Authors: Misty Evans
Met? Jesus God. “No, we’ve never met.”
Not in person. If we had, I would have wrung your neck.
She gave him a small smile. “Even if we had, we have to pretend otherwise, right? Sorry, this is all new to me.”
He nodded and stepped back, grinding his teeth. She closed the door, leaving him alone in the penthouse hallway.
Counting to a hundred to give her time to get in the shower, he paced to the elevator doors, locked the thing down, then locked the door to the stairwell. He withdrew the cell phone Beatrice had provided and punched in her number.
She picked up on the first ring. “Yes?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
He forced himself to lower his voice. “Ms.
? Her name isn’t Jeffries and you know exactly who she is and what she did to me. If this is some kind of joke, I swear I’ll…I’ll…”
he do? The woman was smarter than smart and she was, well, a pregnant female.
A man, he would beat the shit out of for tricking him like this. But he would never hit a woman. “…I’ll beat up your husband.”
“You can try,” Beatrice said without concern. “What’s the problem?”
Trace nearly crushed the phone. “You know exactly what the problem is. You lied and set me up with the woman who crucified me.”
“I didn’t lie. Her real name is Savanna Jeffries-Bunkett, but she only goes by Savanna Bunkett for her show. Her mother, Doris Jeffries, is from the New Hampshire Jeffries, a Daughter of the Revolution, and a top-notch lawyer. Her father, Shawn Bunkett, is the president of a private Catholic college. Her sister Parker works for National Intelligence as a glorified profiler, you might say. Her job is rather vague and ill-defined. She has a degree in cognitive therapy and a knack for understanding how criminals work, which National Intelligence has found helpful. For reasons I haven’t quite figured out yet, she pulls together the president’s daily briefing and presents it to him. I doubt that has anything to do with her brain research, other than to profile a terrorist here and there. A month ago, she went missing. All I can get out of my sources is that she’s on assignment.” Her voice emphasized assignment. “Odds are there was something…personal…going on between her and the president, or he gave her a black op job and she got caught.”
Linc Norman. The president sure liked to spread himself around.
The sound of a fridge door opening came from Beatrice’s end. “Who do you think passed your file—the bogus one—to Savanna?”
Trace took off his hat and scratched his hairline. “The sister?”
“If my guess is accurate, and I am correct ninety-nine percent of the time, Parker received the file outlining your rogue activities from the president.”
A patient silence descended, as if she were waiting for him to connect the dots. A possible scenario spilled out without too much brainpower. “Linc Norman told Parker to make sure Savanna broke the story.”
“Parker is missing. The president is stalking Savanna. It adds up, only we don’t know exactly why. Norman is now keeping tabs on Savanna, no doubt fearing she’ll reveal her suspicions to the world that he’s made Parker disappear. She doesn’t have any facts—yet—and President Norman hopes to keep it that way.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?”
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me why the president had you branded a traitor on national television?”
When he didn’t respond, she went on. “Well, consider this your chance to prove to Savanna that you’re not a traitor and that her intel from President Norman was bogus.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Find her sister. And if the president
the one who threw your ass in prison, who better to have on your side than an investigative reporter with a fan base of six million viewers? She can clear your name, Coldplay. Think about it.”
He was thinking all right. Thinking his former job as a cleaner for the president might put Savanna Jeffries Bunkett in more danger than she was already in.
“She can also help you dig up dirt to blackmail Linc Norman,” Beatrice went on. He heard the clink of silverware against a bowl. “So he stops trying to kill you.”
Trace returned the hat to his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You set me up.”
“I did,” Beatrice admitted freely. “In so doing, I also gave you a way out of the mess you’re in. I don’t care about your past and the things you’ve done, but it would solidify your job with Shadow Force International if you’re not a hunted felon.”
His past was not something to be proud of, Navy SEAL or not. He’d killed for his country, sure, but his job as a cleaner went beyond that. While once he’d believed he was doing the morally right thing, helping the president wipe out threats to America, he was no longer sure there was such a thing as morally right. “Savanna is already suspicious. Even with the change in my appearance, she suspects we’ve met.”
“So come clean. Tell her the truth. She needs you and you need her. Besides, she signed a contract.”
So did I
. Every employee of Shadow Force International, whether they worked as bodyguards for Rock Star Security, performed search and rescue missions, or assisted on kidnapping cases, were required to sign one. If he breached his agreement, he was out in the cold again.
Petit planned to put Trace in charge of a team.
things worked out. Even if they didn’t hold him to his contract, bailing on his first assignment would hardly help his cause. He’d never make team leader if they couldn’t depend on him.
Did he even care? He wasn’t a team player anymore. Couldn’t endanger anyone else.
“Follow the procedure I gave you and think about it overnight,” Beatrice said. “If you wish to terminate the assignment in the morning, I’ll find someone else to guard Ms. Bunkett.”
A growl formed in his throat. Beatrice’s logic was so…so…logical.
Be the hero again. Keep someone safe. Solve all your problems.
If only it were that easy.
Didn’t matter. He couldn’t complete this assignment without risking his freedom. Morning was nearly twelve hours away. Could he keep Savanna Bunkett from figuring out who he was in the meantime?
The woman was a bloodhound when she picked up the scent of a story. Sure, it had been eighteen months since she’d run his, and she’d had plenty of stories since then, but she wasn’t one to forget a name or a face for long, he bet. “She’ll terminate the assignment before morning.”
“You can’t hide forever,” Beatrice said. “And there’s only so much I can do to keep you off the grid. This is your chance to clear your name. Don’t blow it.”
The line went dead.
Trace braced one hand against the wall and sighed. Twelve hours. He had twelve fucking hours to keep up this charade, and then what? Bail?
He’d never quit a job in his life—except the last order from the president—and he wasn’t about to do so now. If Savanna figured out who he was and called the police, he’d have to, but until then, he’d lay low and plan for the worst case scenario.
clear your name
Pocketing the phone, he shook the ridiculous idea from his brain and walked back down the hall to wait.
He’d follow procedure, like Beatrice had instructed him to when she gave him the assignment. Scan Savanna’s apartment for bugs, make sure her windows and doors were all secure. Check her personal security system. Then he’d stand guard for the night.
By morning—if he made it that long—he’d have a plan of escape.
Or one that would take down the president of the United States.
AVANNA COULDN’T ENJOY
her shower. There was a man outside her door—a sexy, but very dangerous looking man with a big, black gun in a holster under his left arm—whose features were familiar but whom she couldn’t place.
She hated it when she knew she knew somebody but couldn’t remember their name or from where she’d met them.
And she was damn sure she’d met Coldplay.
Coldplay. A good codename for the guy. All that sexiness wrapped up in cold eyes and an icy demeanor. He didn’t like her, waves of annoyance rolling off him like the DC sleet storm headed their way.
She picked up her razor and began shaving her legs, the gold bracelet sliding down her arm. She’d skipped her last wax appointment and things were getting out of control. It didn’t matter much since she hadn’t had a man in her life for over six months, but still. She had to get back on her salon schedule ASAP. She’d text Lindsey and have her make an appointment first thing in the morning.
Maybe Coldplay had seen her show and didn’t like it. There were plenty of people out there who didn’t like her revelations about their employers screwing them out of their pensions and their favorite box store selling them goods from China filled with lead in order to keep prices low. Coldplay didn’t strike her as a guy who shopped at discount stores or expected to live long enough to need a pension. He’d tried to hide his dislike under his hard, unexpressive bearing, but her internal people reader had picked up on it right away. At first, she’d believed he was acting so frosty because she hadn’t followed protocol, but from the moment she’d opened the door, she’d felt as if she’d done something wrong. How could that be if they’d never met?
Had to be her show. She was Oprah Winfrey meets Snopes, blowing popular urban myths out of the water and empowering Americans to feel good about themselves. The guy didn’t like her, or one of the episodes of TBSH had upset his mother or something. Savanna was used to it. Not everyone was going to like her and that was okay. She wasn’t doing the show to be popular. She wanted to protect Americans from being fleeced by popular culture, big business, and the politicians they voted for.
More and more, it seemed like a losing battle.
Her fellow countrymen wanted life to be easy. Many didn’t want to know the truth if it upset their little world. She couldn’t blame them, but she also couldn’t stand by and not inform them of the truth. What they did with that truth was up to them.
Stepping out of the shower, she reached for her towel. As she dried off, she reminded herself that she
making a difference. Her audience was growing everyday. People looked to her for guidance and information. Some of them—a lot of them, actually—
want the truth. They wanted to believe they could change the world into a better place by supporting brands, companies, and people who did the right thing, and she was giving them the means to do so.
Now if only she could find her sister.
Ironic that only a year ago, she’d partnered with the Missing Veterans Advocacy Network, a missing persons organization for veterans. A vet suffering from PTSD had contacted the organization after his ten-year-old daughter had gone missing and the police had come up with nothing for clues. Savanna had vetted the MVAN organization already, and when asked if she would bring a spotlight to their search for the girl, she’d eagerly agreed to help. After she ran a brief aside at the end of
The Bunk Stops Here
, MVAN had a dozen solid leads. Within hours, the FBI tracked her down at the house of a convicted sex offender with three other missing girls. The girls were now in therapy and would be for years, but they were back home with their families.
She had a public platform and a reach into the American population that far surpassed any police department or government entity. All she had to do was slap up her sister’s picture and send out a plea for information, and she’d have the station’s phones ringing off the hook, their Facebook page exploding with comments.
Dressing hastily and pulling her wet hair up into a ponytail, she suspended that thought. She couldn’t. Not yet. It could backfire and cause Parker more problems. Once all her avenues were exhausted, then Savanna would consider it.
Coldplay was going to have to get over whatever hang-up he had about her and her show. She needed his help and her bank account was taking a big hit in order to pay for his services.
Defrosting him would be a challenge, but she liked challenges.
In the kitchen, she surveyed the contents of her refrigerator. She needed to eat and it wouldn’t hurt to offer him something too, the three-page brochure of protocols from Beatrice be damned. Men liked home-cooked meals, and while her schedule often didn’t allow time for it, Savanna loved to break out a recipe book and try a new dish.
Tonight was not a night to experiment though. Her nerves were on edge and she had to be at work early to record promo spots for the primetime show next week.
Beef tips and chopped veggies went into her skillet and she popped some flour tortillas into the microwave to warm them. While the food cooked, she went to the door to invite Mr. Coldplay in.
The first thing in her Rock Star brochure was a list of items the security specialist would complete. One was a sweep of her apartment for listening devices and cameras. The thought that President Norman had people listening to her, watching her, creeped her out. Yet, she’d found the plastic disc in her flowers delivered personally by Linc Norman. He
spying on her.