Hello, Ms. Bunkett. I’m Beatrice Reese.” Pointing to the brochure Connor had given Savanna, she asked, “Have you had a chance to look at our protection packages?”
As Beatrice moved to sit at the desk, Savanna noted a baby bump under the skirt. A pang of longing hit her. She’d always wanted a big family, a husband. Her career had taken off—and she loved it—but she had no one, outside of Parker, to share her success with. She’d dumped her last boyfriend—the rat—and her parents saw her as nothing more than a “common news anchor,” as her mother loved to describe her.
Now, she didn’t even have Parker. “As I mentioned on the phone, I’m here to speak to Mr. Petit.”
Beatrice opened the file folder and took out a Mont Blanc pen. “Mr. Petit is overseeing a training exercise with our latest recruit. I’m afraid he can’t make it to our meeting.”
Savanna’s heart sank. “I have to speak to him. It’s important.”
Beatrice finished a note she was making and looked up. “I assure you, I’m fully qualified to set you up with the appropriate services.”
ON16 had specifically stated Emit Petit. “I don’t need a bodyguard. I need to speak to Mr. Petit about a different matter.”
“I assumed as much.” Beatrice sat back in her chair and tapped the pen on the blotter. “Are you looking for a story? A scoop?”
“What?” The woman thought Savanna was there to interview her boss. Normally, that might be a valid question, but it offended Savanna anyway. “I have no intention of doing an exposé on Rock Star Security or Emit Petit, unless, of course, you’re hiding something.”
A faint smile touched her lips. “I’ve offended you, but I’m not sure why. That
your job, correct? Investigative reporting? Exposing corruption and destroying people’s lives in order to improve your ratings?”
Savanna gripped the chair arms and pushed herself to a standing position. This obviously wasn’t going to work out. “It’s not about ratings. I blow the whistle on corruption and make sure the American public is safe.”
The dog whined softly. Beatrice cocked her head. “Are you one hundred percent sure that every story you’ve run is fair and accurate? That you’ve never blackballed someone who is actually innocent?”
Savanna had always been good at reading people. Even with the best actors, the most charming sociopaths, she could see past the outer layers to what lay hidden underneath.
That was the place where she struck during an interview. Where she kept digging.
The look on Beatrice’s face was unguarded, open. She wasn’t purposely trying to piss Savanna off; she was simply seeking the truth.
. The name pinged around in her brain. The info on Hunter had come from what Savanna had believed was a reliable source—Parker. But Parker had gotten the file from Linc Norman. She’d passed it to Savanna with instructions to run with the story.
Savanna had wanted to verify the information inside that file, but Parker had warned her not to. Hunter was in deep shit and if Savanna went digging, she could end up in the muck with him.
It had gone against every one of her rules and principles. She always did her own research.
Time is of the essence,
Parker had said.
The president is counting on you.
Just run it.
So she had. And now her sister was missing and the president was blackmailing her.
Had she screwed up? Had she ruined a man’s life simply on orders of the president?
Savanna let out a sigh. She wanted to storm out of the office, but if she did, what then? She had no leads on her sister and no one else to turn to.
“I’m not here to discuss my job or old cases.” Reluctantly, she resumed her seat. “I’m looking for help regarding my sister and I was told to speak to Mr. Petit and Mr. Petit only.”
Beatrice made a note. “Who told you to speak to Emit?”
“I can’t say.”
The woman cocked her head. “Is she missing…your sister?”
Goose flesh rose on Savanna’s arms.
Lucky guess, that’s all
. “When will Mr. Petit be done with his training exercise?”
The pen tapped on the paper and Beatrice stared at Savanna for a long moment. “Your sister works for National Intelligence, correct?”
The realization that Beatrice Reese had run a background check on her didn’t sit well. When Savanna didn’t immediately answer, the woman went on, never glancing at her notes. “Parker, your sister, hasn’t been seen or heard from in nearly a month, not uncommon for an intelligence operative, but her title is that of scientific analyst, not spy. She reports to the president along with, or in place of, the director of National Intelligence for the daily briefing. Her record is devoid of field assignments, but then, if she
an operative for NI, Langley, or even the NSA, they wouldn’t list her missions, now would they?”
Savanna opened her mouth but no words came out.
Beatrice went on. “From phone records, it appears the two of you are close, communicating nearly every day, and yet, you haven’t heard from her in all this time.”
“You accessed my phone records?” Savanna stood once more, outrage shooting pins and needles down her arms. Insinuating her sister was a spy? “I don’t know who you think you are or what game you’re playing, but if you’re—”
“I don’t play games, Ms. Bunkett.” Beatrice remained calm, her gaze as steady as Maggie’s beside her. “Your sister is missing and you strongly suspect foul play by the government. You contacted an agent inside the NSA—one I happen to know—who goes by ON16 and he sent you here, to us, and for good reason.”
“You know ON16?”
“We can find your sister, whether she’s alive or dead, and keep you safe in the meantime.”
. Savanna’s chest pinched, breath catching in her throat. “I told you, I don’t need a bodyguard.”
“The president visited you three days ago at your newsroom studio and brought you a bouquet of flowers.”
“How did you…?” Savanna stopped. Beatrice apparently knew everything. She even knew who ON16 was. “You’re CIA, aren’t you?”
The faint smile she’d seen before returned. Beatrice removed her glasses and set them on the desk. “Was there something going on between your sister and the president?”
Beatrice didn’t mince words and she had the uncanny ability to state Savanna’s greatest fears. She also refused to answer Savanna’s questions. Which irritated her to no end. “Do you have a sister?”
The woman seemed unfazed by the personal question. “No.”
A gold wedding band circled her left ring finger. “But you’re married and, from the looks of it, expecting a child. If one of your family went missing, what would you do?”
“Exactly what you’re doing now; find an expert to locate him or her.” Beatrice leaned forward and opened the brochure. “Do you prefer your bodyguard to be seen or to stay in the shadows?”
“Does it matter?” Savanna considered banging her head on the desk. “You’re going to assign one to me regardless.”
“The president is keeping tabs on you, Ms. Bunkett. I suspect the flowers he brought you contained surveillance equipment. He’s been listening to your conversations, probably has had the Agency plant bugs in your apartment and a tracking device on your car.”
The plastic disc she’d smashed was in her handbag. She’d intended to show it to Emit for his opinion.
Beatrice went on. “President Norman probably knows your here, in fact, and therefore, he’ll expect you’ve hired a bodyguard.”
She used her pen to point to a highlighted section of the brochure. “I recommend this package. The service provider assigned to you will be your bodyguard and assist us with tracking down your sister.”