Fatal Truth: Shadow Force International (9 page)

Quietly, he left the apartment. In the hallway, he checked the lock on the private elevator and shut down thoughts about Parker Jeffries. First thing tomorrow morning, he’d get a new assignment.

Tonight, all he had to do was guard the door and the sexy body behind it.

Chapter Six

_____________________

______________________________________________________

W
HEN
S
AVANNA STUCK
her head out the door two hours later, she felt like an idiot. She’d made a fool of herself in front of Coldplay and was pretty sure she’d been bamboozled by her own sister. On top of that, she’d been so distracted by thoughts of Parker sleeping with the president and working as a spy—but mostly sleeping with the president—she’d completely blown the interview with Dr. Hopland.

She’d follow up with Hopland tomorrow. Now, she really needed sleep; her day started with hair and makeup at six a.m., and with the morning drive, she had to be up and out the door by five.

With all the crazy thoughts swirling in her head, though, sleep was out of the question. Her nerves were buzzing, her neck tight with tension. And although it pained her to consider Coldplay’s theories, she wanted to know more.

He stood beside the door, arms crossed. A statute, not even turning to look at her. “Everything okay?” he said, his voice low and controlled.

No. She was not okay. Her world was turning upside down. “Not in the least. I acted like an inexperienced dweeb with Dr. Hopland on the phone just now because I couldn’t focus on her work with posttraumatic stress growth. I kept seeing images of Parker in bed with Linc Norman.” She shuddered. “Yuck.”

She thought she saw the hint of a smile cross Coldplay’s face, but it was there and gone so fast, she might have been dreaming. “Thank you for dinner. I apologize for my bluntness during our discussion.”

“Don’t apologize.” Coldplay had manners. She was slightly surprised. Especially since he hadn’t removed his hat at the dinner table.

She moved into the hallway and stared at the night sky just beyond the window at the far end. “Usually I’m the one putting people on the spot with tough questions and unattractive theories. Now I know how it feels.”

“I locked down the elevator and stairwell. You’re safe.”

Back to business. “Thank you.”

She stood there, not knowing what to do. He didn’t seem interested in small talk.
Business it is then
. “Do you think you can find Parker?”

The pause that ensued made her shift her weight and wrap her arms around herself. Why did she have the feeling that he could find Parker in his sleep; he didn’t
want
to find her.

Or rather, he doesn’t want to help me.

“When we were little,” Savanna said, putting her back against the wall and leaning on it. “I wanted to be just like her. She took ballet, I took ballet. When she tried gymnastics, I did too. She was always more of a tomboy than I was, and as we got older, she wanted to do tougher sports. She quit ballet and gymnastics and joined a soccer team. Next it was volleyball and basketball. I wasn’t cut out for those things, and I was really good at gymnastics, but when I was seven, I gave it up for a time because I loved her so much and thought she’d think I was cooler if I did everything she did. A few months later, we had a big argument and she told me I sucked at sports and embarrassed her. It gutted me. I couldn’t verbalize it, but I realized then that I had to stop living my life through Parker and do what I loved instead. I went back to gymnastics the next day.”

He didn’t respond, didn’t even blink. Just stared at the wall.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters…” She stopped herself. “Sorry, forgot again. No personal questions.”

Pacing down the hall, her eyes skipped over the floral arrangement on the table. The hotel provided a new one every few days. She had a beautiful penthouse apartment, all the clothes and shoes she would ever need, a challenging but rewarding job, and she would give it all away to have Parker back.

“It’s just that, she’s my best friend as well as my big sister. There are days when I come home from work and I’m sure I can feel her in my apartment, as if she just left. I check my phone constantly for messages that aren’t there. There’s this big, gaping hole in my life right now. I don’t know if she was a spy or sleeping with the president. All I know for sure is that I have to find her. She’s always been there for me and now it’s my turn to be there for her. If you have siblings, I’m sure you understand.”

A muscle in his jaw moved.

She was getting to him. Making Parker a real person, not just a list of facts in a file folder.

“I’ve done dozens of stories on families. Stories about twins and other siblings who are extremely close. I tried once to debunk a theory my sister had on how
not
being your mother’s favorite could make you a more successful person. Ended up becoming a believer. Parker did a lot of that, studying people and how their brains work. I do it, too, just on a different platform. By the way, I was never our mother’s favorite. Parker was just trying to make me feel better about it.”

His nostrils flared a tiny bit. His gaze flicked to her and then away.

Yep, definitely getting to the tough guy.

Desperation ate at her, yet she knew when it was time to ease up on the direct, in-your-face investigator body language and just be a person in need of help.

Not easy for her. She didn’t like needing anyone’s help.

“If you don’t like me or my show, I understand.” She went to stand against the wall on the other side of him, keeping some distance as she mimicked his stance in what she hoped was a non-confrontational posture. “But I hope those feelings won’t predispose you to disliking Parker or refusing to help me. And I do need help, Coldplay. I hate admitting that—I’m very independent and have been that way since I was eight years old and returned to gymnastics—but it’s true. I can’t do this alone. I need an expert like you to find my sister.”

His chest rose almost imperceptibly, but she caught the movement out of the corner of her eye. “It’s possible Parker wasn’t sleeping with Norman,” he said brusquely.

She snorted, looking at his profile and finding she liked it. A lot. The square jaw and the smooth skin of his cheek made her fingers itch to touch him. “Well, that’s good news.”

“She may have been on a black op—something he ordered her to do, and that no one knows about except him—and got caught or…”

Savanna’s mouth went dry. “Or what?”

He didn’t answer.

“Or killed. Just say it. I know I freaked a little earlier when you started laying out your theories, and I apologize, but you have to be straight with me on all of this. I may not like it, but I
will
handle it better from now on. I promise.”

Her admission didn’t seem to phase him, garnering nothing more than a nod.

“What kind of black op do you think Parker might have been working?” she asked.

His eyes slewed to her, that dangerous panther surfacing. “Be warned, Ms. Jeffries. You have no idea what we might uncover.”

She swallowed hard. “I’m aware it could get messy.”


Messy
?” His hard gaze turned on her full force. His eyes burned with intensity. “You pursue this and things will get more than messy. It could be deadly. You’re dealing with the most powerful man in America. Possibly in the world. Are you willing to die for this information?”

A lump formed in her throat, as if she’d tried to swallow a peach pit. “You think he’d have me killed?”

“If he’s hiding something that he knows could get him impeached and/or imprisoned and he believes you could blow the whistle on him, definitely. He’ll silence you without hesitation. So I’ll ask you again, are you willing to die over this?”

Conviction was an emotion that got a lot of people in trouble. She’d seen it time and time again on her show. People threw out logic, made false assumptions, and filled themselves with bravado when all else failed.

She never thought she’d be in their shoes. “Yes. I’m willing to die for my sister.”

His lips firmed into a straight line and he stared at her with a new annoyance lighting up his face. “She’s lied to you and potentially put you in danger.”

“If she lied, it was to protect me and do her job. I understand that. She would never purposely put me in danger.”

He went back to staring at the wall. Tense silence descended once more.

Savanna’s frustration wouldn’t let her stand immobile any longer. She jerked away from the wall, feeling the urge to throw another vase of flowers. “Are you going to help me or not? Because if not, I need to find someone who will.”

His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I…” He hesitated for a second. “I’ve already asked Beatrice Reese for some follow-up information. I’m looking into it.”

A new surge of hope lit up her veins, crackled along her spine. “Yes! Thank you.”

“No promises.”

“But this
is
part of your job.”

“My primary focus is to keep you safe. Tomorrow, I’ll put out some feelers, see what comes back. I can’t guarantee anything beyond that.”

“I understand.” She put a hand on the door handle. “I have an extra bedroom. You’re welcome to take it.”

“No thanks.”

“You’re going to stand out here in the hallway all night? You don’t sleep?”

“I’ll be fine.”

She needed another drink just to handle his attitude. “You’ve locked down all the entrances. At least come inside. Take the couch, watch some TV, whatever. You don’t have to sleep, but I won’t relax if I know you’re standing out here in the hall all night. What if you need to pee?”

Under the brim of the cap, she noticed his brows bang together. “Will you leave me alone if I come inside?”

A smile broke over her face.
Score one for me
. “I promise to quit talking to you and not ask another question. Seriously, I need to go to bed and get some sleep. Four a.m. comes early.”

Once again, she sensed his mental sigh as he caved and ushered her into the apartment. He would learn. When she wanted something, Savanna always found a way to get it.

T
RACE HEARD
S
AVANNA’S
alarm go off at precisely four a.m. as anticipated. Some old Britney Spears song filled the penthouse. She must have tapped the snooze button because all went quiet again ten minutes later, another blast of Britney finally rousing her. He heard shuffling and the bathroom door closing.

He’d spent the night thinking and pacing and thinking some more. Her open living room, dining room, and kitchen made the perfect circle for him to walk. She’d told him to help himself to food and drink and handed him the complicated remote to her entertainment system. Once an hour, he’d checked the doors and windows, wishing she had surveillance cameras. He didn’t have trouble staying awake, but his mind wanted to wander. The past was always happy to resurface and flood him with memories best left forgotten.

He’d found a drawer of DVDs and come across some family movies. Savanna hadn’t just been good at gymnastics, she’d reached the Olympics where an apparent injury to her wrist shut her down.

Watching those videos of her with her parents and sister cheering for her, seeing her waving from the top platform at the Olympics at the ripe age of fourteen, and then seeing her in the hospital with a brace on her wrist, had done something to his cold, hard heart.

She was a fighter. A champion. She’d known deep disappointment at a young age, her dream of the Olympics ending abruptly. Yet, she’d pulled herself out and had grown up to succeed at championing for others.

The videos kept his mind occupied for a couple of hours. He’d felt a twinge of guilt at watching something so personal, but it had kept his own memories at bay.

There was no forgetting what he’d done and, not for the first time, he wondered if Savanna had done him a favor by exposing him as a traitor, even though it was a lie. At least she’d taken him out of play and put him in a place where he probably belonged after all of the lives he’d taken in the name of national security. In service to the president.

Although he still held a severe grudge, her appeal the previous evening had softened him. His parents and only sister had been killed in a house fire when he was ten. He’d been staying overnight at a friend’s house. The only living relative he’d had left was his grandfather, who couldn’t seem to ever look Trace in the eye after the accident.

Trace couldn’t blame him. He’d survived by not being home. To this day, he still wondered if he could have saved his family if he’d been home that night. Or if it would have been better if he had died too.

While he couldn’t clear his own name, he could help Savanna with hers. If Ginger, his little sister, had never died in that fire, if she had gone missing… Well, Trace would have crushed the gates of Hell to get her back. Even now, he wished he could take her place.

During the early morning hours, he texted Beatrice telling her Savanna needed an upgrade to her security system first thing. Next, he’d shot photos of the file on Parker and sent the info to Beatrice as well.
Copy that
, was her only reply. No questioning him about changing his mind.

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