Fatal Truth: Shadow Force International (5 page)

Good God
. The price tag was astronomical. A year of her salary. Fortunately, she had few expenses outside of rent and clothes to spend her money on, and a fat balance sat in the bank. Her early retirement fund.

Wait, what was she doing? Trusting this woman and this organization? Parker had told her many times never to trust anyone.

But Parker had given her the contact for ON16 who had led her here.

Her sister could be anywhere and the world was a big place. She could be a prisoner, tortured, abused, starved. Raped.

Savanna shuddered. Add the fact that the president was stalking and blackmailing her…she had very few options.

She couldn’t continue alone and she certainly couldn’t go to her parents for help. She’d already asked if they had any idea where Parker was and her father had laughed off Savanna’s concerns.
Don’t rock the boat
, he’d told her.
Parker can take care of herself
.

Unless the most powerful man in the world was after her.

Reaching into her bag, Savanna withdrew the smashed plastic disc. “This was in the flowers.”

Beatrice put her glasses back on and examined the disc. “Hmm.”

“That’s it?”

The woman tossed the disc on the desk. “You definitely want the platinum package.” She produced a paper from the file and turned it around for Savanna to read. “Please fill out this intake form and sign the contract and nondisclosure forms attached.”

Savanna stared at the papers. This was all surreal. A month ago, she and Parker were planning a weekend retreat in Maine. Now she was delving into the world of bugs and spies and bodyguards who tracked missing sisters.

Beatrice picked up the phone and spoke to someone on the other end. “When will Coldplay be ready? I have a client.”

Robotically, Savanna signed her full name to the contract, barely scanning the details. She flipped over to the nondisclosure. Even if she had wanted to, she’d be bound by this agreement not to discuss or report on anything related to this deal:

You are entering into a professional agreement. Because of our employees’ backgrounds in government intelligence, we take the privacy of our employees as seriously as we take our clients’ personal security. You agree to address them only by their codename, in pubic and in private. Do not share details of their job assignment with others. You will not ask your security agent personal questions or engage in any type of personal relationship. Doing so will result in immediate termination of services.

Codenames. Add that to the list of her new surreal world.

“I understand,” Beatrice said into the phone, “but this is a unique situation calling for his specific skill set.”

Another pause as Savanna scratched her name on the agreement.
What am I getting myself into?

What had she
already
gotten herself into?

“Agreed. I will brief him personally on the client’s needs.” Beatrice hung up and took the signed papers from Savanna, tapping their edges on the desk to align them. “Are you in imminent danger?”

“Imminent?”

“From the president or anyone else?”

“You mean, like someone wants to kill me?”

Beatrice simply looked at her.

She pulled out her checkbook and started filling in the blanks. “Well, I hope not.”

“But?”

The skin between her shoulders felt so rigid, it might crack if she drew a deep breath. Her voice came out hesitant for the first time. “Honestly? I don’t know.”

Beatrice nodded. “Coldplay, your bodyguard, will meet you at your apartment at 1600 hours—4 o’clock—today, at which time, he will be your companion 24-7. Until then, I can assign a temporary security specialist to accompany you to your home or to work, whichever you prefer.”

Will he look like James Franco?

Savanna shut down the silly thought, and the nervous laughter bubbling in the back of her throat. The surreal situation, mixed with the fact she hadn’t slept well in days, left her an anxious mess.

She handed over the check she’d written, proud that her fingers didn’t shake. “That’s really not necessary. Martin, my driver, is waiting for me downstairs and he’ll take me to the studio. I have two interviews to shoot today for a primetime special next week.” She started to add that she didn’t believe the president or anyone else would harm her, but instead, she said, “I’ll be safe.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Good.” Beatrice stood and motioned her toward the door. Maggie stood too and gave Savanna a slight tail wag. “Be at your apartment at four o’clock. Coldplay will meet you there and we’ll begin the investigation into your sister’s disappearance.”

“You really think you can find her?”

The woman put her hand on the doorknob. “Coldplay’s assignment is two-fold; keep you safe and track down your sister’s whereabouts. He’ll have access to all of our resources, and our resources are wide and deep. He’s an expert tracker. His reach into the intelligence community, combined with his military training and Special Forces experience, make him an efficient as well as a deadly tool.”

Savanna had the sudden feeling the Rock Star Security specialists were more than your average bodyguards.

“You couldn’t be in better hands,” Beatrice added. “Keep an open mind, do exactly as Coldplay says, even when you don’t want to, and I guarantee, you’ll see your sister again.”

Yes, but will she be alive?

Savanna couldn’t voice that fear. All she could do was nod as she went out the door. “I’ll see Mr. Coldplay at four o’clock.”

1800 hours

T
RACE CLIMBED THE
stairs two at a time, the stairwell of the fancy apartment building empty at the dinner hour. Or maybe the rich snobs who lived here were too good to take the stairs.

He was two hours late. Not the best way to start his first assignment for Shadow Force International. Then again, he hadn’t planned to be working for Rock Star Security and shoved out the door and into the world of protection services so fast it had made his head spin.

The past couple of days had been a whirlwind. He’d struck out on his own, surviving the first Virginia night in an empty fishing shack with no heat or running water. Reese’s cheeseburger didn’t last long, and while the lake wasn’t frozen over and the owner had left some gear behind, Trace hadn’t been able to catch a damn thing.

The next morning, he’d stumbled through a snowstorm into Murder Creek, found the lone greasy spoon in town and ordered breakfast. The coffee was mud and the eggs were runny. He didn’t care. It was better than prison food any day.

The small 1980s TV in the corner was turned up, a weatherman dressed in a fancy suit waving at various colored blobs on the map and declaring the storm would intensify throughout the day and continue overnight. By the next morning, they were expected to have six feet of snow.

As Trace had finished his toast, a sheriff’s car had driven up. The two men who got out walked like military men, not cops. Before the bell over the door rang, he’d left the waitress a generous tip and disappeared out the back and into the woods.

His mother had always said he was as stubborn as the day was long, but he wasn’t an idiot. While there’d been nothing on the news about his escape from Witcher, he’d known the men in that car were looking for him. A storm was moving in that would lock down the area. He had no vehicle to get out and no supplies to hunker down and ride it out.

He needed help.

Admitting that fact had taken every last ounce of his common sense, but now he was here. Beatrice had cleaned him up, made him shave his beard and cut his hair.

Because of his specialized work for Command & Control, the agency had scrubbed his past years ago. Few pictures existed of him before his time in Iraq with SEAL Team 3, when he’d first grown his hair long and sported a thick beard to blend in with the locals. SEALs often needed out-of-the-Navy-box appearances on their assignments, and that was the picture Ms. Bunkett had spread all over America.

He was a squeaky-clean Boy Scout now, with colored contacts and new clothes—nice threads, not the usual camo gear he was used to. The only thing he hated was the fancy dress shoes.

Petit and Reese had put him through their version of basic protection service training, and Reese’s wife had explained all the ins and outs of his new job.

Beatrice. He was pretty sure that hadn’t been her name when she was in Command & Control, but it didn’t matter. She’d confirmed that she had played a part in getting him out of Witcher and that there were men looking for him. Nothing official on the news yet, the government wanting to keep his “escape” a secret and hoping they could find him and put him back before the public caught wind of the situation.

Petit and Reese hadn’t been happy when Beatrice insisted Trace take this assignment. They’d wanted more time to work on him, and they’d planned to send him out of the country on a Shadow Force assignment. Beatrice had other ideas, and neither man seemed eager to argue with her.

So here he was, playing bodyguard. A test run, Beatrice had called it. He’d kept himself in good shape inside Witcher, had kept his skills sharp. His enhancements from Project 24 had never faded.

Still, with a secret manhunt on for him, he had to stay in the shadows as much as possible. Beatrice had given him a set of rules to follow, briefed him on the client. Single female, twenty-eight, with a potential stalker. He was to keep an eye on her but not be obvious about it.

The stalker is high-profile
, Beatrice had said.
Has possibly harmed the client’s sister, but there’s no proof and the client can’t make public claims without evidence. We’d like you to investigate, see if you can incapacitate the stalker and discover the sister’s whereabouts.

The woman lived in the penthouse on the top floor. He climbed the last set of stairs and went through the fire door.

It was Beatrice’s fault he was late and she’d supposedly called ahead to let the client know. Still, Trace felt a shot of nervous adrenaline firing below his breastbone as he rang the doorbell. There was a marble-topped table near the elevator with an elaborate floral arrangement. A ficus tree sat in the corner under a skylight, and a large painting of the sun rising over a mountain range hung on the wall left of the door.

Seconds ticked by. He straightened his tie, smoothed the lapels of his suit coat, fiddled with the brim of his baseball hat.

The hat didn’t go with his outfit. He’d picked it up on his way over, feeling too exposed otherwise. Even with his change in appearance, he feared being recognized after Savanna Bunkett had done such a fine job of splashing his face all over the news a year and a half ago.

On the other side of the door, he heard a muffled voice, “Coming!”

A second later, the door swung open. The woman was out of breath, her hair swept up in a high ponytail. She was dressed in workout attire and a fine coating of sweat glistened on her ample cleavage as she wiped her face with a towel. The rhythmic beat of a drum, tambourine, and finger cymbals of Middle Eastern music echoed in the background.

From behind the towel, she said, “You must be…”

And then she moved the towel to her neck and met his gaze.

Oh, shit.

The towel stilled and the woman studied his face. “Coldplay?”

Trace felt frozen in place. In the briefing with Beatrice, she’d referred to the client only as Ms. Jeffries.

Ms. Jeffries, my ass
.

His heart stuttered in his chest for a second. Even without makeup and her signature red power suit, she stood out like a diamond among glass. She was striking, her dark hair offsetting her pale skin, all of it softened by a delicate nose and high cheekbones. Workout clothes did nothing to dampen her natural, elegant demeanor.

Before him stood the woman who had ruined his life.

Trace took a step back. Waited…

She didn’t seem to recognize him.

One hand went to her hip. “Are you the strong, silent type or is this one of the rules, that you can’t speak to me? I must have missed that one in the contract.”

Why would she recognize me? She had one grainy photograph of me from six years ago, and I was nothing but a story to her
.

Trace forced his mouth to work, struggled to get sound out. He tipped the brim of his hat down a little farther. “Sorry, I’m late.”

“Randy didn’t buzz me. How did you get in?”

Randy, the doorman. What a joke.

Trace shifted gears, forcing the anger boiling in his gut aside. As soon as he could get hold of Beatrice, all bets were off. “Security check of the building showed me some weak spots. I got in through a service door entrance on the first floor. I’ll speak to the manager tomorrow about beefing things up.”

She stepped back, using the towel on her arms. Long, slender arms with small wrists and finely-boned hands. “Come in. I’ll grab a shower and then we can talk about…my problem.”

Talk. Right. “I’ll stay out here at the door until you’re ready.”

“Um, okay. Sure.” She gave him another once over. “Have we met? You seem familiar.”

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